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Canongate expecting healthy books due to Life of Pi

CANONGATE Books expects to achieve another year of strong growth helped by the popularity of the novel Life of Pi, which is on course to sell four million copies after becoming a big screen smash last year.

JAMIE BYNG: Likes to take a chance on books he believes in.
JAMIE BYNG: Likes to take a chance on books he believes in.

The phenomenal interest in the book about a boy stranded at sea on a lifeboat with a tiger helped Canongate Books enjoy a bumper year in 2012.

The Edinburgh-based company made underlying profits of almost £1m. It lost £406,000 in the previous year on the same measure after writing off a hefty advance it made to Julian Assange.

Canongate published what it called an unauthorised autobiography of the activist after he decided not to proceed with a book following lengthy interview sessions.

Jamie Byng, Canongate's ­charismatic managing director, said 2012 was one of its best ever years.

"To end the year with a number one bestselling paperback and with a novel that we published over a decade ago, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, was a great way to end 2012," he said.

Mr Byng said the company has sold around 1,400,000 copies of the book since the release of Ang Lee's film version of Life of Pi in October last year.

"As a film it blew away all our expectations in terms of the impact on sales," said Mr Byng. He reckons Canongate has now sold 3.8 million copies of the title including electronic editions. That compares with an estimate of 20,000 sales when it published the book.

The company paid Spanish-born Mr Martel £15,000 for the rights to the book in 2001. The novel won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2002.

Noting the unpredictability of the publishing business, Mr Byng said the company had had some luck with the Life of Pi.

However, he said Canongate Books is reaping the rewards for a longstanding policy of being prepared to take chances on books it believes in.

"We publish books that don't always fit in with the straight publishers mould," he said.

Mr Byng said Canongate is on course to grow turnover from continuing operations to above £10m in 2013, from £9.6m in 2012, helped by a strong back list.

He believes a number of titles released this year could become big popular successes.

Ruth Ozeki's novel A Tale For The Time Being has been short-listed for the Man Booker prize. The winner will be announced this month.

"If that wins I have a real feeling that it could have a similar effect as the Booker prize did on Life of Pi," said Mr Byng.

The company has also reaped the rewards for its investment in products that can capitalise on the increasing popularity of electronic books and the like.

All its titles are published in digital form as well as print.

"We are format agnostic," said Mr Byng. He believes Amazon and the Kindle electronic reader have helped titles reach a much wider audience.

However, noting some independent book sellers are struggling, he added: "We lose book sellers at our peril, they provide such an important experience for people in terms of discoverability."

The second son of the eighth Earl of Strafford, Mr Byng led a buy-out of the company in 1994.

The buy-out was backed by Sir Christopher Bland, a former BBC chairman and US banker Charles McVeigh.

Sir Christopher is chairman of Canongate Books.

The company increased sales from continued operations to £9.6m from £7.9m in 2012.

Pre-tax profits increased to £988,456 from £319,348.

Digital sales more than tripled, to £2.5m in 2012, from £739,000 in 2011.

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