Lessons from a printer’s demise: the case of MPG Biddles:

For several reasons – outlined in my post on print procurement (1 Nov 2012) – MPG Biddles were a good supplier to have. Which makes it a shame that they are going into administration (for news of which, see PrintWeek‘s article here).

9781907076121We had placed an order with the company to print the paperback edition of  Teaching Creative Writing, on which we’d made an advance payment. We’ve now had to delay the UK/Europe publication date while we transfer the job to another printer.*

I feel great sympathy for the company’s staff, not least because their personal touch was one of the attractions of the service they offered.

I feel sympathy too for the publishers who will have lost assets in the form of cash and stock. But not so much.

Why? Because good practice in continuity management should limit one’s exposure to any one supplier. As I wrote in my post on the subject (9 Jan 2012):

In our selection of suppliers to work with, we ensure that there is plenty of duplication. It is tempting, once one has decided which supplier is best in class, to send all one’s work in that direction. For example, if a cover designer proves outstanding, it is natural to think, “We’ll ask the designer to do all our covers”. However, such a policy increases the level of operational risk: if the designer were then, for example, to fall ill, that could delay the entire publishing programme. We therefore like to work with more than one of each type of supplier – more than one copy-editor, more than one e-book converter, and so on.

Given Biddles’ virtues, it was indeed tempting to shift all our UK/European printing to them. Fortunately, we didn’t: we kept open accounts with two others. Teaching creative writing has now shifted to Berforts, a company that much impressed me when I visited their press in Stevenage in 2011.

I hope that a new business arises from the ashes of the old at MPG. For one thing, it would make it easier to reprint if the same files can be used with the same equipment. For another, I’d like to think that at least some of the staff from MPG will get their jobs back albeit with a new employer.

*The American and Australasian publication dates remained unaffected: the book was passed for press at Lightning Source on schedule.

Postscript: According to this report in PrintWeek – http://www.printweek.com/Business/article/1184941/mpg-evaluating-possible-sale-options/ – MPG had not, as of 4 June, actually entered administration, though it has indeed announced its intention to do so.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

25 comments

  1. I’m sorry, too, that Biddles have gone bust – they’ve done a good job for me for many years. Also it’s sad that even the rump of CUP printing – trading since 1584 – is now for the chop. The lessons you mention in your title I think are for publishers rather than printers. Is there anything that printers can learn? Can publishers learn anything from that?

  2. I am also sorry to hear that Biddles have gone as they were top-notch. That said, I am a reason for their demise as we haven’t used them in years, opting instead for printing in Asia combined with POD. Lesson for printers? Well, it is perhaps significant that we are doing a lot of POD business in the UK.

    • Thank you, Gerald. We too have used print-on-demand – am doing so this week. At one point I rather assumed that all our printing would go that way. But in fact, we have recently been moving back the other way, towards short-run-but-traditional printing of the type that Biddles did so well. A mixture of factors I guess – cost, quality, and staff/management time included.

  3. Amanda P

    Hi

    My husband works/worked/whatever at MPG Biddles. The treatment of the staff there has been appalling; we have no idea what’s going on, we only hear anything via Printweek because Tony Chard doesn’t have the decency to let his loyal staff know what on earth is going on. We’re in limbo.

    Thank you for your kind words in your last paragraph.

    • Thank you, Amanda. The situation still sounds unclear but it seems there are a few hopeful noises about some form of re-birth, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the workforce.

  4. Hi we are a not for profit Writers’ group in Hampshire. We too paid our up front deposit (the 2nd time we’d gone to MPG Biddles) only three weeks back. MPG Books might have produced quality material, but there is nothing quality about the way they kept staff and client alike in the dark. Emails/calls not responded to, no clue given until finally I pressed very hard for the facts behind inaction and delay (except taking our money that is).
    Berforts came to our rescue too, but for a small enterprise like ours supporting the local community and local charities, the prospect of losing all/most of the money is hurtful. Next time we’ll pay be credit card rather than funds transfer!

    • Thank you, Tony. I think in such circumstances, communication does tend to suffer – not least because the more they tell people, the worse the situation gets. It’s no fun being the customer in this situation, but realistically customer service is bound to suffer.

  5. The fullest account that I can find in the trade press comes from PrintWeek (23rd May): http://www.printweek.com/news/1183694/.

  6. Phillip Keel

    How nice of you not to have sympathy with the publishers. We’d put in an order for 2000 books and have now lost the deposit money *and* the books. This will likely see our business go under as we can’t afford to get them printed elsewhere at this stage.

    While I have sympathy for the staff at Biddles, clearly someone somewhere knew what was going on and their mis-management will lead to the downfall of not just this publisher, but a lot of aspiring writers/businesses just starting out.

    • When you write “How nice of you not to have sympathy with the publishers. We…have now lost the deposit money and the books”, you might note that what I actually wrote was, “I feel sympathy too for the publishers who will have lost assets in the form of cash and stock”. In other words, your comment is plainly unwarranted.

  7. Robert Forsyth

    Does anyone know for sure who has been appointed as administrators in the MPG-Biddles case? I had read that it was Zolfo Cooper.

    • Amanda P

      No administrator has been appointed yet. The banks disagree over Zolfo Cooper, so MPG are having to appoint someone else. The banks were supposed to meet yesterday, but we’ve heard nothing yet.

  8. Robert Forsyth

    Hello Amanda,

    Many thanks. I operate a small indie publisher who placed a couple of earlier books with MPG Biddles at Kings Lynn and had just placed a third title with the company. The product and the prices were good. A great shame. I cannot seem to generate any response from Kings Lynn now, so was just trying to find out the lie of the land. I appreciate your news.

  9. Ewan McVicar

    I am impressed by the total lack of information from the company who have over £1000 of my hard earned money as advances on four short run educational books. Sympathy for the staff, fury for the boss from a one man business.

    • Amanda P

      To be honest, and I’m not defending MPG in the slightest, I don’t think the company itself knows exactly what’s going on. It’s all in the hands of the banks.

      By the sounds of it, from what we’ve heard today, things are starting to move forward slowly. I personally won’t know anything further until Thursday. All I do know is that the banks are meeting again next week. There may be some kind of rescue but that is just speculation and rumour.

      I really do sympathise with you, really I do. My husband is an employee of Biddles and we are struggling to pay bills and feed our children. The limbo we are all in is appalling.

    • Ewan McVicar

      Amanda, I’ve always had impressive support, friendly advice and guidance from Biddles staff over the several books I’ve brought out. I was myself a banker [in Scotland and Africa] back in the 1950s and 60s. We are all dependant on our bosses getting it right, but when they do not we are the ones who pay the bulk of the financial and emotional cost, while often the boss floats off rather less scathed, and causes more mayhem elsewhere. I’ve had many bosses, a few were very decent human beings, but too many of them were mentally unbalanced by the power that came to their hand – after I was a banker I became a psychiatric social worker, now in my old age I get to go and write songs with or tell stories to primary school children. As a matter of principle I’ve always avoided becoming a boss, thank goodness.

    • I’m able to publish Ewan’s post (thank you) because the comments on bosses are generalised. But this post gives me the opportunity to say, based on one or two other submissions, that I’m keen to avoid unsubstantiated comments on individuals (here or indeed elsewhere). Ewan, ‘friendly advice and guidance’ has been exactly my experience too.

    • It must be extremely unsettling and stressful for all of you. The fact there seems to be plenty of valuable kit there I guess makes some sort of continuation likely. I do hope that (a) produces some good news re. jobs and (b) happens as quickly as possible.

  10. An update on the situation is that two former employees Rod Willett and Nigel Mitchell who worked for Biddles/MPG Biddles for a total of 53 years have started running Biddles as a book print management company. http://Www.biddles.co.uk was operational again in December 2013

  11. I’m entrusting the ‘new’ Biddles with my first print order. I’ll report back on how it goes!

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