The drawn-out saga of the potential sale of the Bertram Group, one of two major U.K. wholesalers, came to a conclusion today with the news that the business has gone into administration. A statement on behalf of administrators Turpin Barker Armstrong (TBA) was received by the U.K. publishing newsletter BookBrunch confirming the company had gone bankrupt.
“We can confirm that Bertram Trading Limited, the global book wholesaler, has entered administration along with Education Umbrella Limited, a supplier of textbooks and digital education resources and Dawson Books Limited, an academic and professional library supplier,” the statement reads. “Book wholesalers have suffered from falling demand in recent years due to changes in the distribution model for literature and the rising popularity of e-books. These factors, combined with the Covid-19 related closure of many public libraries and educational facilities, meant these businesses could no longer operate viably.”
According to TBA, it has reached agreements with two parties to sell “the tangible assets and unencumbered stock of Bertram Trading Limited and for the intangible assets of Education Umbrella Limited and it is hoped that these will be completed shortly.”
TBA said that with the bankruptcy and asset sales, the majority of Bertrams’ employees have been let go, “with a small number retained to manage the winding down of operations. We are liaising with all employees impacted regarding their statutory rights and to direct them to support from the relevant government agencies.”
There is no word yet on how much money will be repaid to creditors. Publishers are believed to be owed considerable sums, but they will come behind the taxman and staff.
The wholesaler was advertised for sale by its parent company, equity group Aurelius, in mid-May, with Middleton Barton Asset Valuation handling the disposal. It was described as ‘a leading B2B Books wholesaler’ with a 185,000 sq ft leasehold warehouse, 200,000 titles in stock and an annual turnover of £250 million.
In late May, the Bertline online sales system was bought out of the business by the Booksellers Association. Also in May, Elliott Advisors, owner of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, bought Wordery, Bertrams’ online bookselling division. Wordery will be a separate business from Waterstones.
Bertram had escaped earlier brushes with closing. In March 2009 it was rescued in a deal with Smiths News, which paid £9 million for the business and agreed to settle publishers debts of £16 million, after Bertram was dragged down by the collapse of parent company Woolworths in the autumn of 2008. At that stage the wholesaler’s revenue was about £125 million. In 1999, Kip Bertram had sold the company he and his late mother, Elsie, had founded for between £35 million and £40 million.
Similar to what happened in the U.S. when Baker & Taylor’s decision to exit the trade wholesaling market left Ingram has the only national wholesaler, Bertram’s collapse leaves Gardners as remaining national wholesaler in the U.K.
A version of this story first appeared in BookBrunch.