Print is (still) not dead, but price hikes, mill closures pose additional challenges
Media Research Blog | 02 May 2022
Since early 2010, journalists and academics have predicted the death of print newspapers and some continue to do so. We know that thousands of print newspapers have disappeared since then, cut their publication days, or moved to a digital-only model.
Yet, in some places, print newspapers are still thriving. In others, they are struggling and current paper price hikes and mill closures are not helping the publishers who are just recovering from the pandemic.
Paper mill closures and price hikes are very familiar to me. I was born in Finland in a small town called Kajaani, where the main source of wealth was a local paper and pulp mill called Kajaani Oy. It started to produce pulp in 1910 and did so for decades. The company was later acquired by UPM Kymmene, one of the most prominent paper companies in the world. As a consequence, in 2008, the Kajaani paper and pulp mills were closed.
It was a devastating move for a small town and its people. Some people said it was just “natural evolution” because global paper giants had to seek synergies and close paper and pulp mills. This all happened a while ago, but this “natural evolution” continues: Paper mills and printing facilities continue to disappear, having potentially devastating impacts, especially on smaller news publishers.
In Australia, Norske Skog, which is the major provider of paper to the local publishing industry, is proposing a 30%-40% increase in its prices to keep production going in its Tasmanian paper mill. In 2021, the company closed its paper mill in New Zealand.
At The Sydney Morning Herald, Tony Kendall, managing director of regional publishing company Australian Community Media, said the price hike poses “the worst crisis for local publishers since World War II,” possibly proving “fatal to some mastheads or lead to a reduction in the size or number of newspapers distributed in the lead-up to the federal election.”
Since the start of 2019, more than 227 print or digital news titles in Australia have either disappeared or reduced their services.
In New Zealand, Ovato, which is one of the major printing plants, is ceasing its operations because of print price hikes and supply chain issues. The company said there was “around a seven-month wait time to get paper from Europe.” The closure leaves many magazines and smaller newspapers without a paper and printer just when the people have started to read and pay for them again.
Increasing production costs are also starting to hit news publishers’ bottom lines. Reach, which publishes the Daily Mirror and Daily Express newspapers, and owns 200 regional print and digital newspapers, recently warned more expensive paper will impact its profit. Because of the rising costs, Gannett has decided to shorten the publication cycle for its 186 newspapers by one day a week, mainly dropping Saturday print editions.
The “natural evolution” is happening as the size of print newspapers is getting smaller and they are published less frequently. But the evolution has not killed the print newspapers (yet). They are still very much alive.