WORLD NEWS Consolidation in newspaper printing: Experts discuss the why and...

Consolidation in newspaper printing: Experts discuss the why and how – WAN-IFRA

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The well-attended event featured a high-calibre panel of experts, including Jürgen Schulze, Head of Sales Service and Production Management at Süddeutsche Zeitung; Christian Siebert, Publisher of Hamburger Abendblatt (Funke Mediengruppe), and Christian Wilms, Managing Director Printing at Styria in Graz. Andreas Gierth, a member of the World Printers Forum Board and Head of Production and Strategic Procurement at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung served as the moderator for the event.

Topics such as consolidation in newspaper printing, especially the closure of printing plants, is gaining momentum in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (the DACH region), with a significant impact on the production and profitability of print newspapers.

After his welcome address, Andreas Gierth briefly mentioned the challenges that are common to everyone in the printing industry: paper price, minimum wage, and fluctuations in print circulation – but as yet, there is no digital business model that can replace print.

For the F.A.Z., 70 percent of revenue come from print and 30 percent from digital. Even as the digital share increases, print still needs to finance expenditures.

Different ways of consolidation – also a question of paper format

Christian Siebert of Hamburger Abendblatt sees the high capacity utilisation of a site as the basis for consolidation in order to reduce costs or distribute them more cheaply.

In principle, he would not say “never” to possible further investments in a print shop, but then not only the printing but also the transport, or the “last mile”, should be considered. Scenarios with different printing processes (digital from the roll) could be important here.

Christian Wilms confirmed that “the spectre of consolidation” is also an issue in Austria.

Styria was founded purely as a publishing print shop and service provider for its own Styria media. However, the investments in new technology in 2017-18 were also made with external customers in mind, as the company’s own print runs were declining:
– previously: 70 percent internal and 30 percent external
– today: 40 percent internal and 60 percent external.

Printing takes place at two locations (in Graz and Carinthia) in three shifts each, and with a high capacity utilisation of around 75 percent.

Styria therefore sees an opportunity not to become a victim of consolidation but rather to benefit from it.

Before Jürgen Schulze presented his statement on behalf of Süddeutscher Verlag, Gierth mentioned in advance that the F.A.Z. has also been printed in Munich since 2014 and they are “very satisfied”.

Consolidation has been an issue in the industry for around 20 years. After consolidation at publishing house level, in editorial, content, and pre-press, attempts are now being made to implement this in the print shop for economic reasons. Some publishers / print shops are disappearing from the market altogether; some are no longer printing or are merging with others, Schulze said.

For national newspapers, such as the F.A.Z. and SZ, consolidation at regional print shops means very few external printing locations and therefore fewer printing capacities are available to them throughout Germany.

Changes in the production of regional newspapers also have a direct impact on national titles.

Gierth stated that F.A.Z. delivers its subscriber copies throughout Germany with 140 partner publishers, while the Ippen Group assists in the joint delivery specifically in the Rhine-Main region.

Due to fewer or varied delivery locations for business partners, F.A.Z. was forced to bring forward the “sacred cow of proofs” from 18:00 (last page at 17:30) to 16:30 (editorial deadline at 16:00) from 1 July.

This has a significant impact on the correspondent reporting from the USA, for example. Additionally, the earlier print run now impacts 9,000 subscriber copies, requiring them to be delivered earlier.

Surveys and experience have shown that these print subscribers do not want to do without their printed edition, which naturally makes the F.A.Z. happy.

If forced to switch from print to digital, two-thirds of subscribers would cancel immediately; one-third would accept digital, but then 50 percent of them would cancel after about six months, which would correspond to a total of over 80 percent cancellations.

Dr. Bertram Stausberg commented from the audience: Axel Springer is openly dealing with the fact that print revenues are falling faster than at other companies and that digital revenues are significantly higher than the 30 percent mentioned above.

Nevertheless, Springer still needs the print channel and is implementing the consolidation in the print sector internally. Over the last 10 years, Bild has reduced its print locations from a maximum of 12 to five. After the closure of Ahrensburg next year, there will only be four (two internal and two external).

In the Benelux region, for example, consolidation is taking place in just one newspaper format, whereas in Germany there are three. In this phase of “segment consolidation”, each format is consolidating on its own.

Of course, there are good arguments for every publisher to stick with their format, which makes the situation in Germany more challenging than in neighbouring countries.

Stausberg believes that the key to consolidation is increasing the capacity utilisation of individual printing locations, although there are limits. He also sees it as a joint task for all print partners to work together to find cost-effective, better-utilised units.

The F.A.Z. prints in the North German (Nordic) format and bases its volumes on the specifications for the texts (structural agreement, which guarantees the editorial team a minimum amount of content that is optimised for print/web) and less on the advertisements. If these were more, the volume would increase. A format change would therefore lead to more pages in a smaller format, Gierth said.

Is digital printing a solution?

“Why is digital printing underutilised as an alternative to offset printing in Germany and why does it seem so complicated?” Gierth inquired.

The F.A.Z. has partial print runs of around 2,000 copies printed in Italy (near Milan and in Rome) using digital printing (from the roll with appropriate finishing) in sufficient quality and at favourable conditions.

Jochen Schwab from Koenig & Bauer spoke from the floor: Koenig & Bauer presented the RotaJet as its first digital press at drupa 2012. Various pilot projects with demo presses and other digital printing approaches followed this, but they did not prove to be economically viable.

The biggest technical problem with digital printing is finishing. In order to use a machine with products other than newspapers, it requires different finishing systems.

In economic terms, digital printing currently means a high investment with low capacity utilisation and limited potential in the market.

Mixed solutions with a larger inner section in offset and a smaller jacket section in digital, as well as personalised delivery, often fail at the last mile in distribution.

One solution for Germany could be a small number of digital printing sites spread across the country, which would insert the delivered offset products and then take over the delivery of the complete end product.

Thomas Kurz from Fujifilm Europe explained that in 2019, Fujifilm decided to continue investing in the newspaper segment. In the same year, Fujifilm was already seeing consolidation in the market. Fewer customers, but larger ones – and what requirements does this larger customer have?

In order to generate new target groups and new subscribers for the customer, digital printing was the obvious choice. Fujifilm invested in companies (including mechanical engineering) to offer integrated solutions in inkjet printing: roll-to-roll, imprinting bars, and other solutions.

Kurz expressed surprise that customers show so little interest in requesting more attractive designs for their products. He said that one can calculate the costs per page in offset and digital printing comparably, and there are solutions with AI support.

Schulze used the “Walliser Bote” from Mengis Druck in Visp, CH, as an example of digital printing, which switched from offset to digital printing completely in 2015 but returned to offset after two years and outsourced to an offset print shop. The reasons for this were the high costs per copy.

SV Zeitungsdruck prints its own and third-party newspapers in various formats.

Schulze still sees potential for savings and consolidation in the newspaper formats:
– Nordic (North German) format: 570 mm x 400 mm,
– Rhenish format: 510 mm x 350 and
– Berlin format: 470 mm x 315 mm.

If the Nordic format (slightly larger) and the Berlin format (slightly smaller) were to converge (in the sense of half the Nordic format = Berlin format), both formats could run with different products on one machine cost-effectively, as their capacity utilisation would be higher. So there is still potential here, and Koenig & Bauer and Manroland Goss should be able to supply the technical prerequisites.

Comment by Almut Reichart from the German Federal Environmental Agency at the DACH session on “Consolidation in Newspaper Printing” during WPS 2023.

Focus topic at the WPS: Sustainability

The motto of the World Printers Summit was ‘sustainability’. According to Gierth, there are still no clear facts and figures as to which medium is more sustainable: print or digital. Media companies in Germany (F.A.Z., Funke, Rheinische Post, and SZ) are currently conducting studies using special software.

Siebert linked the issue of sustainability closely to consolidation. Transport costs play a major role if the distances for delivery (due to the elimination of printing sites) become significantly longer.

Currently, pilot projects in North Rhine-Westphalia are demonstrating how combining server farms with wind turbines and their unused energy achieves sustainability in the digital sector.

According to Wilms, Styria is trying to achieve sustainability in the technical area through photovoltaic systems, optimised compressors, waste heat utilisation, and recycling options, as well as in its external image by complying with the Austrian Ecolabel and EU Ecolabel environmental standards and seals.

Customers are also gradually asking, “How are you dealing with this issue?”

Schulze said the number of customers and sponsors of Süddeutscher Verlag who are asking about the media company’s CO2 neutrality is also increasing, so there is a direct need for action.

Almut Reichart from the German Federal Environmental Agency mentioned the Blue Angel as another environmental seal of approval.

Gierth concluded by thanking all participants. The event, the first of its kind in German, ended with a loud applause.

 

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