Key personalities in Australia's print tsunami

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The tsunami of print consolidation which has washed over the Australian heatset segment in just five weeks is as much about personalities as it is about the realities of the business they are in.

The October deal to merge IPMG into PMP puts the Hannan family - led by the canny Michael Hannan - in the box seat to respond to changes in the magazine printing segment, already since impacted by last week's closure of Dolly magazine and the talks understood to be taking place between Bauer Media and Seven West over Pacific Magazines.

Monday's announcement that IVE will buy Franklin Web and AIW addresses the catalogue market in the same way, recognising that a bigger competitor will be needed to withstand the pressure of the expanded PMP. And it flags personal landmarks for both Geoff Selig - who steered a route through Blue Star, which he ran until 2006 and returned to buy six years later - and Phil Taylor, who built Victorian-based Franklin into a catalogue giant, buying his two brothers out in the process.

Hannan, Selig and Taylor are central to the industry reorganisation which is taking place, as is their knowledge of the value of the assets in play, and of the value of technology.

Thirty years ago, the Hannanprint plant in Sydney's Alexandria was a showplace of technology: robot carriers plied to the needs of the latest heatset presses on a giant site the Hannan family had picked up from the former British Oxygen business, making the company a leader in the publication and catalogue market and driving growth which enabled the acquisition of Offset Alpine, John Armati's Macquarie Publications, and the Brisbane-based Inprint Queensland business.

Hannan was wise enough to realise that a disused industrial site in inner-suburban Sydney would gain value for retail and residential development, and the proceeds of that investment have lately contributed to the costs of relocation and re-equipment for Hannanprint - still a key component in IPMG - at Warwick Farm.

When the PMP/IPMG merger goes through next year, the Hannan family will emerge with 37 per cent of the equity of the new business - in shares valued at $119 million - and very likely still hold a swag of real estate.

I first met Phil Taylor 30 years ago, when he and brothers Roger and Trevor were rebuilding a printing business which had been both devastated and dramatically reshaped by a major fire. Their father Len had started a small Melbourne print shop - naming it for Benjamin Franklin, the American 'founding father' who was both polymath and printer - and had made a modest foray into web-offset printing when the disaster struck.

Taylor doesn't talk a lot of those days, or much about business at all, for that matter - I recall him quoting Franklin's "well done is better than well said" - but the story is that friends and family rallied around to help keep the business afloat until a new Japanese press was in commission. It was the start of a focus on heatset printing which, with attention to detail and to their customers, was to differentiate them in the market.

By the time I met them, as a trade press editor and to help write promotional material, more new hardware had arrived; the Taylors used to buy direct from the factory, to avoid loose talk by agents resulting in their plans being disclosed to competitors. Family members - I recall meeting not just Phil, but also Trevor Taylor, his wife and children, all gathered in the factory on a Saturday morning - shared the passion and commitment.

Phil would talk emerging tech, and we would translate it into brochures which gave catalogue clients clues of the Franklin "magic"... and very occasionally, would give me a story for the magazine. On one occasion, I stood with my back to a big new KBA press, taking pictures of a finishing system on the understanding that the press would appear in none of the shots.

Over the years, his brothers "cashed out" of the business, but Phil retained the passion, adding property and leading-edge print and finishing technology, proud to do so without accumulating debt. His son Jason is now in the business, and we still talk occasionally, but there hasn't been a story he's wanted to print for a while, or a tour in the golf buggy he uses to get around the plant, but maybe this will change as he starts a new chapter with IVE.

Certainly one of the large manroland Lithoman heatset presses is proudly front-and-centre on the company's website these days.

First up with IVE will be to consolidate Victorian interests - including those of the AIW business in Springvale - on the Franklin hub in Western Avenue, Sunshine, which he will run, and it would be surprising if Taylor, who also will be a "substantial" shareholder in the expanded IVE, didn't have a hand in the corresponding development which is planned for New South Wales, which includes an $18 million investment in catalogue production capability at Blue Star Web in Silverwater.

According to today's announcement, ASX-quoted IVE is paying $100 million for Franklin Web and $16 million for AIW, the business established by Peter Clark and run by his son Richard, but which is owned by Peter Scanlon through his Taverners Group. It's not yet clear what assets are included, but there will be a wry pleasure for Taylor in the fact that one figure is six-and-a-quarter times the other.

Three decades back also seems an appropriate point from which to chart the story of Geoff Selig, who joined the family business of Link Printing in 1987 as financial controller. He moved into management and stayed there when the business was sold to Blue Star a decade later, leading some of that company's further acquisitions and then as chief executive, involved in its sale to PE firm Champ.

That punctuation mark saw him rejoin the family in Caxton Web, build it with Wolseley Private Equity, and return to purchase then ailing Blue Star's Australian operations and also parts of Geon and STI Lilyfield.

IVE's story also includes that of Melbourne's Craftsman Press, and embraces those of others including Canberra's National Capital Printing, Merritt Madden Printing and JS McMillan Group in Sydney.

There's news ink in the veins too, with origins as a suburban newspaper publisher, founded by Selig's grandfather in the 1920s and ahead of its time in shedding the paper four decades later to focus on commercial print.

This week's leap forward is built on all of that, enabled by IVE's ASX listing last year, but above all driven by the vision of Selig, now the group's chairman.

What now? Despite its huge appetite for magazines, the Australian public - and more importantly advertisers - are moving away from print, although this is not yet the case with catalogues.

That part of the market for heatset printing which is newspaper-inserted magazines (NIMs) has also diminished as publishers downgraded supplement and brought them inhouse, IPMG losing work as a result of the heatset and UV capability gained by Fairfax Media. A current exception in the market is the monthly Wish supplement to The Australian, last week appearing with attached fragrance sample in addition to the usual high-gloss cover.

It's certain that, as advertising dollars inexorably move from print to digital, and especially to giants such as Facebook and Google, the cataclysmic changes outlined in the last five weeks will clearly not be the industry's last.

Australia's regulatory body, the ACCC is apparently not reviewing the IVE/Franklin/AIW deal, as it is that between PMP and IPMG, with the creation of a bigger competitor creating a balance in the market which presumably makes it more palatable. The takeover is expected to be effective next Tuesday, December 13.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Phil Taylor from his company newsletter Pressing Issues

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