PrintEx11 brings newspaper folk... but the tough talk is in the aisles

The talk was in the aisles of Sydney's Darling Harbour exhibition centre as much as the stands, when events at Fairfax Media and APN, plus a notable sale or two outranked the PrintEx11 trade show for interest.

It was only ever going to be a networking event for newspaper people, but by the end of the second day, the prospect of the National Print Awards dinner had brought interstate visitors into town, and a few small groups of senior newspaper production people into the show.

Fairfax Media web printing and logistics chief executive Bob Lockley was at the Müller Martini stand with North Richmond general manager Michael Gee and others, but the beginnings of a wide-ranging programme of staff cuts meant he wasn't anxious to talk with GXpress.

New Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood had started the week with a profit warning and the news that the company would outsource the jobs of most of the sub-editors on the Melbourne 'Age' and flagship 'Sydney Morning Herald' metropolitan broadsheets.

But the math made it clear that more was to come, and that press and prepress jobs were the other prime targets. The second night of the show - also set for the National Print Awards celebrations - were touted as the 'night of the long envelopes', but by the morning after, details were still being closely held.

If that wasn't bad enough, restructuring at APN in response to reduced sales in its flood-affected Queensland heartland had brought the news that print sites in Bundaberg and Mackay would close, with newspaper production will be relocated to Rockhampton and Yandina respectively.

Two of Australia's biggest newspaper groups were responding to changing times, and there was a lesson or two at Darling Harbour from a printing industry which has also had to reinvent itself. I counted two offset presses (both on the stand of Ryobi agent Cyber) at PrintEx, always the more modest little sister of the Melbourne PacPrint show.

Even without the boost from the Visual Impact Image Expo, it was inkjet and digital printing equipment which dominated the halls.

Screen Australia had the inkjet web it had brought into the country for an earlier exhibition, and ran it sparely for those with a serious interest. A booklet of samples showed work from users in the UK, USA and New Zealand (where new adopter Astra had some promising work for the local wine industry).

Kodak, Océ - teamed on the stand with now owner Canon - and HP also had a various digital print systems on show, but nothing with the same interest for newspaper users.

Mailroom supplier Müller Martini has an inline system for inkjet webs to talk about, and others represented in this area were Ferag and Graph-Pak, the latter with a Rima stacker on its stand, destined for APN Print's Toowoomba site after the show.

On the 'heavy metal' front, the newspaper players were manroland - where web sales vice president Peter Kuisle was a visitor - and KBA, which has an all-new 16-page heatset press to spruik.

Kuisle was characteristically cautious when I asked him whether talk of shared printing facilities might lead to an opening for a new highly-automated press to replace the older and less-flexible equipment currently in use (at Fairfax, at least).

"The size of the sections, and the number of editions changes to be made will always be the factors which decide whether, for example, an automated triple-wide press pays for itself," he says.

manroland is among suppliers benefiting from a series of upgrades in Europe, where multi-edition daily newspapers are popular. In Australia, where both Fairfax and News are big manroland users, any changes are likely to involve the press German maker.

In a generally secretive local heatset market - described by manroland Australasia managing director Steve Dunwell as "buoyant" - a new 80-page Lithoman press at Franklin Web in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, is now in production.

The heatset news from KBA is a new C16 press which combines the best features of its Compacta 215 and 218 predecessors with new technologies. Software functionality, a new unit design with two shafteless drives enabling separate upper and lower makereadies, and a highly-automated folder are already delivering job changeovers in as little as three minutes.

And so it was that while newspaper printers were agonizing over cost savings and equipment vendors discussing the productivity enhancements which might help deliver them, advertising guru Todd Sampson had a few words of encouragement for those charged with the hard decisions.

And for the five per cent of decisionmakers who are prepared to make them. A lesson or two for those at Fairfax and APN, perhaps, from the guy who dreamed up the world-changing Earth Hour initiative.

The best newspaper sale I heard of during the show came in the aisles, not the stands, involving a systems developer who was not an exhibitor. We’ll have news shortly.
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