ACM cedes control to News with new print agreements

With the closure of three more ACM print sites, News Corp will have rival publishers in a vice grip while talking up the concept of "competing on journalism not printing".

Executive chairman of News Corp Australasia Michael Miller was quick to Tweet "a historic deal to print each others' newspapers across the country", while the reality is that Antony Catalano's Australian Community Media's closure of more print sites will increase its dependency on News. The third party, Nine Entertainment, has already opted to have its newspapers - The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review - printed by its competitors.

In an AFR report, ACM confirmed today that it would close its print site in Ballarat (Victoria) on October 2. As indicated in GXpress this month, printing will move to News Corp's Westgate print centre in Melbourne until that closes early next year with the opening of a new print centre in outer suburban Truganina.

ACM's Fyshwick (Canberra) and Murray Bridge sites will close on August 28, while the fate of ACM's Wodonga site - which is understood to have been offered for sale - is still in the balance.

Catalano told the Financial Review of the "pretty historic come together of three media companies who had previously been fierce competitors" who had seen commercial sense in protecting their core business.

"We are not stepping away from publishing printed copies of our newspapers - to the contrary, the printed newspaper will still play a significant role in the future of ACM. We have made the decision that ACM does not need to own print facilities to achieve this objective.

"A more streamlined and sustainable ACM will enable us to continue to invest in the high quality journalism in which we pride ourselves. As part of these changes, we have entered into agreements with News Corp Australia that will see us utilise each other's printing networks."

News has been printing South Australian editions of Nine's metro and national mastheads at its Adelaide facility since ACM closed Murray Bridge because of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now this arrangement will become permanent.

ACM says while the closures will result in job losses, cuts will not come from editorial and the group will save "tens of millions of dollars" in production costs.

News also prints Nine's newspapers in Brisbane and most of those in Sydney following the closure of the former Fairfax print sites in Ormiston (Queensland) and Beresfield (NSW) after an earlier agreement between them in 2018. ACM prints for Nine in Tasmania and WA. News plans to close its Murarrie print site next year to focus southeast Queensland production at Yandina on the Sunshine Coast.

The arrangements have already resulted in independent publishers being squeezed out because capacity is "no longer available". A number of new newspapers have appeared since News closed more than 100 of its print editions, but a common problem is finding somewhere they can be printed.

GXpress understands that there are discussions going on in at least two states which might solve the problem of finding printing capacity - if you can - at a rival, or trucking papers long distances from a friendly site.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: ACM's long hybrid manroland press in North Richmond, NSW, will be one of the few in the eastern states not owned by News Corp Australia

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