Inkjet printing may yet be the way to arrest printed newspapers’ decline, Andreas Schaffner of Swiss publisher Tamedia said today.
Speaking on the second day of the virtual World Printers Summit, the co-chief executive outlined a future vision which combined the digital printing technology with decentralised production and logistics to “give readers the means to have their own paper”.
While the process was slower, there were more opportunities for shared equipment use – making it easier to finance investments – and potentially reduced logistics costs. “We should start looking at this, experimenting and testing it,” he said.
“There needs to be a change in printing, page production, and data distribution, despite major consolidation work having been done.”
Questioned about the use of digital printing in an earlier discontinued project in Switzerland, Schaffner (pictured) said he thought the publisher had not fully leveraged the technology, and believed that while they had expected more locally-driven variable content, “they didn’t prepare fully for this”.
Much of Schaffner’s address backgrounded the case for more production flexibility, including declining reader and advertiser demand, higher paper and energy costs, and problems with delivery logistics.
While digital publishing was the future for news media, revenue was not compensating for that lost from print products. As an output channel, print was becoming more and more marginal and would become negative “in the next ten years”.
Where would necessary savings come from when paper was a commodity, mills “largely modern and highly productive” and prices were set by supply and demand? For publishers, the cost of electricity and the price of recycled paper will have significant impacts, but Schaffner says that with the need for stability in the future, a proposal based on a cost-based model “may be viable” for suppliers and publishers.
As newspaper printing capacity was no longer used as strategic tool to prevent competitors entering the market, many publishers had started to cooperate in order to control costs. In Switzerland, “consolidation is nearly completed”, with the number of production sites reduced from 29 to 12, and five centres producing about 90 per cent of output.
Elsewhere in Europe, ideas of sharing production were complicated by the use of different page formats – almost half is Berliner, with the balance shared between Rheinische and Nordische tabloids. Production timetables also needed to be reviewed.
Schaffner said there were opportunities to reduce transport and logistics costs, perhaps by creating additional volumes for early morning delivery.
Thoughts of “the next big step” must include a transition from today’s structure, he said, with a change in printing, page production, and data distribution.
Schaffner expects higher paper prices – mostly attributable to higher costs for recycled paper and energy – to spike in 2022. Concerns about availability were expressed by delegates in a questionnaire, but Schaffner said he thought stability would return “in six months”.
A survey of delegates showed everyone had been affected by price changes – 79 per cent heavily, and the remaining 21 per cent slightly affected. More than half (53 per cent) had reduced capacity over recent years, although some seven per cent reported increasing capacity. Schaffner said two companies had invested in new presses in Switzerland, removing one older press. “Quality is the commodity in the printing market, and you can ask people to pay for it,” he said.