The tough get going

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When the going gets tough, opportunities occur... and the present economic situation is already showing the value of being prepared.

And after a period of prosperity, Australia’s major media companies are lean, mean and in many cases, cashed-up. The expected instability of the approaching months – which we’ve likened elsewhere to a game of ‘musical chairs’ – are an opportunity to push ahead ... and perhaps leave others unseated.

If reports are to be believed (and some are not) the heatset market is set for an unprecedented spending binge. Private-equity controlled (and debt-laden) Publishing & Broadcasting is set to push ahead with plans for its own Sydney printing plant, involving five new presslines plus a range of state-of-the-art finishing and peripheral equipment. IPMG will take a decision in January on the form and scale of a similar development, earmarked for the site it owns at Warwick farm, on Sydney’s south-west. Gravure production – significantly more efficient for medium-length publication printing than it was when the last site closed in the 1980s – may or may not figure in the development, we’re told.

Officially unconfirmed reports suggest that a project to boost Fairfax Media’s own heatset semicommercial production, probably at the Rural Press site in North Richmond, north of Sydney is also moving forward.

The year has already seen a number of projects at heatset plants, including the commissioning of one of the world’s biggest publication presses, an 80-page Goss Sunday 4000 at AIW in Melbourne. And that’s just a start, although fuller information is scarce in an industry segment which obsessively holds its cards close.

Reports of the death of the newspaper industry are also of course (like that of Mark Twain) premature: A raft of projects of various sizes are currently underway:

• Fairfax Media has the first of its two Goss Uniliner presses up and running at its Rural Press Printing site in Ormiston, Queensland. A second similar line is set to be installed in Christchurch, New Zealand.

• News Limited is spending $ 52 million on equipping a new printing hall in Townsville, into which a ‘spare’ five-tower, two-folder manroland Geoman (surplus to its Chullora upgrade project) is to be installed, along with new Ferag mailroom equipment.

• Having spent the bulk of its major upgrade budget, APN News & Media has completed a programme of single-width upgrades. The group – a part of which may itself be for sale following deliberations by shareholder INM – commissioned a new print centre in Toowoomba this year, having bought out a minority shareholder in the newspaper there.

• In Tasmania, a new KBA-equipped facility is providing full-colour capacity for News Limited’s the ‘Hobart Mercury’. Fairfax Media’s Launceston ‘Examiner’ site is also being upgraded following the group’s closure of the manroland Uniset-equipped print centre of the Burnie ‘Advocate’.

• In Tamworth, Fairfax is spending an estimated $10 million on a new print site for the ‘Northern Daily Leader’. A key component is a six-tower all-colour Goss Community press displaced by the closure of the Wagga Wagga plant of the ‘Daily Advertiser’ after it had been upgraded to print former owner Riverina Media’s ‘Australian Senior’ title.

• Independently-owned newspapers around the country are also pursuing their own projects, with Gippsland’s ‘Bairnsdale Advertiser’ set to be the first of a new generation using UV curing to print on glossy stocks as well as newsprint.

In a period when the focus is on sound business models and good value, each of these projects brings real value to the publishers involved: increased productivity, savings in materials and staff costs, transport and environmental benefits.

A number of smaller projects are also underway, including a project to team displaced eight-couple units from News Chullora site with new web-cleaning technology to increase colour capacity at Advertiser Newspapers in Adelaide. Higher paper costs have brought the return-on-investment period on systems such as automatic colour registration close to a year, and IPMG is understood to be taking advantage of similar technology to install closed-loop colour on most of its presses. Add-ons such as web and blanket cleaning are also showing prompt returns or (in the case of the Adelaide project) saving bigger expenditure.

The annual IfraExpo was a hive of newspaper activity, especially in areas where the aspirations of publishers coincide with those of rival online operators. Locally, the domestic PacPrint09 print show is set to be the largest yet, there are high hopes for next year’s SWUG in its new March slot, and a new technical group for press users in South East Asia has enthusiastic support.

There’s no shortage of interest in improving print efficiency, none of the major projects we have mentioned are even postponed (we’re told) and there’s certainly no expectation that – in the newspaper segment at least – investment will shut down. As usual, the tough are getting going!
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