Wodonga and Shepparton presses in capacity play

The Border Mail print site in Wodonga may be saved from closure, but jobs lost in Shepparton if an independent publisher goes ahead with its purchase.

After offering the modern Wodonga (VIC) press operation on the market for some time, owner Australian Community Media is now understood to be in negotiations with McPherson Media Group, owner of the daily Shepparton News and its Newsprinters print operation.

But according to the Australian Financial Review, staff in Shepparton have been told that there may be redundancies there if a purchase goes ahead.

GXpress understands that the possibility of both plants being bought by a third-party investor had also been floated, as the number of new independent publishers looking for printing increases.

Developed as a partnership between the Mott family's Border Mail newspaper and two other independent publishers, the Wodonga print site is anchored on a five-tower Goss Uniliner S 4x1 (double-width, single circumference) pressline.

Installed in 2003, the press was the first one of its kind in the world, capable of printing up to 80 pages, but in economical four-page increments - unlike a two-around press, and more productive than a one-around, single width-press such as the Goss Community at Shepparton. The flexibility suits it to the range of different products produced in Shepparton, which vary in pagination with some having print orders of fewer than 1000 copies.

Australian Community Media is still planning to close its print sites in Ballarat (VIC), Canberra (Fyshwick, ACT) and Murray Bridge (SA), having closed the small operation in Beaudesert (QLD) in March, where the Tensor press had already been shut down.

Production within ACM will then be focussed on just four sites - at the heatset-capable North Richmond (NSW) and Mandurah (WA) sites, and coldset Tamworth (NSW) and Launceston (TAS) plants.

ACM's Ballarat print site - where the manroland Uniset pressline was upgraded to take on production of The Age and the Australian Financial Review in 2014, prior to the closure of Fairfax's Tullamarine site - will remain open until News Corp's new Truganina site comes online, after the two signed a production deal.

There is now speculation that ACM will look to exit newspaper printing altogether. While most of the old printing presses and mailroom equipment are likely to go for scrap - as that from Fairfax's Chullora (Sydney) site and much of that from Tullamarine did - some of the real estate is valuable, with the two-hectare Fyshwick site expected to fetch more than $25 million.

Despite closing the print editions of 112 of its regional and community mastheads, News Corp will then emerge as Australia's dominant newspaper printer, with large double-width print sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and smaller ones in Darwin, Yandina (QLD) and Hobart.

While Seven West's West Australian Newspapers has a large plant in Perth, and a number of regional papers still have presses in Victoria, South Australia and NSW, no other publishers print in Queensland. Nine Entertainment - which publishes The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review - has no print capacity of its own.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: The Wodonga press during a visit by by SWUG members in 2009 (pictures GXpress)

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