While many newspaper publishers are announcing new digital initiatives, Community Impact Newspaper chief executive officer John Garrett did the opposite. Last October, his company opened a state-of the-art printing and mailing facility in Pflugerville, Texas. The new $10 million facility now prints the company’s 23 newspapers for the Austin, Dallas and Houston metro areas. The 36,000 square-foot printing facility also houses a new printing press: a Goss Magnum Compact (only four exist in the world—in Mexico; Sri Lanka; Staten Island, New York; and now Pflugerville, Texas).
When Community Impact opened its doors in 2005, reinventing the community newspaper was its cornerstone. But as the company grew, Garrett realized they were also outgrowing their current printer in Dallas. He found himself facing two choices: either find a new outside printer or print their newspapers in-house.
In 2015, the nearby Austin American-Statesman announced it was moving its printing operations to San Antonio and Houston. Around the same time, Garrett had returned from New York after checking out the new press that had just purchased from Goss. Upon hearing the news about the Austin American-Statesman closing its printing operations, Garrett had to ask himself, “How do we plan for our future? How do we plan for the next five to 10 years?”
“I looked at our business plan and knew we needed a long-term strategy,” he said.
In June 2015, Community Impact announced it would build its own printing facility on land adjacent to its current headquarters. Garrett said he surrounded himself with a good team (including his wife, Jennifer, who is also co-owner and has an interior design background). Garrett also credited his general manager for helping choose the appropriate vendors for the project.
“We went with leaders in the industry like Goss, Muller Martini and US Ink,” he said. And when these vendors visited them, Garrett said they commented on how “refreshing” it was to see a newspaper company like his own expanding and building a new printing facility especially during a time where more papers are struggling with and cutting back on print. Garrett, who admits to being bullish on print, said this was an investment for his readers who love the product.
Not only does a new building and new press indicate that Community Impact is prosperous, but it also allowed Garrett to hire more people to work in the new printing facility. For Garrett, creating jobs was also an added bonus to this investment. He has currently hired 15 new employees (many of them former Austin American-Statesman workers) and plans to hire 10 more next year, bringing the total to 25 printing facility employees. As a whole, Community Impact has 180 people on staff.
With the new facility and press machine now in place and fully operational, he is looking forward to 2017. The new equipment will allow for more targeted advertising and readership. One of his goals in the new year is more versioning with the print product. It’s an opportunity to enter into even more communities and households, Garrett said.
Although Garrett hasn’t completed dismissed digital from his operations, he knows where his strengths lie. In a blog post “5 Reasons Why I Built a Printing Plant for My Newspaper,” Garrett wrote, “Our competition is really good, and we had better get better. Facebook and Google are closing in more and more on local. How do we compete? Most of the newspaper gurus say to sell others’ digital services. Chasing technology platforms has been brutal. You sprint to get on every platform you can because you have local relationships, and then Google and Facebook reward you for placing ads on their site instead of your own newspaper with $0 commission. These companies don’t have a monopoly on local news and information. What matters to advertisers is eyeballs. With our new printing equipment we can target at the household level. I call it a battle of the Coffee Table vs. Mobile. I can’t compete on the mobile platform (yet) — but I can get inside that home and with a quality and useful product I can be sitting on their coffee table.”
When asked to elaborate on his “coffee table vs. mobile” philosophy, Garrett explained, “In my opinion, the power of digital is overblown. As an industry, we have a chance to be another voice for our readers and advertisers…to show them print is not dead (and by making this investment), they see we have confidence in the product we are delivering.”
Now that he is operating his own printing facility, Garrett said he has more control of distribution. He explained in his blog post, “Digital is part of our future but doesn’t pay the bills. For the last 20 years the internet has been here for newspapers to figure out, and yet we can’t develop our own robust digital platforms nor find a revenue model that pays for the reporting. Google Ad Words is the old yellow pages. It’s a dang good product for local businesses and they are a really tough competitor. What I’ve learned is that developing, deploying, and maintaining technology is just as expensive as the production and distribution costs of print. I can’t build our entire digital future on another company’s platform because the platforms are so critical to our future. This path is on the way to slavery on their platform.”
As an advocate for print, Garrett said he feels like he “swimming against the tide,” but he excited about his investment. When the facility opened, the newspaper put together a two-page spread in print documenting the process and they launched a website focused solely on sharing the story on the new facility and new press (communityimpact.com/printing). Soon, they will open the facility for public open tours.
To other publishers who may be thinking about starting this kind of project, Garrett said first, they need to have the volume to justify the investment. He even suggested that other community newspaper publishers work together and create a regional printing plant if their products are similar in size.
“Once the dust settles,” Garrett said, “I think we will see more of these mini-plants.”