Production: PAGE Cooperative Opens Up Membership to Include Publicly-Held Newspapers, Newspaper Groups and Commercial Printers

A lot has changed in the printing industry over the past 35 years and a lot has stayed the same. We’ve had circulation ups and downs, advertising certainly isn’t what it once was and newspaper ownership has changed dramatically. But our world isn’t all gloom and doom. There are many bright spots and cause for celebration. Over the years, we’ve seen advancements in technology throughout our industry. For those of you who remember the pre-pagination days and can draw a parallel to where we are today, you’ll have to agree we’ve come quite a long way. Long gone are the days of trimming galleys, marking-up ads and cutting apart small pieces to assemble them into an advertisement like a jigsaw puzzle.

Our process for making plates has simplified and quality has grown to new levels from the days of raw metal needing to be coated in-house and burning plates on a vacuum board through a thin sheet of film, to the current point of laser imaged readymade plates being locked up on press without processing.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, and as we’ve advanced, we’ve continued to spend a sizeable amount of time and money on consumables.

I go back a bit in our industry. I clearly remember 35 years ago speaking with vendor after vendor negotiating price, discussing delivery costs, product availability and spending an absorbent amount of time meeting in my office with an endless line of salespeople. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I’d come across a great deal and the disappointment when a vendor would raise a price and there really wasn’t a lot I could do about it if I needed the product. But all in all, time aside, I enjoyed having the ability to work closely with vendors and negotiate pricing that I “thought” might just be better than the shop down the street was paying.

I was happy to be left alone to do my job and thought I was doing it excellently, then came the word from the head office that we would be using PAGE Cooperative to negotiate pricing with vendors and our purchases would go through them and them alone. No more face to face negotiating with vendors? This just couldn’t be right. I just couldn’t understand what the advantage could be to buying through a cooperative. Then again no “cooperatives” existed for consumable purchases back then, and of course, we didn’t yet understand any benefit in having one.

To get to my point: I was stuck in my ways, resistant to change and in all honesty, quite ignorant at that stage of my brief career in newspapers. The bigger problem was that most of my co-workers and connections throughout the industry seemed to be in the same boat. I remember quite a bit of resistance to cooperative buying when PAGE first came into our industry, but like many things in life it takes awhile to get over new things, take a closer look at the value of change, and realize there are a lot really smart individuals who know quite a bit more than I ever could about purchasing.

In 1983, one of those smart individuals was Pete Eyerly III. He was publisher of the Press-Enterprise, an independent newspaper in Bloomsburg, Pa. One day, Eyerly received an ink bill that was mistakenly sent to the wrong newspaper. He discovered that the bill was marked with a 15 percent discount that the same supplier was not offering to the Press-Enterprise. Needless to say, he was not pleased. He began to wonder just how many other suppliers were offering others discounts he wasn’t privy to and how many other independent newspapers were in similar situations.

Eyerly contacted a friend and associate, Chuck Berky, a former independent publisher, and Joe Smyth of Independent Newspapers to see if they might be interested in helping create a purchasing cooperative for independent newspapers across the country. These are the events that led to the creation of PAGE (“Publishers Associated to Gain Economy”)—smart people who sure knew what our industry needed at the time a lot better than I did.

On this day, PAGE set into motion a plan designed to assist with cost leveling between independently-owned newspapers and publically-held properties. It’s a plan that has worked well over the past 35 years and brought tremendous benefits to our industry through volume purchases.

Fast forward to 2019 and the ownership changes that have taken place and continue to occur in our industry. A number of independent newspapers have traded hands, selling to larger group ownership or shutting down production operations all together, while others have closed. Obviously the fewer independent newspapers doing business with PAGE have less bargaining power they may have with vendors, so it was time for a change in the bylaws of PAGE that not only strengthens its position but also a change that I believe will benefit us all.

Stronger Together

In June, PAGE chief executive officer Gary Blakeley and Press-Enterprise publisher and PAGE board chair Brandon Eyerly issued a press release announcing that publicly-held newspapers, newspaper groups and commercial printers would be eligible to join the cooperative. Prior to the current change in this bylaw whenever an independently-owned newspaper was acquired by a publically-traded company, the newspaper would no longer qualify for PAGE membership. Obviously, that diminished the aggregate spend of PAGE.

When asked why this change had to happen, Blakeley and Eyerly said “looking forward, we can say that we see no good reason why a newspaper should lose the leverage of PAGE’s spend power simply because of ownership. Since the founding of PAGE in 1984, the landscape has changed.”

I could not agree more with this approach. Opening membership to a much larger group and including commercial printers will certainly add strength to the buying power.

Gary Blakeley

Blakeley, who started with PAGE a short time ago, has been actively involved with purchasing since his days at Freedom Communications.

“An obvious and basic concept for purchasing is the more spend power that you have, the better your negotiation position becomes,” he said. “This is not to say that spend volume is the end-all in the negotiation process, but it is an important tool. I’ve been a proponent of membership inclusivity for a long time.”

Blakeley proposed the bylaw change when he started at PAGE in mid-March. “It was a basic proposal, hitting at the right time and our industry is stronger standing together as opposed to fractionalizing.”

Accordingly to Eyerly, “The vote (to change the bylaw) cast by its newspaper members was acknowledgement that the distinction between publicly and privately-held newspapers is no longer relevant.”

There are currently more than 200 members in PAGE as well as more than 170 participating vendors.  I, for one, believe that PAGE along with our industry as a whole will benefit from the change to this bylaw. Obviously, the 92.5 percent of PAGE members who voted to change this bylaw felt the same.

“Currently, PAGE counts among its members many small, single-market newspapers as well as some very large privately owned or privately financed newspaper groups. Before this action by PAGE, printing/publishing sites owned by publically traded companies were not eligible for membership yet other large newspaper groups with different capital structures were permitted,” Eyerly said in the announcement. “The dynamics of the market and ownership structures have shifted due to merger activity. Plus, when you consider that many newspapers are outsourcing their printing, whether to another newspaper or to a commercial printer, it makes sense for many of these businesses to have the opportunity to realize the even greater economies of scale that are feasible with an association like PAGE.”

Brandon Eyerly

Over the past 35 years, ownership has been a bit more stable than it currently is. With the changes that have occurred in ownership, it’s possible this change wouldn’t have occurred had it been previously proposed; fortunately, it now has occurred. Blakeley indicated that rather than look back, his preference is to look forward and collaborate with many more newspapers and commercial printers to add more value to their operations. An organization like PAGE plays a crucial role in helping to level the playing field for all buyers, current members and those new to the cooperative. Blakeley stated that “a common denominator of all offset printed newspapers is that membership in PAGE can bestow huge economic benefits to these businesses.”

Aside from the benefits gained by group/volume purchasing, PAGE also handles many of the administrative functions, from invoice billing to price negotiation to vetting new vendors. PAGE effectively works as the member’s purchasing agent. These benefits add up and create a sizeable economic benefit to the organization.

Regarding vendor selection, Blakeley said, “If a supplier chooses not to be associated with PAGE in order to charge higher pricing, they are definitely not a good fit for PAGE. In these cases, our members are better served by choosing a PAGE Preferred Supplier who believes in equitable profitability for all.”

This is the kind of organization I want to have in my corner in this time of tight budgets and cost saving challenges.

It bears mentioning that there is a fee to join PAGE. There is also a small transaction fee applied to each purchase to offset administrative costs. This aside, PAGE is dedicated to our industry and maintains a not for profit status as a company.

One of the interesting things PAGE offers is a complimentary R.O.I./payback analysis to prospective members. PAGE uses comparative data between a customer’s actual pricing and current PAGE pricing for the same commodity/service to evaluate the value of joining PAGE. I don’t know of too many other organizations willing to provide this up-front analysis to a prospective client. The timeframe for a true R.O.I. will vary based on purchases and the delta between current purchase price and PAGE pricing. PAGE will provide the analysis to the prospective member and of course, the final determination if it’s a good financial fit will be up to the prospective member. Should the prospective decide to join PAGE, the cooperative will track purchases and potential R.O.I. data by member.

In the press release, Blakeley said, “Even if you’re a very small operation, and let’s say, do not buy newsprint or printing plates from us, you can still save on software and some of the ancillary services that our vendors provide. Our staff will gladly conduct a review of your purchases to determine if membership makes sense for you.”

When PAGE started, there was strong resistance on the part of many production executives (including myself). It took PAGE 10 years to reach the annual spend volume of $50 million. However, since that juncture, PAGE has continued to grow with those early objections waning. Simply put, PAGE makes sense offering value to members and suppliers alike. To learn more about PAGE, visit pagecooperative.com. 

Jerry Simpkins has more than 30 years of experience in printing and operations in the newspaper industry. Contact him on LinkedIn.com or at simpkins@tds.net.

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