Production: The Power of Print Still Prevails

by: Jim Falzone

Production: The Power of Print Still Prevails

It’s less exciting than a hot new app and won’t be a topic for your next newspaper revolutionizing webinar, but newsprint continues to be one of the top three expenses for most newspaper companies, and it’s worth another look. It is a fertile area for expense reduction but also for innovation.

The last decade saw page sizes shrinking from 13.5-inches wide down to 11-inches and 10-inches wide. Reducing page size further is still an area for savings but typically it involves significant capital investment. The Berliner format (a tall tabloid, typically 12.4-inches wide by 18.5-inches tall) and three around presses (allowing for compact broadsheet format) come with big newsprint savings but require expensive press and packaging center modifications.

So if we can’t quickly and cheaply make the newspaper narrower, the next logical move is to consider making the paper thinner. Many publishers already made the switch from 30 pound newsprint to 27.7 pound newsprint, so the next obvious step is to go thinner.

“I could tell you that we are selling more 42.5 gm (26 pound) paper than we have in the past and have a couple customers converting downward from 45 gm (27.7 pound). We are also making 40 gms (24.6 pound) newsprint as well. So, we do anticipate that the lightweight trend will continue,” said Dean Diorio, Kruger Inc. sales representative.

Dioro’s statement is supported by reports from the Pulp and Paper Products Council showing that average “grammage” of newsprint is down 0.3 percent in the United States, comparing January 2015 to January 2014.

The savings is not linear, however. The printing yield is higher on lightweight paper meaning you can print more pages per pound of newsprint. However, the price per pound is almost always higher for lighter basis weights. In layman’s terms, this mean you will use less paper, but the paper itself costs more money per roll.

In many cases, it is still a break-even proposition for printing on light weight. However, there are other financial benefits to printing on lighter stocks. More pages per pound means you will use fewer rolls of paper and, therefore, incur less trucking and warehouse expense. As the printing consolidation trends continue, this reduction for needed storage space can be very helpful.

Newspapers relying on the post office for delivery will often see the greatest benefits from printing on lighter basis weights. The newspapers themselves are lighter, so the postage expense is reduced. The more pages and copies printed, the greater the savings. But it is a complicated formula; the varying prices for each basis weight of newsprint need to be considered. The type of mailing from standard to saturation also plays an important role in the decision. High density and saturation mailings often deliver the highest savings on lightweight newsprint.

“Publishers and printers are still using 27.7 pound and 30 pound, which has been the staple in newsprint for years,” said Dustin Seidman, vice president, Papers Unlimited Inc. His company has been in the reseller market since 1975.  “I would say to definitely shop around for the best price.” He added there has been a drop in consumption, but there is still a demand and prices have come down in 2015.

If you have the ability to shop around for newsprint and you’re continuing the switch to lightweights, the pricing will vary from mill to mill. Don’t assume your current standard weight supplier will also have the best pricing on other grades. Pricing is determined by a company’s equipment and the volume demands for each grade of paper.

Besides a place to save money, newsprint can also be a way to make money. As production manager positions consolidate and publishers delve into digital revenue streams, some age-old newsprint ideas are worth revisiting with a modern twist.

Regular old gray newsprint can become staid and boring to readers and advertisers. A minor change like printing on bright white paper can shake things up a bit. Consider running the local high school football team’s photo on bright white stock with advertising support as a banner or on the back side of the “poster.” The sales pitch to advertisers is unique because you are asking them to be part of something new on a page that will certainly be noticed by readers.  To reduce cost, just run the dink sheet (two pages) or full or half roll alongside your standard newsprint rolls as part of your regular press run. The content for these special pages can range from local festivals, sports team photos, arts and entertainment events, and more.

At the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass., we’ve heard positive things. “I LOVE the bright white that we have because of the posters in the paper this week,” said subscriber C. Maloof in a letter to the publisher. She goes on to say that it was so much easier to read and she could do the puzzle without the pencil poking through the paper. So another interesting use for heavier stocks and bright white is for a Sunday supplement with comics and puzzles.

Besides bright white stock, there are more dramatic colors of newsprint being used by publishers today including pink for Breast Cancer Awareness sections and green that can be used around the holidays or St. Patrick’s Day. But these controversial colors can sometimes lose impact as they affect the quality of photos when printed on this overpowering stock. It’s purely subjective, but publishers either love or hate these saturated colors. A printing trick that accomplishes a similar color effect without degrading photo quality is to put a slight color tint behind the text using page layout programs such as QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign. Your pagination hub or copy editor should know how to do this pretty easily. It’s just creating a box that covers the entire page and setting the color to 10 percent magenta or green. Photos will pop and the colored page can’t be missed by readers. It won’t be full bleed meaning the color won’t go out to the edge of the page, but it will cover the majority of the page, and there is no limit to the colors that can be created.

Spadeas and gatefolds also present a unique opportunity for advertisers and new revenue with minimal incremental cost from your press room. Newspapers benefit when their ads are most effective, and an attention-grabbing position like a spadea (a half sheet, which flaps over the front of a section) is sure to be seen by readers. The press crew may grumble about the additional set-up time or slower press speeds, but the newsprint expense is low. Publishers who charge a premium for this position can help offset some of the headaches occurred in the pressroom, and the legitimate need for more time. If your production facility isn’t comfortable running these, you can start small by offering them on preprinted sections so the daily deadline isn’t affected.

Another often overlooked newsprint idea is Kraft newsprint or heavier ground woods. Typically the stock is relegated to the unglamorous role of wrapping TMC products delivering preprints to non-subscriber homes. Its sturdy composition makes it the perfect solution for tricky labeling machines and the inevitable battering of postal delivery. However, this stock can also appeal to advertisers for specific unique products.

A cheer card is a landscape-oriented broadsheet-sized page that usually displays a message of support to a local sports team. “Go Wild Cats” or “State Champion Mustangs” are examples of typical encouraging sentiments. The back sides of these pages offer prime territory for advertising sponsors. The sturdy nature of Kraft paper is perfect for these pages as they will be held up in the air by sports fans or hung on walls at schools or businesses.

The distribution of the cheer card will help determine the advertising rate. If you are just printing them and dropping off a thousand at the appropriate school, the rate can be low. If you plan to insert the cheer card for your entire market to enjoy, the advertising rate will need to be a little higher to cover your newsprint and production expenses.

Kraft can also be used to wrap your entire newspaper. This is something you would want to reserve for very special (high-paying) advertisers. Depending on your market, it could be the grand opening of a long-awaited Starbucks, a large new museum exhibit, or to announce a new bank entering your market. You may want to consider keeping your masthead at the top of the wrap, but the rest of the sheet (front and back) is sold to the advertiser. It is the ultimate premium position, yet fairly inexpensive to do. The trickiest part is that you likely have to stack down your press run, and then run it through the inserters with this wrapper in the “head” as the jacket and your newspaper in line with the other preprints going into this wrapper. For single copy sales, you may want to negotiate that this wrapper goes inside the paper instead of outside the paper and just wrap your home delivery copies. It’s a big idea and curmudgeonly publishers will hate it, but it can drop more revenue to your bottom line in one day than almost anything else you can do. This requires no special tools or equipment.

Calling a 15-minute meeting with your ad manager and production supervisor regarding newsprint will likely be met with groans, but unless you have looked at it in the past twelve months, you are likely leaving easy money on the table.

Jim Falzone is general manager of the North of Boston Media Group, a collection of CNHI-owned dailies, weeklies, magazines, and digital products in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. 

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