By: George Garneau
A quarter-inch of white margin adds up to big savings sp.
SOARING NEWSPRINT PRICES are cutting margins ? and not just profit margins.
In an effort to preserve profits in the face of 60% higher costs of their principal raw material, newspapers are increasingly trimming their page margins, those slivers of white space on either side of the page.
The New York Times figures it can cut its newsprint consumption 1.8% by slicing one-quarter of an inch off every page, or one-eighth inch from each side.
This doesn’t reduce content, and it costs relatively little ? only about $30,000 for press alterations for one of the parent New York Times Co.’s smaller regional papers, Times vice president Stephen Golden told a session at the Newspaper Association of America convention in New Orleans this week.
The change mainly requires buying 54-inch rolls of newsprint instead of 55-inch rolls.
Golden said the Times and its sister paper, the Boston Globe, were planning to make the shift in May. One paper in the regional group was planning to trim, and others were evaluating the move.
Nor is Times Co. alone. Mike Kienzle, who sells Goss newspaper presses for Rockwell Graphic Systems, says orders for paper-width conversions have quintupled to about 50 since last year, and the waiting time to schedule a conversion has grown to about three or four months.
Kienzle said the spurt in paper-width downsizing is common when newsprint prices surge ? but this is one of the fastest run-ups in history, newsprint and newspaper executives say, coming as it does after one of the deepest price plunges ever.
For a small paper, Golden said, the $30,000 cost of press adjustments was “well justified.”
Most of the paper-width reductions being planned have yet to take effect. But when they do hit the market, as well as a host of other conservation measures in the works at newspapers, they could lower newsprint consumption by 6% this year, Golden predicted.
As evidence of how prices were affecting the market, he said industry newsprint consumption for March was down more than 4% from a year earlier, even though advertising volume was higher.
The downside of downsizing is faced mainly by newsprint manufacturers. They have to slice rolls of fresh newsprint 300 inches wide into smaller pieces, and that could create more waste and inefficiency.
“There’s been a movement under way,” said Randy Ellington, Bowater Inc.’s vice president for newspaper sales, confirming the growth in orders for 54-inch rolls.
But he said the shift would not necessarily reduce manufacturing efficiency, because smaller roll sizes, which formerly were sold at a discount, are in much higher demand.
Manufacturers merely have to reallocate one inch from a 55-inch roll to another roll.
Golden and Steven Braver, a group publisher for Thomson Newspapers, suggested several ways newspapers can conserve the increasingly precious commodity.
Many of the techniques recommended owe more to common sense than advanced rocket science. Ranging from the internal to external, they include such basic tips as cleaning floors in newsprint storage to reduce damage to rolls; sanding nicks, as opposed to stripping them off; and wetting dampeners before the press starts, to cut down on waste.
Externally, newspapers can tighten up on return policies, and eliminate total-market-coverage duplication, Golden said.
Braver said running straight, instead of collect, can eliminate newspaper pages that were added simply to balance sections. But he warned against cutting size, saying, “bulk is quality for some people.”
Returns can be used as mailer copies, he said, and cutting out those people who repeatedly take free subscriptions can save a lot of money.