More than half of community papers still operate their own presses

Apr 12, 2017

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

Nearly 60 percent (56.86 percent) of National Newspaper Association members who answered a recent survey said they operate their own printing plant. More than 50 members signed on to take the non-scientific survey.

Of those who answered the survey, 43.14 percent, said they outsource their publications. Some of those printing companies are strictly commercial operations, while others are newspaper-owned operations that also have a commercial component.

Most of these printers, 87 percent, operate web presses. Twenty-five percent have sheet-fed presses. Respondents were allowed to pick more than one type of press when deciding on what type of press they use. The majority of these respondents use Goss Community presses, 53 percent, or Goss Urbanite presses, 3.8 percent. Others use King presses or Harris presses.

In addition to web press operations, a little more than 30 percent have added either a digital press or high-speed photocopier to their press operations. Of those who answered the survey, 45 percent use high-end duplicating machines. Most of these new machines have been purchased, 47.83 percent. Some lease their machines. And some have leased before purchasing them. Most leases noted were between two and five years.

As newspaper presses age, the question always comes up on whether to improve operations by upgrading a current press or by buying a new one. Or to shut down the print operation and outsource one’s printing. It comes down to return on investment. Could a newspaper justify the cost of a new or refurbished press versus sending its pages out for someone else to print?

Black Ink columnist Ken Blum goes over most of these questions or concerns in his column on Page 6 of this issue. One concern he addresses is how far would one travel to get a newspaper printed and still consider it reasonable or worthwhile. We asked that question in this survey. Of those who answered the question, the majority, 30.56 percent, said they would outsource to a printer from 50 to 100 miles away. The next group, 22.22 percent, would only send their paper to a printer if it were less than 50 miles away. Because of changes in technology, nearly 20 percent of the respondents said they would consider a printer that was 100 to 200 miles away. Interestingly enough, 16.67 percent said they would send their paper to a printer that was more than 200 miles away.

One respondent said it uses book and magazine printers from other states for specialty products. One commercial operation said it regularly delivers printing to weekly papers that are more than 250 miles away. One printer said that it has printed papers up to 150 miles away, but found that anything more than 100 miles out can be inconvenient.

If more newspapers are considering outsourcing their printing, where should they look? The majority of respondents, 57.5 percent, said they look for printers from within the printing industry. Thirty-two percent look for printers from their state newspaper associations. Twenty percent look in Pub Aux for ads, and 12 percent seek printers through online search engines, such as Yelp, Google and Bing. Ten percent search their local business directories or chambers of commerce. Some also said they use word of mouth or past relationships to find printers. Some look within their company, if it has multiple publications and printing facilities. Respondents were given the option to select more than one option.

We asked whether it would make a difference if the printer one would outsource to, is also a member of NNA. Most, 67.44 percent said no. Thirty percent said yes.

One respondent said: “It does not make a difference, but deciding between two printers of equal price and quality, we would prefer an NNA member.”

Those companies that do print are still in the market for additional equipment. Of those who answered the question, 22.73 percent are looking for a new printer for a niche product. Only 9 percent are looking for a new printer for their newspaper or total market coverage product. Other equipment considered are: folder, 4.55 percent; stacker, 4.5 percent; mailing equipment, 9 percent; front-end servers and computer-to-plate equipment, 4.5 percent.

One respondent said he is looking for consumables such as press rollers and blankets, platesetter cleaning and service.

Another respondent said his company had built a plant last year and didn’t need anything currently, while another said that over the past 36 months he had added two stacked units and a new CTP processor, a labeler and a digital press, along with a new folder for the press.

When asked whether a company would seek to buy new or used equipment, 27.78 percent said used, 11.11 percent said new and 44.44 percent said it depended on the best offer. About 11 percent said they would lease equipment.

Printing supplies are costly. Years ago, only those companies dealing in large-volume printing could negotiate for better deals on items such as paper and ink. Many community papers with their own press found it difficult to negotiate for better prices.

Luckily, there had been some relief on the way. And that came in the form of printing cooperatives. When asked whether the respondents were part of a cooperative, 76.19 percent said they belonged to PAGE Cooperative. About 23 percent go without the benefit of buying with a larger group. One respondent said that it had been in a cooperative, but it had disbanded.

From those who participated in the survey and operated their own printing plants, it was evident that most of them were seeking more business. We asked if their operations were operating at capacity. Nearly 70 percent said that they rarely operate at capacity and could use more business. The rest, 30 percent, said they sometimes are at capacity, with peaks and some idle time.

From the answers to the survey, most of the respondents, 75 percent, have not altered their print capacity in the past five years. Twenty-four percent have added capacity.

No matter what department one is in at a newspaper, finding qualified help can be problematic. Finding qualified press operators is no different. Of those who answered the question, 64.29 percent said it was somewhat difficult to find a press operator. Twenty-eight percent said it was very difficult. Only 7 percent said it was not difficult.

One respondent said his company recruits untrained locals, trains them and promotes from within.

Another respondent is part of larger company that owns several central printing plants.

Most of those seeking press operators rely on word of mouth, 68 percent, to find qualified personnel. At least 60 percent also seek qualified help using trade publications, such as this one and state press bulletins.

When asked what other concerns or issues newspapers have with printing, one said that PAGE is a helpful cooperative. Another had just completed bidding for its newspaper and TMC printing this month. One said that print quality is a big issue when outsourcing one’s newspaper.