Newsprint Tariffs, An Update

May 30, 2018

By Matt Paxton
Lexington News-Gazette

I’ve been focused on several bumps in the road of life recently. Sometimes these things will start running through my head, particularly at 3 a.m., and I end up tossing and turning for several hours.

What helps me is to get up and make a list of solutions, or things to do the next day, which often does allow me to empty my brain of these worries. I tell myself that I can’t do anything about these worries at that hour of the night, but it’s really committing them to paper that helps me let go and eventually get back to sleep.

One thing that’s given me a few sleepless hours in the middle of the night is something I wrote about several months ago; the tariffs being applied to the paper on which we print The News-Gazette. In March, additional duties were levied on Canadian newsprint, which increased the price 30 percent over that in effect the first of January. American producers followed suit and raised their prices to match the Canadian price including the duties. The net effect to us is an 11 to 13 percent increase in the total printing cost of each edition of The News-Gazette, starting June 15. I totaled that up for a year, based on our average number of pages and our current pressrun, and it’s a substantial five-figure dollar amount.

We will find a way to deal with this, without cutting staff or the quality of the newspaper.

We’re looking at how to make the number of copies we print as close to the number we need for subscribers and our single copy purchasers. In other words, reduce the waste factor as much as possible.

We will also see how we can increase our revenues to offset this increase. Our staff is pretty creative, and I’ve already been given some good ideas for promotions for the coming months. And, frankly, we hope our readers value what we do enough to pay a bit more for a subscription.

That’s still cheaper per week than a cup of coffee!

A friend in the industry, who owns a paper in a much smaller, more rural community than Rockbridge, recently adopted a new business model that relies more on subscription revenue than advertising. There are few businesses in her county – no supermarket, no auto dealer, mostly small mom and pop stores. Her paper was already an outstanding community newspaper, but she’s upped the number of pages, added content and more color, and beefed up the paper’s website.

Her subscribers get the weekly paper and the website - for all that happens in between the paper days -for $99 a year.

She was worried that she’d lose a lot of subscribers.

She shouldn’t have. Almost 85 percent of her subscribers have been renewing at the higher rate. They see the value in paper’s local coverage, and are backing that up by paying for the outstanding writing and reporting that the paper offers. And even at the new rate, the weekly cost is about the same as a large coffee shop java.

The tariffs on newsprint are just an unnecessary impediment to a publisher who is providing what every community needs, and is brave enough to embark on a new course to keep the paper viable.

That kind of collateral damage is what happens when simplistic solutions are applied to complex problems, like the loss of manufacturing jobs in America.

As worrisome as the added costs are to already-strapped community papers, there’s word that the tariffs may create shortages of newsprint, and that smaller newspaper printers may not be able to get an adequate supply to keep the presses rolling.

This seems counter-intuitive, because you’d think higher prices for paper would stimulate more production. The fact is, most of the paper mills in the U.S. and Canada are already producing at capacity.

This confirms the argument we’ve made that the closure of American paper mills was due to declining demand, not unfair foreign competition.

The tariff question will be heard by the International Trade Commission on July 17, with a decision to be rendered sometime in the early fall.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle have said they are opposed to these tariffs, and have written to the commission, or are scheduled to testify before it against the tariffs. Neither of Virginia’s senators nor our congressman have taken a position, though I know my calls and emails can’t be the only ones they’ve gotten from constituents.

If this unfair tariff bothers you, we’d sure appreciate it if you’d add your voice by calling or emailing them.

Regardless of whether you think The News-Gazette is a good newspaper or a rag, communities need a local paper to keep citizens informed about the important things - the problems and the successes.

If this tariff foolishness isn’t overturned, there are communities around the country that will lose their local paper.

And that’s never a good thing.