Newspapers--(Don't) Stop the Presses!
Newspaper publishers/printers are uncovering new revenue sources by competing for commercial jobs to fill idle press time.
BY ERIK CAGLE
The old joke is that while a lawyer can hear a $5 bill falling on a pile of snow, a newspaper publisher can catch it before it hits the ground.
Why the harsh treatment? It is a much-deserved depiction, for the life of a newspaper is a constant, daily struggle to make ends meet. For every paper brimming with a 40/60 advertising-to-editorial ratio or better, there are dozens of smaller dailies and weeklies that are fighting for their existence, eking out profits or absorbing losses.
Ah, but don't cry for the newspaper. Chaos may reign supreme on a daily basis (and not only in the newsroom), but it isn't called the daily miracle for nothing.
Many papers, regardless of financial standing, have found a simple way to increase the bottom line by printing outside commercial work. The web presses are there and so are the press crews. The prevailing thinking is that they might as well put both to work.
There are papers, such as the Connecticut-based Willimantic Chronicle, which perform above the level of their circulation. Boasting a circulation of 11,000, The Chronicle Printing Co.'s flagship publication is the "local" paper for the University of Connecticut. When the Huskies won the NCAA basketball title earlier this year, the Chronicle printed a four-page wraparound, with all the copy written by one staffer.
According to Kevin Crosbie, Chronicle publisher, commercial printing jobs provide his newspaper with supplementary profits.
"The primary business is the paper and the advertising revenue it generates, but it would be a waste not to make use of the resource," Crosbie notes. "We're able to generate an additional 10 percent revenue from our commercial jobs."
Other jobs at Chronicle Printing include The Daily Campus, UConn's student-run paper (10,000 daily circulation), as well as a string of weeklies and targeted newspapers.
The Chronicle also produces menus for local restaurants, along with fliers for local advertisers—lumber, hardware and grocery stores—and also prints the Connecticut Hospice Association's publication. Other publications include a real estate book and a 52-page booklet celebrating the Huskies' recent NCAA title. Print runs range from 3,000 to 100,000.
In all, Chronicle Printing churns out a quarter million copies a week (discounting its daily paper), which keeps the presses running seven hours a day.
"We're printing on a seven-unit Web Leader press; we've set up two lines with two folders," Crosbie says. "The press has angle bars, so we can steal webs from either line. We're flexible enough to plate up a job on both lines and print at speeds of 40,000 copies an hour."
Crosbie points out that Chronicle Printing has also expanded its prepress capabilities and now accepts digital transmissions. Color work has enjoyed an increase, as well. Labeling and collating are among its other services.
Chronicle Printing has a five-member press crew with a camera person rotating. It helps that two of the workers have been on board for more than 30 years, with one 40-plus-year veteran.
"We're in a somewhat rural area, so we try to be a full-service printer for our region," Crosbie says. "We cover southern New England, really anywhere to which we can get our truck."
Publishers Press, of San Jose, CA, produces three weekly publications—The Palo Alto Weekly, The Almanac and Mountain View Voice—a total circulation of 110,000. Part of the Embarcadero Publishing Co., Publishers Press' printing plant is 25 miles away in San Jose, where it prints outside titles such as The Jewish Bulletin, East Bay Express and the Carmel Pine Cone.
In all, the shop produces more than one million copies per week, according to Bob Heinen, president of Publishers Press' printing division. Commercial printing revenues account for 80 percent to 85 percent of its overall printing business.
Typical runs range from 20,000 to 40,000 copies for 24- to 56-page publications. The work keeps the Solna Web presses running for three shifts from Monday afternoon through Friday morning.
Publishers Press reached full press capacity two and a half years ago, but expanded from one folder and eight printing units to three folders and 17 units a year ago. Not surprisingly, Heinen and his staff continue to add new customers.
Among its services are direct mail for newspapers, including labeling, inserting and delivery. Publishers Press offers full digital scanning as well as prepress production.
Add Color, Add Profits
"The last three years, we've seen all our papers add color; they at least have spot color," Heinen says. "Three-quarters of our outside jobs have at least one position of color, along with one or two spot colors."
Publishers Press continues to grow its products and services, having added a commercial printing salesperson position for the first time. The printer also reduced Solna press cutoffs from 223⁄4˝ down to 22˝, saving on the cost of paper, something Publishers Press can pass onto its customers.
"We're going to add a folder in the bindery department to fold preprints and do off-line folding," Heinen says. "We'll be doing stitching and trimming within the next year."
The News Examiner, a three-days-per-week Gannett paper located in Gallatin, TN—30 minutes north of Nashville—runs its presses 16 hours a day, four days a week, yet is looking to add another print job or two. Ralph Rupe, production manager, notes that the Examiner can do all aspects of specialized services, from design to paste-up. The printer can also receive digital transmissions.
Among the printer's job portfolio is the Nashville Chamber of Commerce booklet, printed on 50 lb. stock; the Hendersonville Star-News (twice a week); the "Sumner County Fact Book," an annual edition that contains 224 to 230 pages; and various other weeklies and special publications. Most print runs are under 20,000 copies.
"Our commercial printing revenues coincide with ROP advertising," Rupe points out. "There have been times when the commercial printing helped out the ROP advertising. Since we don't print our paper seven days a week, commercial printing work allows us to operate at the size we're currently operating."
Another paper that is looking to bolster its commercial printing is Mid South Newspapers, publishers of the Northwest Alabamian (7,500 circulation). Its presses run 16 hours a day, pumping out five newspapers, furniture and grocery advertising and other local publications, fliers and circulars.
According to Horace Moore, publisher of the Haleyville-based Alabamian, its printing specialties include direct mail, and printing and mailing of inserts. The operation has acquired an imagesetter and has increased its load of color process printing. Run lengths, he says, are in the 10,000 to 500,000 range.
"We're in a rural area," Moore points out. "With a small paper and our own press, it's necessary to drum up commercial printing to subsidize the news press."
To that end, Mid South Newspapers is looking to bolster its web pressroom arsenal. Moore says that several more units and another folder will be installed, and an oven is being added to do heatset work.