Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Expected Rise in Paper Costs Leaves Publishers Shuddering
Mags Could Be Paying 25% More Next Year Due to Mergers in Pulp Biz
By Nat Ives
Magazine publishers are already facing way too many rising costs: technology investments, postage, editors both diva and deserving. But the seemingly mundane budget line for glossy paper is suddenly the one everyone is worried about.
Welcome to our hell, publishers said last week.
"I frankly became more of a quasi-expert than I would want to be, only out of necessity," said John P. Loughlin, exec VP-general manager at Hearst Magazines.
The weakness of the American dollar is increasingly restricting publishers' overseas options.
More worrisome, paper seems to be emerging from a competitive era of cyclically rising and falling prices. This year already has seen increases implemented and announced. Now structural changes, including mergers and a growing role for aggressive private equity, look likely to drive prices up next year by another 20% to 25%, Mr. Loughlin said.
The industry hasn't seen a spike like that since 1995, when announced increases led to a brief run on the paper market that echoed Dutch Tulip Mania. This isn't spare change, either: Paper comprises some 15%-20% of publishers' costs, Mr. Loughlin estimated. One big publisher said it's still unclear how big a hit is bearing down. "We're still examining what we believe specifics amount to, and whether there are benefits to our scale," an executive there said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Planning the right strategic response is complicated by that fact that visibility, beyond such rough projections, remains limited. Paper manufacturers aren't too helpful on this score. A spokesman for AbitibiBowater, the result of an October merger and now the third-largest publicly traded paper company in North America, declined to discuss publishers' fears. "We cannot speculate on pricing on a going-forward basis," he said.
A spokeswoman for NewPage, which hopes to close on the acquisition of Stora Enso's North American operations by the first quarter, did not respond to a voicemail and an e-mail seeking comment Nov. 21.
Mr. Loughlin said Hearst would get by. The company increased cover and subscription pricing on many of its magazines this year and is considering a couple more hikes next year. "We have tried to be thoughtful about our structure in the good years and in the tough years relative to paper prices," he said. "Nobody wants to be here, but frankly we're in a good position in that we've managed our costs and don't have to change the physical specs on the magazines."
The other obvious recourse, trying to pass costs along to advertisers, just won't work well enough for everyone, said Malcolm Campbell, publisher of Spin. "It's going to put some people out of business," he said.
And he didn't just mean the indies. "Don't kid yourself," he said. "There are a lot of large-publishing-company old titles that are very marginal anyway. You're going to see a lot of icons going down if paper prices go up that much."
Spin, he said, will continue just fine in print, even without exploring options like switching to cheaper paper stock or reducing the magazine's size. "There may be some adjustments," he said. "I don't think we're going to go that route. We'll find other ways."
Paper prices "must double" says M-real chiefBY William Mitting, PrintWeek
Paper prices must double to make the paper industry economically and environmentally sustainable, Andrew Gunman, regional director of paper manufacturer M-real, has warned.
Speaking at the annual PPA Magazine Conference at London's Millennium Hotel last week, Gunman said the industry had to "pay the right price" for paper to save the environment and secure its future.
"Increased paper costs would reduce waste and force the industry to consume less," he said. "The paper industry needs more money to build a sustainable future."
Gunman added that, while most publishers do not insist on the environmentally friendly FSC certified paper, there has been increased demand from large retailers such as Sainsbury's.
"We have seen a 100% increase in demand for FSC paper in 2007 which is pushing up prices," he added.
Bemoaning the cheap price of paper in Europe, Gunman said the supply and demand mismatch was the fault of the paper industry, which had sold too cheaply.
He added that the low prices were destroying communities across Europe as paper mills are forced out of business.
Gunman's comments will be met with concern among the printing industry which is already struggling with increased paper prices.
One industry insider said that paper-based marketing and information communication has to stand up economically against other delivery channels. As paper prices increase, it makes these other channels more viable, threatening the industry.
In 2006, the dollar price of softwood kraft pulp increased by 22%, a cost which was passed onto printers.