Newsrooms have been financially struggling since well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsrooms that put out paper publications have been particularly hard hit.
Newspapers take time, resources, and labor to create. With the increasing digitization of information, actual paper publications are becoming rarer and rarer.
Now, with post-COVID inflation, the newspaper industry may be nearing extinction.
The biggest driving factor behind this crisis is the simple cost of materials. To print a newspaper, one needs quite a few raw materials: paper, ink, toner, and a press of some kind.
Not only that, but that material needs transport, which adds in fuel and toll costs. All of these prices have skyrocketed: the price of newsprint (the paper upon which the titular newspaper is printed) is up 30 percent.
The price of ink, plates, toner, presses, and other printing materials are up over 15 percent. And perhaps most damning of all, the cost of fuel is up 50 percent—leading to a perfect storm of rising costs which may make printing newspapers more expensive than any possible profits.
Some newsrooms, such as that of The Tampa Bay Times, were able to save themselves from this arduous and expensive cycle by reducing their print output and outsourcing printing, meaning they could close their in-house plant and reduce the costs of labor and materials significantly.
However, they have not remained entirely insulated. “Newsprint is astronomically high and remains in the stratosphere well beyond what we anticipated,” said Conan Gallen, CEO of the Times.
“This is despite reduced demand from us and every publisher we know. Consolidation has given remaining suppliers more leverage.”
Other newsrooms have had to start counting their materials. P.J. Browning, the president of Evening Post Industries’ newspaper division, said that has resulted in less content.
“We are mindful of our page counts, and while we don’t want to cut any news, we have run a little less national and international news and really focused on local,” Browning said.
“We also have increased home delivery rates. However, with our main goal of retaining readership in the long run… we have decided to eat a lot of the expense in an effort to save readers.”
One process Browning instituted that has offset costs a bit is a fuel upcharge in print subscriber’s weekly rates.
“Without doing this,” she said, “we would have lost carriers, had more down routes, and really poor customer delivery service. This seemed palatable for our readers with hardly any pushback and helped us with minimal open routes.”
The concern is international. The Daily Mail and its parent company General Trust, both based in the UK, have been reportedly reviewing employee numbers and other ways to cut costs.
European newsprint prices have increased from about €445 to €535 per tonne, a sharp 60 percent increase from the beginning of the pandemic.
“Most businesses appreciate that it [energy inflation] will stabilise and may even start to come down again in due course,” Douglas McCabe, chief executive of Enders Analysis, said.
“But it’s an aspect of their business that they can’t control. No one likes to be in a situation where you have lost control.”
Despite all this, newsrooms see reason to keep their print distribution strong. Print has been the calling card of journalism for years, and customers are not likely to fully let go of newsprint altogether.
And most publications are finding it sufficient to gird their loins until costs come down again, though the conversation around turning news digital will surely keep developing.