So-called ‘natural evolution’ may be making print newspapers smaller and less frequent, but it has not killed them yet.
“They are still very much alive,” senior lecturer and co-director of Auckland University of Technology’s Journalism, Media and Democracy Research Centre Merja Myllylahti says in an INMA post.
Dr Myllylahti says journalists and academics have predicted the death of print newspapers since early 2010, “and some continue to do so.
“We know that thousands of print newspapers have disappeared since then, cut their publication days, or moved to a digital-only model.
“Yet, in some places, print newspapers are still thriving. In others, they are struggling and current paper price hikes and mill closures are not helping the publishers who are just recovering from the pandemic.
Born in Finland in a small town where the main source of wealth was the Kajaani Oy pulp and paper mill, she says mill closures and price hikes are “very familiar”.
The mill started to produce pulp in 1910, and was later acquired by UPM Kymmene, and “as a consequence”, closed in 2008.
“It was a devastating move for a small town and its people. Some people said it was just ‘natural evolution’ because global paper giants had to seek synergies and close paper and pulp mills. This all happened a while ago, but this ‘natural evolution’ continues: Paper mills and printing facilities continue to disappear, having potentially devastating impacts, especially on smaller news publishers.”
In Australia, Norske Skog, which is the major provider of paper to the local publishing industry, is proposing price increases of 30-40 per cent to keep production going in its Tasmanian paper mill, having closed its paper mill in New Zealand in 2021.
She quotes Tony Kendall, managing director of regional group Australian Community Media – now no longer a stablemate of Nine metro the Sydney Morning Herald – that the price hike poses “the worst crisis for local publishers since World War II,” possibly proving “fatal to some mastheads or lead to a reduction in the size or number of newspapers distributed in the lead-up to the federal election.”
Hundreds of Australian mastheads have disappeared or reduced services since the start of 2019, and in New Zealand major magazine printer Ovato says it is ceasing operations because of paper costs and supply chain issues.
“The closure leaves many magazines and smaller newspapers without a paper and printer just when the people have started to read and pay for them again,” she says.
In the UK, national and regional publisher Reach has warned more expensive paper will impact its profit, while in the US, Gannett is to cut editions of its 186 newspapers by one day a week, mainly dropping Saturday print editions.
“The ‘natural evolution’ is happening as the size of print newspapers is getting smaller and they are published less frequently,” says Myllylahti. “But the evolution has not killed the print newspapers (yet). They are still very much alive.”