In the end it was state land tax and the doubling of the price of newsprint which has dealt a death blow to specialist Melbourne newspaper printer Streamline Press, not the demise of independent publishers.
Not that the pandemic lockdown and the internet and smartphone-driven general decline in printed newspapers has helped.
John Politis’ mostly-ethnic customer base had been much as it was for decades in a city which has the largest Greek population outside Athens, not to mention speakers of perhaps 15 other languages and dialects, most of them with their own newspapers.
“We had to pass on a proportion of the extra cost as newsprint, materials and labour rose, some of them astronomically,” he says. “Publishers have mostly responded to that by cutting edition sizes, and we reluctantly reached the conclusion that we couldn’t turn a profit with that.”
A demand for land tax and an offer for the real estate in fashionable Fitzroy has brought things to a head, and Politis has put the 24-unit Goss Community on the market, hoping at least some of it will find a new home in Australia or overseas, where some niche markets continue to expand and the Community remains a trusted workhorse.
Over the years, that line has expanded to three four-high towers, 12 mono units and two SSC folders, testament to the growth since Politis’ father, Spiros set up in 1985 with a Goss Suburban acquired from a country paper in NSW.
“My father was looking for a business and someone suggested that this press was for sale, so he thought he would try his hand,” he says. “He started from scratch with no prior experience of printing and we’ve definitely learned the hard way.”
What father and son understood was the importance of customer service, and by looking after the needs of perhaps 90 per cent of the independent foreign-language papers published in Melbourne, Streamline continued to grow.
As did the now-Community press line, with regular unit extensions and then a trio of all-colour four-high towers as demand dictated.
Streamline managed to meet – and manage – the needs of the city’s publishers, at one time printing in 15 different languages including Serbian, Macedonian, Vietnamese, Greek, Turkish and Chinese dialects, in some cases producing rival papers.
“But we don’t get involved in the politics at all,” he told me during an interview in 1994. “They come here and we schedule the job and we print it.”
Now, having survived the recession of the early 1990s, and got through the COVID pandemic and Victoria’s stringent lockdown, Politis has decided it’s time to draw a line.
“Norse Skog doubled the price of newsprint in a dying industry, so of course this was going to fatally wound many papers,” he says. “It’s sad that at least half a dozen small papers have closed when we did, as it was too hard for them to use a printer in a country area.”
He says that in 38 years, he has seen “at least 15 presses” closing in Melbourne, and says Streamline had been the last survivor, apart from News Limited’s Herald Sun print site in Truganina.
“Maybe in three years, there will be no small presses left at all.”
Pictured: John Politis with the Goss press, and (below) in 1994; some of the 22-unit Community press, an advertisement for which appears on this site