MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Newsprint crisis is no bad thing if we suffer less clutter

I hesitate to suggest that one swallow will make a summer, but there are a number of reasons to suggest that the newsprint crisis of last summer appears to be on the wane. If correct, this is good news for everybody, from publishers themselves (even humble trade journals such as Campaign) to advertisers and, of course, people who work in both areas. And let’s not forget the readers, either.

I hesitate to suggest that one swallow will make a summer, but there are

a number of reasons to suggest that the newsprint crisis of last summer

appears to be on the wane. If correct, this is good news for everybody,

from publishers themselves (even humble trade journals such as Campaign)

to advertisers and, of course, people who work in both areas. And let’s

not forget the readers, either.



First, major European publishers appear to be resisting planned price

increases from Scandinavian producers - which they wouldn’t if they

didn’t feel confident enough to believe they could meet their

requirements from elsewhere. Second, demand in North America has

softened in response to lower advertising volumes. And third, volume

spot prices in some markets, notably Asia, are said to be tumbling.



Ordinarily, no-one would give a fig for Asian paper prices, but that’s

not the case any more. For the one thing last year’s crisis revealed was

that we are now in a global market. So hitherto irrelevant factors, such

as the rapid growth in Asian economies and the fragmentation and

democratisation of the former Soviet Union (lots of new republics equals

lots of new newspapers and magazines), now have an impact on the readers

of Bella or advertisers such as Book Club Associates.



Indeed, we can already see some of the renewed confidence among UK

publishers in developments such as the Evening Standard’s plans to

launch a new 30-page competitor to Time Out in the back of its ES

magazine.



This is the kind of product extension we all took for granted in the

early 90s and which was effectively halted by last summer’s supply and

price crisis.



But, I would argue, the temporary block on product development has been

no bad thing. The late 80s and early 90s were characterised by a

significant price drop in newsprint - with the result that everybody

splurged on new sections and supplements. Take the newspaper TV listings

sections, for example. They’ve all got them, but net cumulative sales

haven’t increased.



And how many of the new supplements were actually any good? Publishers

seemed more interested in launching them for the sake of it, because

newsprint was cheap and because a competitor had one, than in rigorously

assessing whether advertisers and readers wanted them. It’s rather like

buying something in a sale because it’s cheap, not because you want or

need it.



Arguably, we now have a return to normality. A bit like the oil crises

of the 70s and 80s, it’s taken a shock like last year’s to realise that

newsprint is a scarce commodity and should be treated as such. If

publishers now think twice before rushing out with some new product

launch or extension, then so much the better. And, just like newsprint,

readers’ time is a precious commodity. If my life and my waste-bin are

now less cluttered as a result, then I for one will be happier.



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