News International knows its future is bright in full colour

Events at Wapping 18 years ago now seem about as real as the bifidus digestivum that creeps through your body when you tackle one of those fancy new anti-wind yoghurts, writes Ian Darby.

The militant unions and running battles with News International that characterised the move to Wapping are now firmly in the past. And while I would love to see a return to the old days when, reputedly, dozens of unionised printers would take advantage of a pub lock-in while one of their more unfortunate mates operated the presses, I would also support NI's right not to have to subsidise such piss-ups.

Last week's seismic news that NI is relocating its print operations from Wapping, at a cost of £600 million over five years, is a good thing for NI and, potentially, for advertisers, although it is obviously not quite such good news for the 600 printers likely to be laid off over the next five years or so as the presses become even more automated.

This time the print unions say that they are in no position to fight (partly because two of them are too busy merging but mainly because Rupert Murdoch smashed them years ago). But, in any case, the move toward more automation is inevitable as technology moves on and the demands on publishers increase.

As well as capacity (Wapping was creaking at the seams after the introduction of the compact edition of The Times last November) the demand for more colour is driving the investment in three sites in Enfield, Glasgow and Liverpool. Within five years, NI titles will offer colour on every page, which it will undoubtedly extol as a great reader benefit (which usually comes at a price to someone eventually). But the introduction of colour is equally, if not more, vital for its advertising revenue.

More so, perhaps, than the compact launches, colour is a vital issue for newspaper publishers. Mono ad rates have been flat for years, leaving colour pages as the best way to grow ad revenue. But greater colour capacity comes at a price and publishers such as NI and Telegraph Group, via its stake in the Westferry plant, are having to bite the bullet. Associated Newspapers is ahead of the game in some respects and is already working on increasing colour capacity across the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard at a large cost.

Advertisers should welcome these stronger products, with increased colour on ad and editorial pages. But, unsurprisingly given ad price hikes after the investment in compact editions, there is a worry that the newspaper groups will be overly aggressive in hiking colour prices to fund these improvements and grow ad revenues.

And that really will stick in the throats of those advertisers who believe that they have already over-subsidised the newspaper groups' fun.

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