Web offset what next

Jo Francis
Friday, June 6, 2014

Jo Francis is wishing the year away as she awaits what on earth will happen next in web offset.

Usually I’m bemoaning how fast the weeks and months are flying by. At the moment, though, I find myself wishing my life away because I simply can’t wait to see what happens from July onwards when all those IPC Media titles move from Wyndeham to Polestar.

I’m not the only one wondering what the impact of this mega-move will be. Other publishers and other printers are also watching with interest, and in some cases, concern.

It’s been a constant topic of speculation everywhere I’ve been since PrintWeek broke the news of IPC’s decision in March.

Various buyers have told me that they can see why IPC made this decision, after all the publisher has a similar single-supplier arrangment in place in the States. But such a move is not without a number of fairly obvious risks.

It seems pretty clear to me that the major priority at IPC parent Time Inc has been gussying up its figures ahead of the spin-off and IPO of the business, which will be formally completed today when the company's shares begin trading.

The potential shape of its future supplier base on a small island in Europe is no doubt largely irrelevant in the face of that.

Meanwhile, some other print buyers are fretting about the position of their titles in the new Polestar pecking order, and buyers and rivals are watching what transpires at Wyndeham as a result of this loss.

The pieces of the puzzle are moving into place. Polestar's revamp of its web offset platform will mean closure for Pettys, and while Colchester remains as a contractual site for the time being it is hard to see the logic in keeping that facility open long-term. 

And Wyndeham has implemented a reduced hours strategy that means Southernprint can stay open while it works to fill the IPC-shaped gap in its schedule.

Talking of schedules, while Polestar’s new press hall in Sheffield is going up faster than a very fast thing, its two new 96pp presses won’t be fully up and running for months.

Having watched the genesis of its Sheffield gravure site in the face of many doubters (can't believe that was almost ten years ago), I would never underestimate the ability of this group to make the seemingly impossible happen. But I do think that taking on such a large volume of new work at the same time as a major revamp of its production facilities will be challenging to say the least. 

Thinking about challenges, it’s actually not the print capacity aspect that’s the biggest deal in all this, it’s the binding. IPC titles such as Wallpaper* and Marie Claire are monsters in this respect. Am intrigued to learn how and where Polestar will bind the new work.

On reflection, it’s not July I should be looking forward to. It’s the somewhat busier autumn to Christmas period. That’s when the wicky wacky world of web offset is going to get really, really interesting.

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