Strategy to combat decade-long decline

Exclusive: Newspaper groups confirm joint venture print plans

Newsprinters: its three sites will become a joint venture operation
Newsprinters: its three sites will become a joint venture operation

The much-anticipated revamp of UK newspaper production has begun with dramatic news just announced at News UK and DMG Media’s print sites, Printweek can reveal.

This evening (3 October), simultaneous announcements were made at News UK’s Newsprinters sites at Broxbourne, Knowsley and Eurocentral, and at DMG Media’s Thurrock and Dinnington factories.

In July Printweek revealed that Sun and Times publisher News UK and Daily Mail owner DMG Media were considering combining their printing assets to create a more cost-effective and efficient production solution in the face of declining print runs.

That can now be confirmed: the two media groups are partnering to create a new joint venture – currently named ‘NewCo’ – for newspaper production and logistics, and with the aim of creating a long-term and more sustainable solution for the printed newspaper.

The two parties pointed out that overall national printed newspaper circulation has declined by more than 60% in the past 10 years “and the challenging economic climate, combined with rising inflationary costs, and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has put significant additional pressures on the media industry”.

The plans – which are subject to regulatory approval and consultation with employees – would see DMG’s Thurrock and Dinnington plants shuttered.

The three Newsprinters sites all run the same triple-width Manroland Colourman presses, 19 in total, and have massive combined firepower that is currently under-utilised.

A new senior leadership team would be drawn from News UK and DMG Media.

Anticipated benefits include huge print and distribution efficiencies. If the plans come to fruition the three sites will be producing some three million newspapers a night, and nearly 22 million newspapers a week.

While new roles will be created, the plans will also put an as-yet-unspecified number of positions at risk.

Joint statement

In a joint statement, senior management from both organisations commented on the momentous announcement.

Newsprinters UK managing director Darren Barker said: “Millions of newspapers are printed and distributed across the UK every day, informing and entertaining millions of their loyal readers. But the reality is that print readership has been in decline for some years now, and the sector has come under increasing pressure to better align capacity with demand. 

“I believe this joint venture is a genuinely exciting solution which sets out a long-term sustainable future for the newspaper printing industry, clients and the national daily newspaper ecosystem in the UK.”

DMG Media group production director Julia Palmer-Poucher described DMG Media as being at the forefront of the transformation of the news industry, and said the business also remained “committed to its print titles, its workforce and its readers”. 

She stated: “The decade-long decline in print circulation has not been matched with changes to print capacity and we must find ways to keep physical newspapers, which have an important future, commercially viable. This proposed combination would provide a long-term solution for the Mail print titles and a sustainable future for the newspaper printing industry.

“We are aware this will be an uncertain time for those potentially impacted and our priority is to provide staff with the support they need throughout this process.”

DMG Media’s Dinnington operation in South Yorkshire runs three triple-width Manroland Colourman presses, while Thurrock in Essex is an outlier in terms of its production setup and runs Koenig & Bauer Courier flexo newspaper presses.

DMG Media also has a smaller satellite print plant in Carn, Northern Ireland, which is unaffected and not part of the joint venture plan.

As well as its own titles, Newsprinters currently contract prints for a number of other publishers, including the up-for-sale Telegraph, the Financial Times and London's Evening Standard. It also provides distribution services to the Guardian.

DMG also provides contract printing services although it recently lost its deal to print the National World titles, which are moving to Newsquest.

News UK announced it was consulting on plans to shutter the Knowsley facility in May in the face of declining volumes, but the site gained a dramatic reprieve two months later, with a “credible alternative” on the table, the details of which have now become clear.

Newsprinters had sales of £184.5m and made a pre-tax profit of £11.8m in its most recent report and accounts.

DMG’s Associated Print Holdings files subsidiary accounts and does not disclose its turnover. The business posted a £755,000 operating loss in the period ending 2 October 2022 (2021 operating loss: £733,000).

Outside of the new joint venture, the UK’s other multi-site newspaper printing operations are Newsquest with its four regional print sites, while Reach has three and lays claim to being the biggest contract newspaper printer in the UK.

The joint statement from News UK and DMG also emphasised that the plans were limited to print production, with other operations such as editorial and commercial activities entirely separate.