Consolidation is key if we're to secure newsprint's future

Newspapers are in permanent decline. We are seeing year-on-year falls in volume and the economic downturn has only contributed to this. Industry consolidation is the only way we can rectify this in order to safeguard a future for newspapers.

There are many newspaper presses around the country running maybe four or five hours in every 24. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is simply not sustainable. The overheads associated with running and maintaining these operations are massive, but there are many companies across the UK in the same position. That simply needs to change.

There have been many developments in the publishing sector in past decades, but many publishers have not moved with the times and have retained their printing operations. I propose a new model with publishers sticking to producing content and leaving the print to the specialists, with a clear division between print and publishing.

We should pool capacity to a point where newspaper plants are producing major titles through the night while production of the regional titles is carried out during the day shifts. This would result in an elimination of this spare capacity.

The sector has treated me well. I’ve had a long career – one that has seen many changes take place. But if my son asked me if he should follow a similar path in this day and age, I would have to dissuade him. He’d likely be looking for a new career in 10 years’ time – if not sooner.

We have seen the last big press investments ever. It does not make any sense because, now, we need to see a more dynamic industry with smart people operating smartly run facilities with smart buying of materials.

The concept of each publisher keeping their own presses is a big waste of time and money, we could have shared our resources in the past but it’s not too late. When I was setting up News International’s print facility I proposed sharing capacity with other publishers but they were quick to refuse that offer. I know that those views have definitely changed in the years since.

Consolidation needs to take place. Simply put, there is no other way forward for it to survive. We should be looking to a situation where there is maybe a print centre in Scotland, one in Birmingham, one in the North East and so on. It would benefit regional titles, of course, by cutting down on the transport.

I believe that we have seen the last of the big capital equipment investments. There are a number of fantastic sites – modern plants that have available capacity – with Westferry, News International and Johnston Press to name a few. These are future-proof facilities that are efficient and promote good energy usage. There is no point in looking to a future with old, inefficient equipment.

I think we need to start off with the ideal situation for the future of newspapers and work back from there on how we can achieve that. Because for me, that’s the best way to ensure the future of this sector.

Ian McDonald, former operations director, News International and consultant to Newsfax

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