Huge print contract up for review

Jo Francis
Tuesday, June 29, 2021

One of the UK’s biggest print contracts is up for review in a move that could be influenced by the dramatic structural changes in the paper industry.

Last weekend's Mail newspapers and supplements
Last weekend's Mail newspapers and supplements

Printweek understands that DMG Media’s Associated Newspapers division has carried out print trials on its Weekend and You supplements for the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday at both YM Chantry and Walstead Bicester. 

The titles have been printed gravure at Prinovis UK in Liverpool since the pre-pack and subsequent collapse of Polestar in 2016. 

At the time it was Polestar’s biggest contract.

Although newspaper circulations in general have declined since, the Daily Mail’s Saturday edition still sells more than 1.5m copies a week, while the Mail on Sunday has an ABC of 839,633 for the UK and Republic of Ireland. 

However, the supply options for 4m-plus reels of the type of gravure paper used will further diminish if Stora Enso goes ahead with the closure of its Kvarnsveden mill in Sweden, where its PM10 machine makes large reel sizes of these grades. 

If the mill closes it will leave Holmen Paper as the only supplier of that specific size of gravure reel, according to a paper industry expert. 

Palm Paper, which invested in upgrading its King’s Lynn paper machine in 2019/20, can make Palm Top (uncoated) and Diamond (smoother and glossier) paper for gravure and heatset web offset in reels up to 3.6m-wide. 

Prinovis runs three 4.32m-wide TR12 gravure presses and a 2.75m-wide TR6, although the presses can run a range of reel sizes depending on the pagination and format required. 

A variety of other manufacturers also make gravure paper in reel sizes smaller than 4.3m.

Prinovis UK managing director Richard Gray said he could not comment on specific customers or contracts due to client confidentiality. 

Regarding paper supply, he told Printweek: “As a group we buy some 700,000 tonnes of web offset and gravure paper a year. We’re not seeing any huge issues in supply or choice for either or problems in purchasing paper in all reel widths we need for our Liverpool factory from 872mm wide up to the biggest 4,320mm reels. 

“As a gravure printer with the widest presses available in the market we are able to offer our clients the flexibility to run wider reels and so bigger paginations per signature but can still run narrower paper stocks should that be required. The recent mill closures announced have primarily removed capacity for the supply of newsprint and heatset web offset papers, in effect catching up with earlier closures of gravure papermaking capacity,” Gray stated. 

“Any concerns we have are around the supply chain for all papers, and that’s a matter for the entire industry.”

Last weekend, the tabloid format Weekend title was 76pp with self cover, while the 286x232mm format You magazine was 64pp with gloss cover. Both titles are stitched. 

“With a contract like this you’ve also got to look at what the finishing solution is from a stitching perspective. There’s a huge logistics and space requirement,” observed one seasoned print pro. 

Printweek also understands that DMG Media, which acquired the three Johnston Press print sites last year, is aiming to bring production of Weekend in-house in the future, with print trials having taken place at Thurrock already.

DMG Media had not commented at the time of writing. 

In a twist of print history, the 72pp KBA 818 press at YM Chantry came from the shuttered Quebecor World site in Corby, which closed in 2008 after falling into administration. The site lost 60% of its work in 2005 when the Associated titles moved to Polestar. 

The M4000 at Chantry came from Polestar Colchester, one of the sites that used to be involved with printing the titles prior to Polestar setting up its Sheffield web and gravure supersite. 

YM Group acquired the Chantry business and assets in June 2016, and subsequently bought the 64pp Goss M5000 short-grain press from Polestar Sheffield, which was relocated to Chantry. 

Walstead Bicester is the former Goodhead Group business that was acquired by Polestar in a complex pre-pack in 2012, with Walstead then stepping in to rescue the web offset side of the operation in 2016 after Polestar went bust. 

An industry source commented: “This contract was the catalyst for both Quebecor and Polestar going bust, so watch this space. The implications for the industry are huge as it’s still a pretty big contract.”

However, the current contract volumes and financial stability of the incumbent printer and its parent group are significantly different to the historical situation. 

 

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