'Big two' is the new reality of the web offset landscape

Jo Francis
Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Right. This. Really. Is. It. Surely we have now definitely reached the tipping point in the UK web offset market.

Sir John Madejski has thrown in the towel after watching around £100m go down the gurgler during his expensive web offset odyssey, the rationale for which has baffled me.

Leaving the whys and wherefores to one side, we now have a new era and a ‘big two’ in Polestar and Walstead-owned Wyndeham. Between them, they hold the vast majority of contracts for time-sensitive weeklies and major monthly magazines.

What happens next? With apologies to those currently employed at Colchester, Chromoworks, Chantry and Petty, it is surely inconceivable that Polestar will keep all its old plants – and old presses – going.

One could also imagine that ownership of BGP will provide the stepping stone to creating that web offset supershed next to the Sheffield gravure factory.

An alternative view is that Polestar, not exactly renowned for its price leadership position, could go all out to aggressively quash its remaining big competitor. But that would result in the sort of monopoly position for certain print products that could be more regulatory trouble than it would be worth.

Will web print prices go up? Of course they will. If they don’t, what’s the point of all this?

By how much? I am reminded of what Patrick Martell said after selling St Ives’ magazine division to Walstead last year. Asked what the increase in market prices would need to be to make it worth keeping, the answer was "30%". So there’s a ballpark figure to think about.

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