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News in Print: Read All About It

Concerns are rising about the selective news consumption habits of US readers in this election year. Facing decreased circulation numbers and poor advertising spend, some large cities, which for decades had dual and dueling daily newspapers—one leaning Democratic, the other with Republican affiliations—find themselves with a single subjective voice and very little balance. Major printing press manufacturers have felt the shifting market trends, of course.

At its annual meeting last June, KBA announced more web offset consolidation, including 700 factory layoffs in Germany. Competitor manroland filed for bankruptcy in late 2011 and has since been acquired (in February), but another 1,400 jobs are gone. The newspaper industry was abuzz when "Page One," a documentary about the New York Times, made its debut this past summer. The film analyzed the future of printed newspapers in America. "With the Internet surpassing print as our main news source and newspapers all over the country going bankrupt, 'Page One' chronicles the transformation of the media industry at its time of greatest turmoil," said its official news release. It asked questions many are thinking: How will newspapers adapt with timely news? How do they monetize? Can they still profit?

Yet, even as newspapers investigate how to build and improve their digital businesses, print remains the lifeblood of their operations. "Reinforcing Print in a Time of Transition," a special Graph Expo session for newspaper printers and publishers, brought together representatives from US and Canadian newspapers who discussed investments they've made to enhance their printing capabilities. Two organizations have led the way in adopting new ultraviolet (UV) printing technologies to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world:

  • Gary Hall, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's director of commercial print and delivery, explained how spending money up-front can help reduce costs down the line. By adding Prime UV curing equipment to the paper's KBA Commander double-wide press, its production costs have dropped and quality has increased.
  • The Globe & Mail in Toronto, one of Canada's two national newspapers, ramped up the quality of its printed product with a combination of heatset, coldset, and UV presses. Readers have responded positively. The publisher began an outsourcing partnership with printer Transcontinental 16 years ago and, in 2008, extended the contract for 20 more years. As part of that $1.7 billion extension, Transcon spent more than $200 million constructing a new press infrastructure based on heatset-equipped, triple-wide Commander CT presses from KBA; a UV-equipped, triple-wide press from manroland; and UV-equipped, single-wide presses from Goss International. Since going on-edition with the presses in late 2010, circulation has grown by more than four percent, while ad sales in its glossy Globe Style magazine have more than doubled. One advertiser, L'Oreal, reportedly is spending about $50,000 to $100,000 (Canadian) per week in the edition. Production director Sally Pirri demonstrated how a redesign of Globe Life's (its semi-commercial travel publication) print edition attracted some 100 new advertisers, leading to a 30 percent increase in revenues over the last year.

Why UV? As newspapers continue to look for ways to improve their product with enhanced quality that will attract new readers and advertisers, UV printing is an appealing option—especially since improved curing now meets the demand for high-volume printing at speeds up to 80,000 impressions per hour, manroland pointed out. The small footprint of UV equipment makes upgrades relatively simple. UV also is more ecologically friendly, consuming less energy than heatset and emitting fewer volatile organic compounds. And, UV generates lower waste than conventional heatset printing. (Waste from UV is comparable to that of coldset waste.) Last but not least, the capital investment for UV equipment is much less than adding conventional heatset equipment.

Our Changing Medium

Newspaper printers visiting the Graph Expo 2011 News Print Pavilion and the quadrennial drupa show (May 3-16) know that print is not dead, but also acknowledge that it is different. Show goers are looking to cut costs, boost profits, develop cross-platforms, and make informed buying decisions. And they're looking for help from all phases of the production cycle: from struggling press manufacturers to prepress and postpress suppliers, cross-media software developers, and even the struggling press manufacturers who, collectively, have cut more than 10,000 jobs since 2009.

Many attendees at drupa 2012 will question conventional definitions of which printing processes produce which products, projected Goss CEO Jochen Meissner. He expects printers and publishers to be particularly interested in pursuing how they can use different processes—or combinations of processes—to provide their customers with more powerful and cost-effective printed products. "The long-term value and effectiveness of print are not in question, but pressures to stay competitive and profitable are intensifying in every sector," Meissner said. "By...replacing outdated equipment with advanced web offset solutions, printers can address those pressures and take significant cost, time, and inefficiency out of their workflows."

For example, PrintCity Alliance member manroland offers DirectDrive technology and APL (Automatic Plate Loading), the latter of which won the 2011 InterTech Technology Award from Printing Industries of America. "This system reduces typical newspaper plate changes from about 30 minutes to three [minutes]," said Ron Sams, VP of newspaper sales for manroland, Inc. "This is an enormous breakthrough for newspapers looking to consolidate and print back-to-back editions in their prime operating window." Other PrintCity members exhibiting in Dusseldorf include Eltosch, Kurz, Megtec, M-real, Océ, Procemex, Sappi, Sun Chemical, Tolerans, Trelleborg, and UPM.

At last year's WAN-IFRA World Newspaper Week, Swedish manufacturer Tolerans launched a new feature for the publishing industry: thumb-indexing, which allows quicker access to newspaper sections, via a punching system integrated within its stitching systems. "In tabloid-sized newspapers, all sections are inside the main body of the newspaper, which makes it hard to navigate and find each section quickly," said CEO Jan Melin. "This has been a concern for both publishers and readers...Combining both stitching and thumb-indexing in a newspaper enables easy navigation."

At drupa, Muller Martini plans to display 10 machine exhibits, including variable size web offset printing presses and newspaper mailroom systems. The firm's Mailroom Systems business had its own booth within Graph Expo's News Print newspaper pavilion; exhibiting separately for the first time. The unit showcased both its mailroom machinery and software. Company representatives and product experts provided visitors with a firsthand look at equipment and workflow technology, such as its SLS3000 inserting system, SAM software planning and control, and a SLS3000 gripper upgrade. In addition, the WinLincs design structure provides the most advanced and sophisticated inserter control, communication, and data management tool to each of its users—operator, maintenance technician, or data analyst. Muller representatives also demonstrated a variety of rebuilt and refurbished equipment, including rebuilt SLS1000, 2000, and 3000 inserters.

Four other ways newspapers and their pressrooms are adapting and changing:

  1. Hybrid web offset production
  2. More compact format sizes
  3. Digital print advancements, including inkjet
  4. Outsourced print

Hybrid Production

As newspaper printers and commercial printers continue to converge, drupa and Graph Expo's News Print pavilion are combined marketplaces and networking hubs that attract and engage show attendees. Representatives from these two print communities come to explore the latest technologies, new applications, and workflow solutions.

Quebecor Media owns several manroland hybrid presses with both heatset and coldset capabilities at plants in Montreal and Toronto. One of these, operating consistently at 90,000 copies per hour, was the first in the newspaper printing industry capable of printing newspapers, retail inserts, and phone directories on a single machine. This press is also capable of printing variable web widths.

Another prime example of the hybrid trend in action is Seacoast Media Group (SMG). The Portsmouth, NH, firm has seen its commercial contract print orders increase by more than 900 percent in four years since installing a Magnum coldset press and inserter from Goss International. The company credits the high automation and versatility of the press among the key reasons for such a high degree of success.

"We specialize in offset newspaper printing and everything that entails," said Alan Laskey, production manager at Seacoast. "We have a number of titles with quite substantial run lengths, but no run is too small. The secret weapon for maintaining our service to clients is the level of automation of the Magnum press and the flexibility of the single width platform."

Running 15 to 18 jobs a day, each averaging between 45 to 60 minutes on press, the efficiency of the operation is essential in keeping costs down and ensuring customer satisfaction. "We get through 13,000 plates per month, which gives an indication of the frequency of job and edition changes," Laskey noted. "The automatic inking, automatic registration, Omnicolor presetting, and the Omnicon controls on our Magnum press maintain job setup, changeover, and [keep] waste at a minimum."

Prior to installation of the 16-unit Magnum 2x2 press, along with the new Goss inserter, SMG's printing services were principally concerned with the firm's own in-house publications, with outside contracts accounting for approximately $700,000 per annum. Today, the value of contract print work totals around $6.5 million per year and accounts for 75 percent of the company's total turnover. According to Laskey, this increase is the consequence of a concerted sales effort aimed at exploiting the full capabilities of the new press and through referrals from existing customers.

The single-wide press platform also allows SMG to accommodate a variety of web widths, between 22 and 32 inches, providing the flexibility to print a wide range of publication formats. Aside from general maintenance periods on weekends, the Magnum runs virtually 24/7, servicing 160 active accounts predominantly from locations throughout Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and dispatching as far as New York state.

SMG was awarded the contract to print 28,000 copies daily of the Nashua Telegraph as well as its numerous weekly titles. This latest assignment contributes to a total output per week of around one million copies.

Three-Around, Berliner, and Other Compact Formats

At Graph Expo, Del Varney, operations VP at The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, detailed the newspaper's decision to modify its presses to an innovative, three-around configuration—a bold move management had been contemplating for three years. In mid-2011, Gannett signed a letter of intent with the Dispatch, 100 miles away, for the outsourced printing of The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Kentucky Enquirer in a more compact, easy-to-use format (10.5x14.5 inches). The change is expected in Q4 2012, at which time the Enquirer's production facility would close. "While covering the same amount of news as the previous format, this new approach would enhance the user experience by allowing for a fuller use of color and photographs and improved readability," said Margaret Buchanan, president and publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Dispatch has signed a letter of intent with Pressline Services of St. Louis to produce the compact format for its newspapers, based on Pressline's new press system called 3Volution (3V), in early 2013. At Graph Expo in September, Pressline exhibited its 3V cutoff modification service, which the firm says marks an evolution in printing. The system uses a plate cylinder capable of printing three sheets in a single revolution.

3V will create a new, compact sectional newspaper format from existing equipment, creating a much more productive press, comparable to most new models capable of handling larger runs. The so-called three-around printing system creates cutoffs between 14.5 and 15.75 inches depending on current press cut-off, running in a straight-only mode. (Optional dual cutoff retaining existing cutoff alongside 3V is available.) The system works with single- or double-wide presses.

By employing this patent-pending technology, pressrooms can increase productivity by 50 percent and can extend press run deadlines to include late-breaking news, according to Pressline. A press running 50,000 papers per hour can realize 75,000 papers per hour. Plus, the smaller format saves a lot on paper costs. The 3V system may potentially eliminate entire presses, reducing labor costs, equipment costs, and service costs. The raw newsprint savings at these cut-offs is up to 33 percent. When reducing a larger web width to 44 inches, the savings will be an additional four to 12 percent.

"Also, based on a prototype I saw, it [3V] paradoxically results in a print edition with more pages, more heft, and better display opportunities for editorial content and ads," said Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute. "A single sheet passes through the presses three times rather than the usual two times. That results in a sectioned paper with lots of color availability, about the size of a typical tabloid, but not as squarish in shape."

There also is the so-called "Berliner" size—midway between a tabloid and a broadsheet—to consider. Fairly common in France, Italy, and Spain, it has gotten some play in the States. Named after a newspaper designer, the format is popular because it still allows separately folded sections, yet feels more like a magazine size when folded.

In a 2006 US debut, the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, IN, 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, began running the Berliner size on a manroland press. At 18.5 inches long by 12 inches wide, the J&C's Berliner is smaller than the broadsheet common to US dailies. (The Journal and Courier previously was 22.5 x 13.5 inches.) But the new format is larger than a typical tabloid newspaper's 13.5 x 11.25 inches. Most importantly, perhaps, it allows an edition to be packaged in familiar, physically separate newspaper sections.

The smaller page means there are more of them so that the amount of space devoted to news coverage stays about the same, said executive editor Julie Doll. Most Monday morning editions are between 28 and 32 pages, compared with the previous format of 24 pages. Besides making the paper smaller, the new presses added more color pages—up to 48 per day. The previous plant could print fewer than 20 pages in color.

Readers seem to like the format, according to focus group studies, as do advertisers. In addition to market differentiation, the Berliner option offers full-color and better print reproduction. And instead of selling ad space in the traditional measurement of inches, ads in the Berliner are sold based on the percentage of space they fill on a page, so the value proposition is different.

With a daily circulation of some 36,000, the J&C is produced at a $24 million offset printing plant that Gannett fitted specifically for the Berliner. Its MAN Geoman press consists of three full-color towers, four inline end-mounted reelstands, five formers (two pairs and a commercial former for webs up to 35 inches wide), a jaw folder with quarter-folding capability, and a stitcher.

As always, especially in the current economy, cost is a major consideration. Migration to the Berliner format requires all new press equipment. But it may be appealing to newspaper owners already looking for new equipment. Gannett chose Lafayette for the Berliner, because the paper needed to replace its mid-1960s letterpress operation anyway, according to president and publisher Gary Suisman. Plus, there's a consumables tradeoff on ink and paper. Newspapers across the country have been getting smaller in size as the cost of newsprint has steadily increased. Suisman estimated that the Berliner is reducing the paper's newsprint costs by 10 to 15 percent annually.

Digital Press Enhancements

While conventional web offset presses still hum at daily and weekly newspapers across the US, digital rumblings are nothing new in the printing industry. Sixteen Graph Expo shows have come and gone since Benny Landa, inventor of the Indigo digital color press, boldly predicted, "Everything that can become digital will become digital." (Landa, who sold his technology to Hewlett-Packard for $800 million 10 years ago, reportedly will debut digital nanographic printing presses that use invisible "HD" ink at drupa in May.) While HP leans toward proprietary technology for digital applications due to the strength of its market position, other companies embrace a more open architecture. Some rather unusual pairings have emerged in the past 18 months to lead the print innovation charge. You can see them at drupa exhibiting together, many for the first time: press manufacturer KBA and mega-printer RR Donnelley; manroland and Océ; Konica Minolta selling Screen's Truepress Jet520 and partnering with Kodak.

There is no argument that the print medium has changed and continues to evolve. That is precisely why offset press maker manroland and Océ—now part of Canon—are expected to roll out a new digital press platform for newspapers and other users. "We are not competing against digital," Vince Lapinski, manroland, Inc.'s CEO in North America, said of the alliance. "What we're trying to do is optimize current products and look at new markets that we [manroland] are not in right now. Océ's strengths are more on the transactional print side, and we want to bring their expertise to the graphic arts."

KBA and RR Donnelley, North America's largest printer, have big plans, too. The dynamic duo plans a drupa debut of the piezoelectric-based inkjet press they've agreed to develop, manufacture, and sell. Targets in their print sights include the commercial, newspaper, packaging, and security sectors. KBA has licensed Donnelley's Apollo digital technology to use in its own presses. The interesting thing about Apollo is that its inkjet heads don't jet ink. Donnelley R&D has developed a way of using the heads to apply an ink-resistant substance to subtract part of an offset litho produced image (much like a photographic negative blocks light) as it is being printed. "The implications are significant," InfoTrends senior consultant Barney Cox wrote in his blog. "Producing variable data using standard stocks and inks on an existing heatset web offset press blows the economics of other digital processes out of the water."

Also at drupa, TKS (Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho, Ltd.) will show a roll-fed digital press called the JetLeader 1500, which employs drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet technology with water-based inks. It can produce newspapers, tabloids, magazines, digests, and variable sheet cutting—all inline. The press delivers a resolution of 600x600 dpi at speeds up to 492 feet per minute (fpm). It offers a web width of 24 inches, or 12 inches for a broadsheet. The JetLeader can be configured as a standalone press or incorporated with offset for hybrid printing. There are no click charges, and customers can use consumables such as ink and paper—46 to 130 g/sqm groundwood, ordinary and inkjet—from vendors of their choice.

Meanwhile, many still wonder whether wide inkjet web presses mark the future of news in print. First seen at drupa 2008, wider inkjet web presses now are reproducing books and direct mail, and the technology soon may find its way into newspaper applications. Indeed, the future of newspaper production may include fewer pages, smaller circulations, more color, different formats, more personalization, more decentralized printing centers, and more niche products. Localized printing on demand helps keep international newspapers viable and relevant overseas, and the trend has come to the States as well.

Last year, HP unveiled a wider (42-inch web), faster, fourth-generation inkjet model—the T400—that makes the concept of mass customization even more of a reality. The digital press runs at speeds up to 600 fpm and can print 5,200 full-color, letter-size pages per minute. Its smaller cousin, the 30-inch T300, features output capacities as high as 70 million pages per month. Hewlett-Packard has more than 20 global installations of full-color inkjet webs (a total of 42 print engines) with a production volume amounting to some three billion pages, it reported. But they're being used primarily for book and direct mail application, not newspapers, despite claims to the contrary four years ago. The problem, HP said, is that while some newspaper publishers may have the vision, cash flow still is a problem for these multimillion-dollar digital press investments. (Still, expect the OEM to roll out some new wrinkles in Dusseldorf come May.)

One guy who might figure it out is Jim Lucanish, president of O'Neil Data Systems in Los Angeles; one of HP's biggest inkjet web customers. One year ago, O'Neil installed a pair of the T400 models in its new 218,000-square-foot plant in Plano, TX. Its parent company publishes and prints Investor's Business Daily and still does so with conventional offset. But Lucanish believes it's only a matter of time (and money, of course) before progressive newspaper publishers learn how to leverage inkjet technology for their best advantage.

Another potential trailblazer is Tribune Co. subsidiary Tribune Direct, the first direct marketing firm to buy the Kodak Prosper 5000XL color model, which became operational last summer, at its Northlake, IL, facility. While it is conceivable that Tribune also may use the 650-fpm inkjet web press, with its 24.5-inch print width, to produce special sections and niche publications for the Chicago Tribune, president and general manager Lou Tazioli said that using the Prosper to print newspaper-oriented pieces is not (yet) a primary goal. Kodak, now restructuring under bankruptcy protection, is putting nearly all its eggs in the digital print basket, in particular its Prosper inkjet web technology.

Across the pond, "wide-boy" inkjet web presses are making their way into the newspaper printing segment. A range of newspapers are being produced in London thanks to a breakthrough from Océ/Canon. Starting last June, Stroma Limited began printing color editions of international newspapers on the latest inkjet digital technology. More than 1,400 titles are now included in Stroma's portfolio. The specialist has taken a JetStream 1000 inkjet production press, featuring a maximum web width of 20.5 inches, as part of a £1.3 million investment at its west London headquarters. The introduction of the JetStream 1000 enables longer runs of digitally produced newspapers.

"We run between 50 and 60 titles a day," explained Steve Brown, Stroma's managing director. "This is something the publishers have been wanting for a long time, and will now be realized. Color has made a huge difference from an advertising and publishing perspective. The technology lends itself to adding value to companies like Qantas Airlines, for example. We print a couple of titles for them, and they go onto the seats of business and first class. And, in effect, the passengers are reading tomorrow's news today!

Sebastian Landesberger, executive VP of Océ Production Printing, added: "Newspapers printed digitally in color provide a steady revenue stream and potential growth opportunity for newspaper publishers. The Océ JetStream inkjet technology is complementary to offset and opens up so many new doors for targeted, niche, personalized products, which is what the newspaper industry has been waiting for. Newspapers published pretty well anywhere in the world can be read on any continent at the touch of a digital button."

USA Today two years ago tapped European printer Rotomail to produce the daily on its Kodak Versamark VL4200, a roll-to-roll inkjet device that runs up to 410 feet per minute. Through an agreement with Messaggerie Internazionali, an Italian distributor of foreign newspapers, Rotomail is digitally printing an international edition of the Gannett flagship for distribution to hotels and kiosks in major tourist towns and a number of airports, Kodak said.

Meanwhile, to expand their reach stateside, international publishers have partnered with Newsworld and its New Jersey-based printing partner, AlphaGraphics, for the distribution of titles, including London's Daily Mail, in New York. AlphaGraphics is running Screen Truepress Jet520 digital print technology with Hunkeler digital finishing on the back end.

"There are environmental and commercial advantages to be gained," said CEO Malcolm Miller, the visionary entrepreneur who is using the Versamark in a similar fashion overseas in Cypress and Malta. "Publishers are looking for increased sales and improved supply chain solutions in these challenging times, and we have built up a proven model. Other locations are currently being finalized."

All 60 international titles that Miller distributes now are printed on-site, resulting in a 50 percent rise in newspaper sales, attracting more readers thanks to competitive pricing and same-day availability. "Some customers have said they receive their paper here earlier than they do at home," said Miller, whose firm overcame negative perceptions of what the digitally printed products would look like. "When the Financial Times said it was behind us, it became easier to get people on board," he said.

Future US News

Both Goss and manroland have 96-page web offset presses, the Sunday 5000 and Lithoman S, respectively, which produce an astonishing gross output of between 3.6 million and 4.3 million pages per hour. These 112-inch-wide systems work particularly well in Europe because printed product sizes are much more flexible there. "In the US, dedicating machines for single products, such as magazines, may go away in the future," manroland's Lapinski said. "This press is ideal for both small and large page counts." If and when a new production model is adopted in US printing plants, Lapinski sees the Lithoman S ultimately challenging gravure for high-volume retail, catalog, magazine, and insert products. Computer-to-press prepress technology for web offset has considerable advantages in costs and throughput time compared with printing cylinder engraving and cylinder handling for the rotogravure process.

Lapinski believes the fast pace of innovation will continue for newspapers in print. "We'll see hybrid cold- and heatset presses, and more UV applications," he predicted. And, of course, there'll be more reconfigurations and upgrades. "Whatever can be added to machines for new products, new markets, and new revenue streams," that's the bottom line according to manroland and the other offset press manufacturers.