London Print Is Falling Down

The roll-call of more than 25 web offset printers in the UK that have closed since the year 2000 includes some of the industry’s once-venerable names, and some of its once-biggest print sites, reports Jo Francis of PrintWeek, considering offset publishing firms.

It seems pretty likely that other names will be added to the list in the not-too-distant future, concludes the report. Wyndeham Group has signalled its intention to cease manufacturing at Essex-based Wyndeham Heron, and there is more to come elsewhere, says the report.

The report opines that It is possible that Heron’s workforce and union can come up with a plan to save the plant, but it looks unlikely. Wyndeham chief executive Paul Utting said when making the announcement: “We looked at it every way we could think of” prior to the decision.

Heron once employed 440, although that has dwindled to 146 over the past six years. And not too far away in Colchester, another web offset print plant that also once employed more than 400 staff has a much smaller-scale future. Polestar Colchester is set to be downscaled to become a contractual site, while sister site Polestar Petty in Leeds is earmarked for closure as part of the restructuring that will follow the start-up of Polestar’s new web offset factory in Sheffield. 

The question is, asks the report, have we reached the end-game when it comes to the restructuring and downsizing of UK Web Offset PLC? One supplier to the industry says “…We haven’t reached the bottom yet… there are going to be more sites yet to close… (and) another couple of names on that list in 2015.”

While the list of closures includes web printers of all shapes and sizes, and some that were more focused on the commercial or direct mail markets, it’s a fact, says the report, that printers that served the publishing community make up the bulk of the list. And, the closures of entire titles, some notably large falls in circulation combined with lower paginations have resulted in a cumulative loss of volume. 

The structural change in producing magazines and supplements for newspapers and large magazine publishers means the associated drop-off in tonnage is equally enormous. But, says the report, one of the key factors is societal change. As a recent research report commissioned by the Stationers’ Company put it, “we are moving from a ‘print-first’ to a ‘digital-first’ society.” 

The Stationers’ research reported that consumption of graphic paper in Western Europe fell 6.2% per year between 2008 and 2010.  And the latest consumer magazine stats from the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed that sales of paid-for weekly and monthly titles fell by 4.4% in the first half of 2014, a decline that equates to some 1,000 magazines. Within the figures are notable double-digit declines for well-known magazines across many sectors, though a minority of magazine titles are growing their sales

One seasoned print buyer thinks the current state-of-play is “…only the beginning… web offset will die into a small niche… even more commoditized than now… inkjet will create new opportunities for publishers…”

But Dave Broadway, the managing director at CFH Docmail, says: “It doesn’t need rationalization… it needs strategy and new products… if the only UK strategy is to follow the market down… that part of the UK print business will only decline…” 

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