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Frank Romano on the changing printing industry

Published on October 31, 2012

Frank Romano comments on two news items that caught his eye: Scholastic discontinuing the printing of Weekly Reader and The Daily Press selling off it's printing press. He uses this news as a jumping off point to comment on the changing nature of the printing industry.

Frank Romano: Hi, this is Frank Romano for whattheythink.com. Welcome back to another episode of whatever this is. Two stories that got my attention and they are somewhat related. The first was that the Weekly Reader shut down. For those of you who are Americans you will remember in grade school getting My Weekly Reader which was a small children-oriented newspaper, if you will. I grew up on that and I thought it was wonderful to read news. That got me started reading newspapers and I can’t quit reading newspapers today. I’m addicted to them, by the way, both in print and online.

They were absorbed into Scholastic and Scholastic also has publications in that area and they competed with Weekly Reader. In any case the Weekly Reader is gone and Scholastic and the newspaper that they do for kids is still there. One major printed product is gone.

That relates to this one and it says presses made history at the Daily Press. This is about a newspaper that has gotten rid of their printing press. They closed it down. In July 2012 their gigantic Goss offset press, which they installed in 1983 and had been upgraded many times over the years, was sold off. Now, in some cases you can sell it and someone will buy it in the United States. Most often it is sold overseas where they think that is new technology and they get it at a lower price. The reason they gave was that their newspaper had lost print circulation because people were reading on iPads and computers the copy that they used to read on paper.

These two articles are somewhat related. We lost my Weekly Reader which was printed on paper so there is one big printed product that is gone. As we lose those big printed products because people use electronic media then we don’t need those big printing presses anymore. So the number of printing presses in the United States is declining.

This is sort of a sad tenor to this particular episode but my feeling is that it is part of the warp and woof of change. It is the way the world goes. We drive cars today, we don’t ride horses anymore. Everything we do has changed. If you go back just in my lifetime the changes that have taken place in the way we communicate and the way we operate in society have been overwhelming so why would they not affect the printing industry. The printing industry will undergo change and when it comes out the other side it will be a different kind of printing industry but it will still be a printing industry. It will use new technologies and new approaches to provide communication techniques and methods and solutions for people who need to communicate, publish and inform other of what is going on. So electronic media and print media will coexist for a long time. I don’t think print will ever completely disappear but it will diminish to a lower point. These articles only indicate that those changes are there and they are not going away and that is my opinion.

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By Donald French on Oct 31, 2012

Being a resident of the Daily Press circulation area, a subscriber, and having relatives and customers who have worked there, I can say with certainty that there is more to this story than the simple selling of a printing press.

First, the business aspect; the parent company of the Daily Press (Tribune Companies)was bought by a "corporate raider" type and loaded with debt, crippling all of contributing subsidiaries with their need to fund the debt.

Second; The Richmond Times Dispatch invested heavily in state of the art newspaper printing equipment, far more modern and productive than the ancient Goss at the DP. The DP was still running film and making analog plates. The TD system includes CTP, automated bending, etc.

Since Newspaper presses sit idle most of the day it made sense for the DP to have their paper printed at the nearby Richmond Times Dispatch plant. Sharing this equipment is a good and productive use of resources.

What other industry could tie up millions in equipment that is used only two hours a day? This type of synergy should not be seen as a sign of the death of newspaper printing, but instead is a sign that the industry is finally wringing some of the fat and excess out of its production operations.


By Robert Arena on Oct 31, 2012

People who are well plugged in can enjoy all of the benefits of the internet and it is unfathomable to them that many are not able to have access to internet and at a sufficient bandwidth to pipe feature laden content in close to real time. It is a chore to look at image files at non LTE speed and many rural areas may not even have access to 3G.Without print these people will be disenfranchised from the global community. Similar to the one percent oblivious to the condition of the rest.

If the loss of the Weekly Reader is distressing, you may not be ready for this, too.



By Bob Hughes on Nov 07, 2012

Frank, thanks for the thoughts on Weekly Reader.

Scholastic gets a bum rap for being responsible for closing Weekly Reader. The fact is WR was destroyed by mismanagement (Mary Berner) at the Reader's Digest, not Scholastic. Like so many failed private equity takeovers of all kinds of businesses, Ripplewood's decision to force little Weekly Reader to swallow the much larger Reader's Digest was ill fated from the start - and I wrote the Production Due Diligence report one year before the fact saying just that. (They didn't listen, of course...)

Once WR was subsumed into RD (and we all know how well that company has been managed for the last fifteen years) the Ripplewood people had to start burning the furniture - including Weekly Reader - to service the debt. The allocations loaded on WR to help delay inevitable disaster at RDA were just to much. To that, add an ill-advised change of plants, failure by the new printer (World Color) to perform, and there were just too many holes to keep the ship afloat.

It's really pretty sad, because without the RDA merger and Ripplewood Robbers, I think Weekly Reader would have continued as a nice little publishing company service the educational needs of the kids, and teaching them to read the news, and love to read.

All gone now, which is really too bad.


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