Another Challenge for Printers

The printing industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic. The total value fell from $814.7 billion in 2019 to $743.4 billion in 2020. Printers, with their need for a mix of precision and power, have been among the top users of Indramat motion control from the beginning. Now, they are experiencing severe disruption.

Physical newspapers and magazines were already suffering, and working from home cut periodical reading by commuters, one of the last holdouts. Salons and doctors’ office waiting rooms quit putting out magazines for customers, stores removed their magazine sections to lessen touching, and print ads dried up.

In 1990, weekday newspaper circulation was 63.2 million and  Sunday circulation sat at 62.6 million. Figures in 2020 were 24.3 million for weekdays and 25.8 million for Sundays.

Paper mills suffered as the demand for newsprint fell and prices plummeted. Newsprint paper prices fell to less than $300 per tonne. in 2020.

Supply chain disruption

In what is now a familiar story, suppliers scrambled for profitability, cutting back on production and even shutting down paper mills.

When demand began to recover somewhat, suppliers were caught flat-footed, unable to meet needs. Increased energy costs, higher wages, and the expenses of shipping combined with lower supply to raise prices. Now the cost of newsprint paper is above $750 per tonne.

For newspaper publishers, it could mean the death knell for print editions. Even their holdout audiences — the elderly — are giving up their newspapers. The pandemic forced a lot of older consumers to figure out how to use Zoom on their tablets, and online news sources were just a small step.

At this point, only 25% of Americans over age 65 read newspapers, and 30% in that age group never read the papers at all. The new high price of newsprint may be the tipping point that sees news outlets going entirely digital.

What about printers?

If publishers give up on paper, will printers stop the presses? Not likely. A shift from print newspapers and magazines to ecommerce packaging may be in the cards.

As for paper mills, COVID-19 may have hastened the end of that industry. In Wisconsin, a paper mill which used to consumer 25% of the state’s lumber is shutting down completely, throwing 900 employees out of work. Wisconsin is the major paper making state in the nation, and closures of their mills will have far-reaching consequences.

But the typical paper mill can’t easily retool to make shipping cartons instead. The trend in packaging is toward greater customization, which is already outside of the comfort zone of a paper mill.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. In the meantime, when you need service or support for your Indramat drive and control systems, call us first. We are Indramat specialists, and we can get you back up and running fast.