The markets of magazine and newspaper printing firms are undergoing significant changes, reflecting on-going transformations in the customers they serve.
Some of the changes have been under way for 2 decades with traditional printing companies morphing into printing service companies offering more profitable value-added services and products. These included high-end specialized printing capabilities and services, database printing, and wide-ranging distribution services. At the same time, the increasing number of magazine titles, accompanied by lower average press runs, pushed the companies toward higher efficiency and acquisition of presses and systems designed for lower press runs.
In this environment, many printers could not effectively compete and consolidation began creating large regional players in the industry.
Shorter-term trends have also played havoc with the printing industry by killing off some magazine and newspaper titles, lowering the average number of pages printed because of advertising reductions, and by decreasing demand for catalog printing by mail order companies.
These changes created excess capacity and financial problems for many printers, opening the way for private equity firms to purchase trouble companies, restructure their operations, and consolidate the industry even further. Walstead Investments, for example, bought the St. Ives Group, Southern Print and Wyndeham in the UK to do just that.
About the only bright spot for the printing industry has been that many newspapers have now decided to outsource printing—increasing the number of customers in that segment for the short term, at least. Even some large newspapers that had given up commercial printing decades ago have changed the size capacity and flexibility of their presses to gain more production options and they are now offering printing services to other publishers and advertising service firms.
The consolidation has allowed big players to grow bigger. Donnelley has expanded by acquiring firms across North America. Quad/Graphics has moved into Europe and Latin America. The German publisher Guner & Jahr acquired Brown Printing in the US and Prisma Presse in France.
The current economy is limiting the ability of these firms to push up prices, but one can expect that to occur when better times return and capacity utilization increases.