Newsprint supply is tightening, and you are affected

Published 10:01 am Thursday, April 5, 2018


By TIM PRINCE/Publisher

The paper (newsprint) used to print the Shelby County Reporter cost 10 percent more than it did just a few weeks ago – and is likely to cost as much as 40 percent more in coming months, newspaper industry experts predict.

In what sounds like a farfetched scenario, tightening American newsprint supplies could threaten newspapers’ ability to print at all, the same experts say.

Forces beyond the control of the Shelby County Reporter – and thousands of community newspapers like us across America – are to blame, but our response will be noticeable to you, our readers:

  • Fewer pages. For the past several years, our average edition has been 32 On light advertising weeks, we will now publish 24 pages.
  • Higher subscription prices. For the past decade, we’ve charged $3.75 a month for home delivery of our newspaper. We may have to charge more.
  • Less non-local content. We will work harder than ever to provide news about Shelby County that you cannot find elsewhere.
  • More online news. Our news staff routinely produces more local news and photographs than will fit in our print edition. Increasingly, we will rely on our website, where we have unlimited space, to publish excess news.

Why is newsprint becoming more expensive and scarcer? Two reasons: one long in the making, the other recent.

Because of the struggles of big-city newspapers, newsprint consumption in America has decreased 75 percent over the past two decades. As demand dropped, many American newsprint mills closed or converted to making other paper products.

Newsprint mills in neighboring Canada filled supply gaps as domestic production capacity dwindled. The result was market equilibrium and stable newsprint prices for much of the past decade – until last summer, when a small, hedge fund-owned newsprint mill in faraway Washington State caused a market jolt that no one saw coming.

North Pacific Paper Co., or NORPAC, complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission that Canadian producers were violating trade laws by receiving government loan assistance and harvesting trees on government land – advantages that allowed them to sell paper in the United States cheaper than American mills could. No other paper manufacturers have complained.

Pending results of an investigation that is ongoing, preliminary duties against Canadian producers of 7 percent to 10 percent began in January, followed by an additional 22 percent in March. Major newsprint makers, most of whom have mills in both countries, have announced major price increases in response.

For the record, the Shelby County Reporter is printed almost entirely on paper made in Grenada, MS, and August, GA. Community newspapers like ours represent a sliver of newspaper demand. Despite still-healthy print readership, we alone cannot create enough demand to stimulate the U.S. newsprint market and bring shuttered mills back to life. Yet our need for newsprint to fulfill our obligation to readers is as enduring as that of the Washington Post or New York Times.

How can you help? If you are so inclined, call Sen. Doug Jones, Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Gary Palmer and ask them to take a stand for community newspapers. You or I cannot express an opinion to the Department of Commerce or International Trade Commission, but senators and representatives can.

Also, we’re preparing to launch an e-edition that will be available to print subscribers for free. An e-edition is a digital replica of our daily print edition that can be read on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In a worst case of newsprint becoming so scarce that we cannot print a newspaper, the e-edition will be our backstop for uninterrupted publication of local news for Shelby County. We are working hard with other community newspapers and industry partners to prevent that from happening, but we’ll be ready if it does.