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Express Newspapers has turned on a £100 million print plant that it says is “a 25-year investment in the future of print titles”, Press Gazette reports.
On the face of it, this looks like total folly.
The timeline to a life without print, once imagined by only the most uber of digital soothsayers, is looming more likely – newspaper circulations show it, including The Daily Express’, which has fallen from over a million to 614,524 in the last 11 years.
As print consumption shrinks, other publishers that own their own print facilities are either looking to ditch their presses or to offer commercial printing to rivals with their spare capacity.
That’s what Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) is doing. Meanwhile, Guardian News & Media, which has already made its moon-shot to a “digital-first” future, is reviewing its print plant operations and considering using Trinity Mirror’s own.
In other words, there will be just a handful of print presses, printing newspapers for multiple publishers in a substantially slimmed-down print news market.
“My newspapers haven’t declined over the last 11 years,” CEO Richard Desmond tells Press Gazette. “The Daily Star was selling 400,000 when we bought it, it now sells around 800,000. Eleven years ago there wasn’t a Daily Star Sunday, it now sells more than 800,000 every Sunday. The Daily Express and Sunday Express are in line with the market.”
GNM built its current print plant for £80 million in 2005. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said it will be its last ever; reckoning it would run for 20 years from its inception. “I think that might be telescoping quite dramatically now,” he said in 2010.
London’s Times editor John Witherow agrees his print plant, built in 2008, will be the last: “They were supposed to last 30 or 40 years. Things are speeding up now.”
Though Nature.com associate director Daniel Pollock said “rumours of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated” and reckoned the science journal will be printing for “a generation or two to come” – “It will shift from the majority medium to one of several minority media.”