January 29, 2023

Kirsten Staples | for editors & publishers

Rotary phones, floppy disks, CDs and cassettes, pagers, VHS, typewriters – the list goes on. These are all examples of outdated technologies that are now being phased out as new technologies emerge in the digital age. Some have been repurposed while others have been forgotten. The newspaper and printing industry is no stranger to such adjustments – for example the printing press.

Johannes Gutenberg’s 1st edition (Getty Images)

According to writer Dave Roos, who wrote about the development of the printing press for History.com, Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing the printing press. But a version of this existed in China some 150 years earlier. A related History.com article refers to Wang Chen, who in 1297 developed a version of woodblock printing similar to the printing press. The technology didn’t appear in Europe until Gutenberg’s metal version 1440 appeared.

Gutenberg used what was known as replica casting, which involved making letters out of lead in a metal mold. He also made his own ink to stick to metal instead of wood.

The printing press quickly spread across Europe and North America, fundamentally changing the way people communicate. Before the invention of the printing press, literacy and education were only accessible to the wealthy and elite. As print became more accessible, knowledge also became more accessible.

Although press technology has evolved, particularly over the past 25 years, some say it is moving towards the ever-growing list of obsolete technologies. As news media becomes increasingly digitized, print shops have gone quiet. As these properties become an anchor point for the now digital publications, there are many dilemmas about what to do with the pressroom equipment and what the future holds for print publications.

Dave Gilmore, vice president of sales at imPRESSions Worldwide, provided a unique insight into a print segment of the industry that he says continues to grow despite the transition to online media. imPRESSions supplies both new and used newspaper and commercial printing presses to the wider printing industry.

“When impressions enter our 29thth year in business, the change we are seeing across our industry is more about how Newspapers report on the news and its ability to attract readers and advertisers. In our view, ownership of local, private and dedicated newspapers continues to grow in this digital age. These visionaries tie their business to single wide presses,” said Gilmore.

One such visionary is John Garrett, CEO of Community Impact Newspaper Company. Community Impact opened a new print shop back in 2016. “In my view, the future lies in single-width presses and newspapers that remain relevant in their home communities. Hyperlocal, relevant news coverage still attracts readers, which in turn attracts advertisers,” Gilmore said.

What happens to the older double-width presses when the single-width press is the future of the printing industry? According to Gilmore, the answer is simple: They’re recycled, sold for parts, or scrapped.

“However, we are still busy disposing of large double-wide presses for scrap safely and professionally. We often sell certain assets to help offset moving costs. As Metros resets deadlines to the afternoon of the day before the release date, this has allowed many more daily releases to be added to regional double-width printing facilities. These sites are typically equipped with the latest generation of European presses that the OEMs and third-party ancillary equipment providers are keen to provide intelligent upgrades for,” said Gilmore.

“Small to medium-sized single-width print publications have long understood the need to keep their presses running all night and all day. Older, outdated double-width presses are not best suited for non-daily short-run half and quarter-fold production,” said Gilmore.

Despite what many believe about printing, it’s not a dying practice. The printing industry continues to see growth in other areas, such as advertising. The global commercial printing market is projected to be worth US$484.22 billion by 2027, an increase of nearly 12% from 2021.

“In America, 25,000 companies are specialists in commercial printing. It generates approximately $900 billion in revenue annually,” said Pratik Mistry, vice president of sales at Radix, who wrote of “The Future of Printing in 2023 and Beyond.”

Although the printing industry as a whole is growing, newspaper printers are closing or consolidating at an accelerating rate. For example, the Los Angeles Times will close its downtown Los Angeles printing facility in 2024.

Other news companies are investing in print. According to Gilmore, imPRESSions Worldwide is in the process of installing a used GOSS Magnum SSC Press for a newsroom in Charleston, South Carolina.

“A single-width press with additional or all color pages, a quarter-fold Jaw folder and quality automation perfectly encapsulates the next chapter for newspapers,” he concluded.

Kirsten Staples is a contributing writer for Editor & Publisher. She can be reached at [email protected].

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