Is printing paper a dying business?

Bill Rojack, vice president of Midland Paper, explains why he believes the printing paper industry has a healthy future ahead

Since the rise of digitalization, there have been rumors around the viability of the printing paper industry when the world is seemingly turning to screens instead of paper. Is this really the case? Hear from Bill Rojack, vice president of Midland Paper, as he shares his thoughts on the state of North America’s print and paper markets, sustainability in the industry and why it should be print and paper, rather than print or paper.

Watch the interview or read the summary below.

What is the state of North America’s printing paper market?

The North American paper market is quite strong right now. Demand has picked up since the pandemic, but supply was radically reduced during and just after the height of the pandemic due to lockdowns, supply chain troubles and other factors. As a result, prices for different grades in North America are at levels that nobody has ever seen before.

“Unit sales of print books have been increasing for a decade in the USA. … Print book sales are one of the most encouraging categories for print,” Fastmarkets’ Director for North American Paper & Packaging Derek Mahlburg said during a presentation at the Forest Products North America Conference in September.

Despite all the pressure from digital media, demand for print books remains firm in North America. Book consumption boomed during the pandemic, increasing almost 20% from about 700 million units sold in 2019 to about 830 million in 2021. Sales continue strong in 2022 and there is optimism for this to continue.

Where are the growth areas for printing paper going forward?

The growth areas in the market are on the inkjet printing side, specifically in digital papers and digital print, as there are a lot of new opportunities in those paper for development.

This is a smaller market than what the wider North American market has been focused on, but niche markets like these are going to be the future, not just for North America, but also for the global paper market.

What are some of the sustainability initiatives in the industry?

The paper business has a really good environmental story to tell, especially in North America.

The largest sustainability initiative that relates to the paper business is the way that paper businesses manage and care for the forest. This responsibility of stewardship to forests is essential since businesses are reliant on trees as crops to make and sell paper.

There are a lot of creditable forestry certification programs in the industry, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and many others.

Our industry has the opportunity to tell this story in a better way to debunk some of the myths about how “bad” the paper business is. We don’t kill trees; we actually take care of them.

Are there opportunities in using digitalization to help grow the print industry?

The print business has often been referred to as dying or dead, with electronic modes of communication at risk of taking over. But instead of print or digital, the correct phrasing should be print and digital.

There are plenty of products that should be delivered digitally and are more effective when done so. But more recently, there are a number of digitally native companies that are looking to come into the print business, whether it is because of the increased scrutiny around data collection and security, or because they realize that paper is an effective means of delivering their message to the general consumer.

Paper is anything but dying or dead. It is actually thriving and I think we have a long and healthy future ahead.

Fastmarkets’ forest products events, formerly known as RISI events, are the industry’s meeting places to discuss, debate, and learn about the latest trends and challenges in pulp, paper, packaging, wood products and more
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