Printed newspapers still generate revenues and profits for publishers

Newsprint has been under increasing pressure due to weaker demand and rising costs. How does the future look for this sector of the paper market?

How long will printed newspapers be still around? And how low will newsprint consumption fall? These are just some of the questions that speakers and participants at the World Printers Summit 2023 – organized by the World Association of News Publishers WAN-IFRA – addressed in Frankfurt, Germany last month.

A topic that quickly gained attendees’ attention was the steep decline in newsprint demand registered in Europe in 2023. According to Den Danske Presses Faellesindkøbs-Forening managing director Thomas Isaksen, newsprint consumption has decreased by approximately 30% in Denmark this year. Ikaksen mainly attributed the decline to high paper costs, although he added that distribution costs will become more and more relevant, too. “In order to save money, publishers decreased the number of pages and increased the price of the newspaper,” he said during a roundtable discussion.

In France, newsprint consumption plummeted by 20% year on year to 170,000 tonnes in 2023, according to Grammeo CEO Olivier Derville, who highlighted how this decline is only comparable to the one seen in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Derville attributed the decrease to high paper prices, the structural decline of pagination and advertising, the destocking trend and a sharp decrease in demand from retailers (-20/30% year on year), which mainly consume supercalendered paper and heatset newsprint.

“Newsprint consumption is driven by regional newspapers (80%) because national newspapers are investing more and more in digital,” Derville commented, adding that French publishers are downgrading from 42.5-g to 40-g newsprint in order to offset high paper prices and that some tests are currently being carried out with 38-g newsprint.

Andreas Ullmann, general manager of technology at German publisher Presse Druck und Verlag said the firm’s newsprint consumption showed an above-average decline in 2023 due to destocking. “In our case, we planned the drop in newsprint [consumption], we reduced our purchases by 40%, mostly because of the stocks we accumulated from 2022 to 2023. Newsprint consumption of the Augsburger Allgemeine declined by 10% year on year,” Ullmann said.

The future of print newspapers

Various speakers at the summit highlighted how media companies are still trying to figure out how to remain – or to return to be – sustainable from a financial point of view. Printed newspaper circulation has fallen drastically since the Covid-19 pandemic and digital subscriptions are rising. Still, printed newspapers are providing the highest profit to media companies.

“In 2022, 70% of our gross margin came from print, and only 30% from digital. We believe that printed newspapers’ contribution [to the gross margin] will decrease in the coming years and will stand at 30% in 2030,” Mediahuis COO Paul Verwilt commented. According to Verwilt, printed newspapers are only one distribution channel of journalism, and even if they have become less important over the years, they are still important for some consumers and thus essential for Mediahuis’ business model.

Printed newspapers have been under increasing pressure over the years due to lower revenues and rising variable costs. While scale, cross-company consolidation, maximum automation of print processes and consolidation and cross-publisher cooperations, among other things, can help keep the increase in printing costs under control, rising distribution costs are more difficult to offset. According to Verwilt, the cost of distribution per copy will double by 2030. 

Carsten Knop, publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) digital products, highlighted how the newspaper’s circulation is half of what it was 10 years ago, while digital subscriptions have grown by 30%. And still, FAZ is profiting from print, according to Knop.

However, the average age of FAZ print subscribers is 68, and for this reason, the firm is investing strongly in digital, including TikTok. “We will only be able to print and sell newspapers in the next five years if we are able to stabilize the digital part of the business. Printed newspapers still represent two-thirds of FAZ revenues. We really need to make newspapers work for the years to come,” Knop said.

Print still driving revenues

Despite all the challenges, publishers are optimistic going into 2024, and even more so in the longer term. According to the World Press Trends 2023-24 survey by WAN-IFRA, 55% of respondents said they feel optimistic about their company’s business prospects for the next 12 months and the percentage increases to 58% for the next three years. Publishers expect that revenues will rise by 15.2% year on year in 2023 and by 18.5% in 2024 because of some elections around the world and the Olympic Games.

The survey also highlighted how print revenues still account for 57% of publishers’ income, even more than in 2022. Digital circulation revenues increased by a mere 2% in 2023, while digital advertising sank by 11%. Overall, most publishers said their profits increased in 2023.

In terms of investments, publishers prioritize reader revenue, product development and other revenue streams, while they will invest much less in print production and distribution. As for technology, artificial intelligence, automation and data analytics and intelligence are the publishers’ top priorities in the next 12 months.

Publishers said 43% of their revenues in the coming year will come from advertising and 35.3% from digital subscriptions, while 21.7% will come from other sources including events, grant funding and partnerships with platforms among other things.     

This article was first published in our PPI Europe newsletter. Find out how you can access the latest market news and price developments in Europe directly from your inbox by speaking to our team.

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