How Kansas newspaper editors look at tariffs

Posted June 14, 2018

Since the Trump administration announced a 32 percent tariff on imported uncoated groundwood paper from Canada earlier this year, our industry has been rocked by price increases on printing and concern about future newsprint shortages.

Recently, the Kansas Press Association asked members to fill out a survey to be used to convince members of Congress to reverse the new duties on the chief raw material necessary to produce a newspaper. Thirty-two of our members did just that. So what actions have been taken by KPA members in light of the higher prices?

First, it seems, members have decided to reduce their page counts to offset the increase prices they are being charged.

Second, newspapers aren’t filling open positions, hoping the savings on labor will offset the higher prices being charged for printing.

Not as popular but following behind those two actions are:

• Institution of subscription price increases.

• Institution of advertising rate increases.

• Institution of single copy price increase at newsracks and dealers.

• Elimination of donated newspapers to various recipients.

• Reduction of publication frequency.

• Staff layoffs.

“Newsprint, as we all know, is the single largest expense for newspapers outside of staff salaries,” said Doug Anstaett, KPA executive director. “So a significant increase in printing rates must be offset somehow. This survey shows our newspapers are making adjustments in a variety of areas.

“The price increases we’ve been told about range from 5 percent to 35 percent.”

Because the survey was done anonymously, here are some quotes from a variety of KPA members on how the tariffs are affecting their operations.

• “We may be forced to go to an online only presence or eliminate hard copy papers as an option for readers outside of our local zip code.”

• “Our printer currently has only a five-week supply of paper. We may not be printing in five weeks.”

• “This is serious! We foresee fewer job opportunities at our newspaper.”

• “We operate on a shoestring budget so any price increase affects us negatively.”

• In answer to other actions being taken, respondent answered: “Nor sure what to do as I pretty much do this as a public service rather than for profit now!”

• “If this continues, there will be no choice but to increase advertising and subscription rates. Small businesses depend on advertising and there will be a domino effect if they cannot afford to advertise. This will affect more than newspapers.”

• “I’m seriously considering listing the paper for sale or possible shutdown. We are near break even before the newsprint price increase.”

• “I use the color printing option very rarely now.”

• “We cannot absorb continuing increases in so many supples we use in the production of our newspapers. Something has to be done to protect us from this unfair treatment.”

• “We may need to close the publication or merge titles into one publication.”

• “We instituted a 5 percent advertising rate increase, plus instruction to carefully monitor donated/public service advertising.”

• “Our special sections are now rolled into the paper, rather than printed in a tab format.”

• “This simply does not make sense. One (U.S. newsprint production company) versus an entire industry."