On Newsprint (As Quickly And Painlessly As Possible)

Some day-after coverage of the Wall Street Journal’s decision to shrink its physical dimensions by about 20% focuses, smartly, on newsprint costs.

(No. Wait. Don’t go away yet.)

The dynamic is this: Newsprint is—surprise—a newspaper’s second biggest expense after labor. In the Nineties and well into this decade, an unconsolidated paper industry made it easy for newspapers to play one supplier off another. It’s harder to do this now, so newsprint prices are finally rising from artificially low levels—and this happens as newspaper companies almost universally report persistently lousy revenue and earnings.

Each medium takes a turn at being the media’s whipping boy, and now it’s newspapers’ turn. Some of what’s been written is likely overstated, but I’m struck by the pessimism I’ve heard in recent private conversations with media and newspaper executives. And newspapers’ revenue picture was bad enough to begin with without skyrocketing costs.

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