The site runs a mammoth operation, printing for two separate businesses – The West Australian and ColourPress – supported by more than $100 million worth of state-of-the-art printing technology.
A complete upgrade of the centre’s equipment in 2007 replaced aging pre-press, press and publishing equipment with Koenig & Bauer Group, Ferag and Kodak technology.
Automated mailroom equipment and laser guided robot vehicles now enable the plant to operate around the clock, six and a half days a week. The new technology also allowed the business to shed more than 200 production staff in 2007, which helped fund the investment.
The facility’s publications have gained acceptance into the IFRA International Newspapers Colour Quality Club (2010-2012 & 2012-2014).
The centre churns through 800 tonnes of newsprint and commercial paper grades, about 16 tonnes of coldset inks and three tonnes of heatset ink each week, to produce 35 regional and community newspapers for ColourPress along with the state’s major daily masthead The West Australian and its associated pre prints and features.
Print Centre General Manager Terry Clarke joined the business seven years ago as its production director. He says the shared site is extremely versatile when it comes to managing diverse printing requirements.
“Having editorial and advertising / marketing right next door makes it very easy for us with planning,” Mr Clarke said. “You can just walk next door to Newspaper House, it makes for a closer knit community across all departments of the organisation.”
The centre also prints the ‘TV Guide’ (heatset magazine) for The West Australian’s competitor, the Sunday Times, owned by News Limited.
Clarke said: “From a production perspective we’ve got a pretty good relationship with them. The West Australian is a six day newspaper (Monday –Saturday) so we’re not directly treading on each other’s toes in terms of readers.”
Although newspaper circulation is in ongoing decline across Australia, The West Australian has been relatively resilient. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures showed a year-on-year average decline of just two percent for The West Australian’s weekday editions, compared with an average decline for weekly print masthead sales of 9.2 percent year-on-year.
But Mr Clarke says the print centre continues to focus on cutting costs and innovation.
“We are doing better than most other Australian newspapers but we’ve still got the same type of general decline in terms of circulation,” Mr Clarke said.
“Just like all the other newspapers we’ve seen declines in revenue in all parts of the advertising sphere – from classifieds through to national display advertising.
“Because you’ve got fixed costs and fixed overheads, in terms of paying people and running the facility, it’s more difficult to maintain operating margins.”
At the moment his team is trialling technology to individually number newspapers which could be used to support a range of business functions from market research through to marketing competitions.
“The numbering can be used for competition purposes for example where the reader would call in to The West Australian with their unique number, all of the numbers would then go into a draw to win a prize.
“We’ve needed to adapt to the changing demand over the last few years, changing shifts and labour levels to suit our work,” Mr Clarke said. “We had some jobs that would frequently run into overtime so we’ve moved rosters to try to put people where the work is”.
But even in tough times, Mr Clarke remains an optimist about the future of printed newspapers.
“When radio came on the scene it was going to kill newspapers and when TV appeared it was going to kill both radio and newspapers. Then the internet was to kill everything, it hasn’t and I think it’s just another medium really – it’s just another option for people.”
Although the unique gravitas of newspapers as a trusted source of information will go part-way to ensuring the medium’s longevity, Mr Clarke believes publishers will need to work harder and smarter in order to survive.
“I think it’s something that John Hartigan (former chief executive of News Limited) said years ago, that newspapers really have to change what they are and they have to become a better read … a more in depth read, rather than trying to compete with the latest news offerings of other mediums.
“Everyone who’s involved in newspapers and wants to remain involved in newspapers needs to understand that life’s going to get harder. It’s a much tougher industry to work in now than it was 10 years ago.”