Printing: A Quaint Curiosity in a Dusty Museum?

Almost all paper is made from either wood pulp, cotton, or a combination of the two. It’s not the base that is the significant factor in the wide variety of paper on the market. The processing at the paper mills makes all of the difference. Developing a new product line is a monumental task. Decisions have to be made at the very beginning. For example, before sheet one is produced, marketing must be considered. Who will buy this paper? Will this new line increase total sales or erode sales from another paper in our product line? How much will it cost to make it, including possible new tooling? How do we position this paper in the marketplace? What will we emphasize most, price, uniqueness, printability, or quality?

Why should the paper making issues  make any difference to you as a consumer? If you were to see the figures the printer has to consider in estimating  a printing bid, you would note that the cost of paper is routinely 30-60% of the cost. The bigger the job the greater the percentage of paper cost. Why is it so much? In addition to all the R&D, the short answer is that it takes a big expensive facility to manufacture paper in the volumes needed to supply the needs. Just how expensive? The cost of building a new mill today is well over a billion dollars. To give you an idea of how much real estate is needed for a typical mill here is a photo of  the Blue Heron Paper Mill in Oregon, USA.

Blue Heron Paper Mill

Blue Heron Paper Mill

Paper mills have been subjected to the same pressures we all experience in this business climate. Their manufacturing costs have increased dramatically, in part because of  raw materials. Environmental laws have made harvesting of trees more expensive, and mills have been forced to comply with demanding clean air and water regulations. Regulations which have forced retrofitting the plants with new equipment to meet EPA standards. Some mills, unable to afford the retrofits have shut down. Mills in United States face world wide competition that keeps the sell prices low even in the face of these higher costs. So the paper mills are squeezed.

Again, why should this matter? It matters to all of us because we have enjoyed a golden age of amazing paper options. If new mills are unable to be built, and older mills close up shop, the availability will decrease. In steps that old law of supply and demand, with decreased supply, a steady demand will force the costs up. The final buyer of printing will see their printing bills increasing, and more companies will  consider options other than printing. When companies slow orders of printed materials, printers will suffer. With a drop off of paper orders, more mills will close. It’s the proverbial vicious cycle. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready to see printing become a quaint curiosity is some dusty museum. There is still something  to be said about the feel and permanence of a printed piece that just can’t be duplicated with electronic blips on a computer monitor.

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