What does the closure of a pulp mill in tiny Nackawic, New Brunswick, Canada, have to do with your job? Plenty - perhaps - as the closure and the loss of 400 jobs may be a harbinger of changes afoot in the U.S. newspaper business.
"Forestry officials are warning of tough times ahead as technology and the rise of the Internet swing through the pulp and paper industry like an axe," Canada Press reported Sept. 27 after the plant closed.
Canada Press quoted economist David Chaundy as saying digital photography and the Internet are depressing demand for items like photographic paper and newsprint.
"The newspaper industry and the newsprint industry are unavoidably linked," says the lead article in the September issue of the New England Press Association Bulletin. "If one is having problems, it has an impact on the other."
The NEPA bulletin noted that two of the major suppliers of newsprint to U.S. newspapers are suffering financially.
Abitibi, the world's largest supplier of newsprint, reported a loss of $31 million on sales of almost $1.36 billion in the first quarter of 2004. Bowater reported a loss of $32.5 million on sales of $745 million in the first quarter.
Newspapers have been suffering circulation declines since 1990, when circulation of Sunday U.S. dailies totaled 62.63 million copies. Daily newspaper circulation was 62.33 million in 1990, according to the Newspaper Association of America. In 2003, Sunday circulation was almost 58.5 million and daily circulation totaled nearly 55.2 million copies.
Newspaper circulation has declined approximately 10 percent even though the population of the United States has increased some five percent - from 244 million in 1990 to 294 million today.
Newsprint consumption has declined from 12.2 million metric tons in 1990 to 10.3 million metric tons in 2003, according to NAA statistics.
In addition to lost circulation, many newspapers have found ways to reduce newsprint consumption, including adapting smaller web widths.
Newspapers also are adapting, creating and managing Internet products that help maintain revenues and market share.
Newsprint analyst Bernie Bottomley was quoted in the NEPA Bulletin as noting that during recent months the newspaper industry has reported higher revenues, while consuming less newsprint.
"Newspapers are getting more money from Internet-based business and special sections that use high-quality print, so that doesn't help increase traditional newsprint consumption," Bottomley told NEPA's Ethan Slavin.
At TownNews.com, web traffic for online newspapers has shown a 50 to 100 percent increase, per year, for the last five years.
I think it's important to add that most of these circulation and newsprint consumptions declines began before the World Wide Web was born in the early 1990s, but have accelerated as the Internet has grown.
Nielsen Net Ratings has a study that shows that newspaper readership is much lower in households with high-speed Internet connectivity. Nielsen and Comcast both reported that a watershed was reached this last summer : More than half of all U.S. households now have high-speed Internet access.
If newspapers want to grow revenues and audience for tomorrow's world, the best products probably will involve Internet technology.