Caldwell: Newsprint supply, price impacts you

The paper that The Winchester Sun you hold in your hands is printed on cost 10 percent more than it did just a few weeks ago — and it is likely to cost as much as 40 percent more in coming months.

In what sounds like a farfetched scenario, tightening American newsprint supplies could threaten newspapers’ ability to print at all, newspaper industry experts say.

Forces beyond the control of America’s community newspapers are to blame, but our response will be noticeable to you, our readers:

— Fewer pages. For the past several years, our smallest edition has been 10 pages. On light advertising days, we will adjust this as needed.

— Higher subscription prices. We currently charge $13.50 per month for home delivery of our newspaper. We may have to charge more.

— More online news. Our news staff routinely produces more local news and photographs than will fit in our print edition. Increasingly, we will rely on our website, where we have unlimited space, to publish excess news.

Despite this challenge, we will continue our emphasis on local content. We will work harder than ever to provide news about Clark County you cannot find elsewhere.

Why is newsprint becoming more expensive and scarce? See page A7 for a detailed Q&A, but the short answer is there are two reasons: one long in the making, the other recent.

Largely because of the struggles of big-city newspapers, newsprint consumption in America has decreased 75 percent over the past two decades. As demand dropped, many American newsprint mills closed or converted to making other paper products.

Newsprint mills in neighboring Canada filled supply gaps as domestic production capacity dwindled. The result was market equilibrium and stable newsprint prices for much of the past decade — until last summer, when a small, hedge fund-owned newsprint mill in faraway Washington state caused a market jolt that no one saw coming.

North Pacific Paper Co. complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission that Canadian producers were violating trade laws by receiving government loan assistance and harvesting trees on government land — advantages that allowed them to sell paper in the United States cheaper than American mills could. No other paper manufacturers have complained.

Pending results of an ongoing investigation, preliminary duties against Canadian producers of around 7 to 10 percent began in January, followed by an additional 22 percent in March. Major newsprint makers, most of whom have mills in both countries, have announced major price increases in response.

For the record, The Interior Journal is printed almost entirely on paper made in Quebec after a host of east coast paper mills closed their doors in recent years. Community newspapers like ours represent a sliver of newspaper demand. Despite still-healthy print readership, we alone cannot create enough demand to stimulate the U.S. newsprint market and bring shuttered mills back to life. Yet our need for newsprint to fulfill our obligation to readers is as enduring as that of the Washington Post or New York Times.

How can you help? Let your elected representative know this is important to you. Call Sen. Mitch McConnell at (202) 224-2541; Sen. Rand Paul at (202) 224-4343; or U.S. Representative Andy Barr at 202-225-4706 and ask them to take a stand for community newspapers. You or I cannot express an opinion to the Department of Commerce or International Trade Commission, but senators and representatives can.

Also, give our e-edition a try if you’re not already using it.

An e-edition is a digital replica of our daily print edition that can be read on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

If you are a Winchester Sun subscriber, you get free access to the e-edition. We even email a link to every subscriber whose email address is in our database when the edition is ready each day at 7 a.m. Simply click and read. It’s available several hours before the printed newspaper arrives in your mailbox.

You can activate your free e-edition if you are print subscriber or sign up for a digital-only subscription by visiting our website at www.winchestersun.com and clicking on the link at the top of the page for e-edition.

In a worst-case scenario of newsprint becoming so scarce that we cannot print a newspaper, the e-edition is our backstop for uninterrupted publication of local news for Clark County.

We are working hard with other community newspapers and industry partners to prevent that from happening, but we will be ready if it does.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. He can be reached at  (859) 759-0095  or by email at  mike.caldwell@winchestersun.com.