Expensive paper puts publishers in a mess

Frankfurt / Bonn (dpa) – Because paper has become significantly more expensive, Germany’s book and newspaper publishers are coming under pressure.

Short-term orders for special graphic paper and cardboard for bindings have become more difficult, reports the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, which speaks for book publishers. No major restrictions for readers are currently expected. But: “If the paper shortage persists and the costs remain high in the long term, this could ultimately have an impact on the availability and book prices.”

The price increase is due to higher costs for energy and Transport and the Corona crisis, which exacerbated the structural change: More and more paper mills are switching their production from graphic paper to cardboard, which is in demand because of the booming online trade. The «Spiegel» and the «Handelsblatt» had previously reported on the higher paper prices. Percent climbed. There was also a sharp increase in pulp. Depending on the type of paper, these two raw materials play a different role: Cellulose is produced from the chemical processing of wood or wood residues. These fresh fibers are made into new paper or, in the case of some types of paper, mixed with waste paper. Newsprint, on the other hand, is made entirely from waste paper.

Difficult conditions for publishers

Book publishers feel the higher costs. The Börsenverein points out that the lead time – i.e. the time for the print job including paper orders – has increased four to six times for books. “In particular, short-term post-edition production is hardly possible.” Publishers would have to plan higher editions straight away, which makes the calculation more difficult. Since the changeover to the euro about two decades ago, book prices have only “increased very moderately”. The profit margins are low. Publishing houses could not compensate for rising production costs in the long term, and prices would have to be adjusted “so as not to get into economic difficulties”.

The Federal Association of Digital Publishers and Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) reports “considerable price pressure »For press papers. Demand exceeds the amount of paper produced. Not all buyers received the agreed quantities or surcharges would be charged. The threat of undersupply is extremely problematic. “We anticipate that a considerable increase in the cost of raw materials, which is to be expected, will also be reflected in the price of the product in the longer term.”

Arne Kant from the management consultancy Afry sees the increases in paper prices as inevitably. “The paper manufacturers are forced to raise prices because they are experiencing price increases for raw materials and energy, some of which have never been seen before.” Margins are low and the graphic paper market is shrinking.

Book publishers are affected differently. The school book publisher Cornelsen reports that the situation is being observed “very carefully”. However, Cornelsen mainly prints in the first half of the year so that the books are ready for the new school year – and was therefore not as affected by the price spiral as other publishers.

CH Beck, in turn, reports higher paper prices, the Although “not acutely” led to price adjustments for the books, they are part of the cost-related price pressure that has persisted for a long time and is now intensified – and “will likely affect our medium-term pricing,” says production manager Jörg Alt. dramatically worsened shortage of all graphic papers on the market ». Recycled paper is almost no longer available on the market and other types of paper are hardly available. “The procurement problem puts the publishers at least as much as the price problem under pressure.”

Travel publisher Mairdumont (“Baedeker”) says: “We too are struggling with significantly longer delivery times on the one hand and higher ones on the other Costs.” Mairdumont is not aiming for price increases.

Paper demand fell during the pandemic

2020 the demand for paper for newspapers and advertising papers fell significantly. After all, the economy turned out less advertisements. This year the economy has picked up again – but there is not as much printing paper as needed.

The demand for printing paper fell for years, which was also due to digitization – e-paper is used more frequently in media consumption than before, less is printed out in offices. In the past year, the development accelerated, as can be seen from figures from the paper industry association: The production volume of graphic paper in Germany fell by 15 percent to 6 million tons. 2019 the minus was 8 percent, while in the previous years the declines were smaller. The total minus over the past decade was 40 percent. The development is similar across Europe. Factories are being converted for a lot of money to produce cardboard instead of paper.

The situation with waste paper is difficult: This fell in the Corona year 2020, among other things, due to thinner newspapers and canceled advertising leaflets less – so there is less available for recycling this year. Roughly speaking, waste paper can be recycled ten times before it can no longer be used.

High prices, high demand – does this entice companies to get back into the production of graphic paper? Gregor Andreas Geiger from the Paper Industry Association shakes his head: “The production capacities for graphic paper are gone. They probably won’t come back. ” The structural change will continue. However, supply and demand would probably level off again in the foreseeable future. Industry expert Kant also expects a recovery – in North America and China there has already been a slight decline in pulp prices.

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