Trends That Are Reshaping Newspapers; Packaging-Distribution Center Changes Seem to Be the Most Consistent, Overriding Trend in Newspapers' Planning for the Future

Article excerpt

NEWSPAPERS ARE PLANNING again. Faced with an increasingly competitive market and falling revenues, they are looking at the future and ways to accommodate perceived needs.

Over the past two years, Blevins Harding Group has observed some marketplace trends that newspapers have addressed in various ways.

Some major challenges presented to the industry today stem from changes to the business. The product has evolved and become more complex, and customer service is now a real goal, not just a slogan.

As operating and capital budgets face more scrutiny, operations need to accomplish more with less labor and must look at creative spending alternatives.

Determining not only how to cope with but also take advantage of these changes demands that newspapers formulate short- and long-range plans that articulate product goals and identify methods to achieve those goals.

During the early 1990s, many newspapers were enduring falling revenues. Fledgling systems for electronic delivery of information were seen as significant competition to the newspapers -- competition strong enough that people wondered how long ink on paper would remain the leader in the information age.

Planning meant money would be on the future -- an uncertain future. Planners wanted to know what to plan for. Many newspapers just couldn't address these issues. There was little planning, at least not enough to prepare newspapers to take advantage of their core business and seek out new ventures.

Over the last year, this attitude has changed. Many today view the electronic delivery of information to be "plus" business, instead of replacing the core product. There also are those out there investing in operations that creatively address new product and distribution needs.

Newspapers have reached a point where, even though there may not be clear answers for everything (no one can predict every business trend), they sense that they are falling farther behind, and something must be done.

This awareness is spreading fast as more people feel comfortable seeing their peers working to meet market needs after they, themselves, considered embarking on similar projects.

Most newspapers now involved in planning want to know how they can expand in the future. Planning any production operation without future growth is a mistake, even in a stable market. Nearly every trend regarding today's core business requires added production space.

Blevins Harding Group had the opportunity to be involved in a number of planning projects since 1993. The projects involved newspapers of various sizes -- from under 20,000 circulation to over 600,000.

Involvement in several planning projects over a short period of time has given us an idea of what is driving the "need to plan." Basic issues, driving forces, consistent currents that seem to face many, if not all, newspapers begin to surface (see top left graph, p. 24P). The four major trends that are reshaping newspapers today include changes in packaging/distribution centers, offices and operations and a need to look outside the industry for growth models.

Changes in the packaging center seem to be the most consistent, overriding trend in the way newspapers are planning for the future. No question, the packaging center is cramped, often inefficient, and unable to meet complex zoning goals. More than all the other areas combined, this space is the driving force behind many planning studies.

According to Newspaper Association of America statistics, preprint pieces were up 5.31% in 1993 over 1992. The growth will probably be higher this year.

More space is the key to the needs in the packaging center. Free-standing insert (FSI) storage, if planned to accommodate a 5.31% annual growth rate over 10 years, will take an increase of 60% over today's space allocation. Add that to today's shortfall and many FSI storage areas turn out to be a third or a fourth of the space needed over the next 10 years. …