Consumption of printing and writing papers saw a significant drop in 2009, due in part to the global recession, according to the AF&PA. This year, coated groundwood grades saw an uptick in mill inventories by 0.8 percent in May and printer inventories rose 4.5 percent, compared to the previous month.
Mills raised prices on groundwood by about $40 per ton in July. The popular grade #5, in 40-pound offset rolls, now runs between $795 and $815 per ton. The price for coated freesheet #3 , 60 pound rolls—another popular magazine grade—rose $20 to between $930 and $950 per ton, says John O’Brien, the managing editor of PaperAge.
Mills usually approach price hikes in lockstep, and with three large mills, NewPage Corp., Sappi Fine Paper and Verso Paper, holding roughly 75 percent of the coated freesheet market in North America, publishers should expect to see more pressure on price increases as printers enter their seasonally strong period, O’Brien says.
“The paper producers have pushed through a couple of price hikes during the second quarter and are now holding their collective breath hoping demand hangs in there,” he says. “Obviously, the economy will play a big role this fall in whether or not demand remains steady.” O’Brien notes there has not been talk of a price increase for fall.
In the recession, many publishers have taken steps to save money on their paper and production costs, from trimming book size to lightening their paper grades. And while there’s a tendency to see lighter basis weights as prices increase, there’s not much broad opportunity for this in today’s market, says Tom Gallagher, president of Oregon-based paper mill West Linn Paper Co. “There’s always a chance to move from free to groundwood, but groundwood is in very short supply, so it’s unlikely for that to happen at this time,” he says.
There are the rare few books that upgrade their paper stock these days and some which have also increased trim size. Rolling Stone cut its larger trim size in 2008 to a more standard size, but switched to a heavier, glossier paper. Good Housekeeping actually increased trim size by 10 percent in 2009. And Fortune recently changed its stock to improve the physical presence of the magazine for readers and advertisers.
Coated freesheet is the most popular magazine paper and there are a number of different grades of it. High-end consumer magazines are usually printed on coated freesheet and sometimes as high as #2, but more likely they are printed on CFS #3, Gallagher says. The rest of the industry seems to vary from CFS#3 to coated groundwood, also referred to as ‘Lightweight Coated’, depending on the publisher, more so than the type, he notes.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular magazine grades and their attributes, per MagazinePublisher.com:
• Freesheet Paper: Freesheet paper is free of groundwood pulp and has a bit higher brightness (whiter) than groundwood paper. Freesheet starts at a number 3 grade. Magazines commonly use 50#, 60#, 70# text weight freesheet options on the interior and 80#, 100# text weight or 66# cover weight freesheet stock on cover options. Freesheet paper is more costly than Groundwood.
• Groundwood Paper: Characteristics of groundwood paper are higher bulk, smooth feel, lower brightness (whiteness) and good printability. It is usually lower in cost than freesheet paper. Magazines commonly use 36#, 40#, 45#, 50# and 60# groundwood paper. Groundwood is available in number 4 or number 5 grade.
• Coated Offset Paper: Coated papers are described by their finish: matte, dull, or gloss.
Gloss- The majority of magazines today use gloss paper, the property responsible for coated paper’s shiny or lustrous appearance. Gloss papers are less opaque and have less bulk and are less expensive than Dull and Matte papers.
Dull- Smooth surface paper that is low in gloss. Dull coated paper falls between matte and glossy paper.
• Supercalandered Magazine Paper: An uncoated grade containing mechanical pulp and fillers. It’s the most economical magazine paper if using the price-to-information capacity ratio as the yardstick. Supercalandered is well suited for mass-circulation and full-color magazines.
The next wave of paper trends will incorporate more sustainable paper choices. Most of the large mills are introducing eco-friendly paper grades, such as Unisource Worldwide Inc.’s grade, ‘Porcelain ECO’, which has FSC certification. That means the wood products are recognized as coming from controlled sources adhering to strict environmental and socio-economic standards. Meanwhile, Sappi Fine Paper has launched a new digital tool, eQ Tool, that allows users to evaluate different factors with sustainable paper.
Mills and printers are also supercharging recycling efforts. The U.S. Recovery rate for printing and writing papers has grown steadily over the past few years, jumping up 60.8 percent last year, compared to 38 percent in 2002. Last year, the U.S. recovered a record high of 63.4 percent of all paper consumed in the country. That exceeded the paper industry’s goal of 60 percent recovery three years ahead of schedule.