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Someone Believes In Print; Daily News Spends $150 Mil. On Printing Plant

It’s difficult to follow print journalism these days without feeling bashed over the head by the irony of the term. Most of the big stories are either about closures or firings (Gawker reports that AP layoffs may be coming today), and what positive news there is tends to be about innovative moves online.

But according to the New York Times, one man is doubling down on print: Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman. From Richard Pérez-Peña‘s article:

[Zuckerman] has sunk more than $150 million into expanding the newspaper’s printing plant, installing advanced high-speed presses — a statement of faith that print will still be big business for another decade or two, if not longer. As of this month, The Daily News can print full color on every page; executives say it is the only large paper in the country with that capability. (emphasis added)

The question is whether the investment makes business sense; the answer may never be made public because the privately held paper does not disclose its financial performance. Mr. Zuckerman signed the deal for the equipment almost two years ago, before the drop in advertising turned into a free fall, and before the weekday circulation of The Daily News fell to less than 550,000, from more than 700,000. He conceded that the paper, which had been marginally profitable for years, is at “worse than break-even.”

A key point: advertisers like full-color ads, so this isn’t purely a matter of reader aesthetics.

The price tag may doom this venture from the start, but if you’re going to stick with print, full-color’s not a bad way to go. Text on a page can always be delivered faster and better by a computer, but color on paper, much less stacks of paper, is so much more striking than color on a screen. And it can’t hurt that the Daily News can make the claim that that it’s the only large paper in the country able to do X. Also: full color will let it further stick it to the New York Post, which it surpassed in circulation not too long ago.

Still, there is the odd sense that The Daily News is reinventing itself as a cheap daily magazine on cheap paper, and magazines aren’t exactly doing great this year. Given its unique position, the paper will no doubt be able to negotiate unique deals, but it seems tough to recoup its investment by even the most optimistic layman’s projections. Maybe The Daily News should have just launched a better photoblog, kept the $150 million, and called it a day?

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