Paper shortage adds hurdles to magazine supply chain

Paper is one of many commodities in short supply these days, and the shortage has been exacerbated by supply chain blockages and an upsurge in demand.

Mother Jones production manager Claudia Smukler recently wrote about the difficulties in the print magazine supply chain. “The whole process – harvesting the wood and transporting it to the pulp mills, getting the ingredients to the paper machines, shipping the paper to the newsrooms and delivering the finished product to readers – depends on a network interconnected that is vulnerable to global and local events,” she said. wrote.

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Smukler about how the print magazine industry works and the obstacles that come with it. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Rysdal: So, how is it these days to be a production manager in a magazine?

Claudia Smukler: Yes, it’s very volatile these days, a lot of changes are going on. Nothing is acquired.

Rysdal: And you had a particular challenge in March and April, didn’t you? The amount of paper involved is staggering – 70,000 pounds of paper was going to be overdue, and you needed it and couldn’t get it?

Smukler: Well the way we buy the paper is we would like to have an order in press, some in the warehouse and some in the factory being made at that time so we have a flow of paper. And in the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of disruption about that. So sometimes we can’t get our full £70,000 allowance that we need for a problem. Additionally, there have been delays in the transportation sector that moves materials, and factories have struggled to meet some of the demand that has returned since the pandemic.

Rysdal: Let’s be clear, when we talk about magazine paper, we’re not talking about the same type of paper we use in the desktop printer, 8 1/2 by 11. There are grades and weights, and that’s not the same. is not the same. And you need different things for different types of images and stuff.

Smukler: Well, it’s quite complex. But basically it’s like a giant sized toilet paper roll, but a very specific type that’s coated, and the ink lays down nicely on that paper. But it’s something we order specifically for our publication, the presses we handle, and the amount and number of pages we handle.

Rysdal: So obviously the supply chain being a mess for two and a half years is the immediate cause. But I wonder to what extent your paper problem is a result of going digital and therefore an overall need for less magazine quality paper, and therefore probably fewer mills producing it, and therefore your challenge to supply to start?

Smukler: You’re right, I think there’s historically been, you know, a drop in demand for publication-grade papers, and there are fewer mills making them than there were 10 years ago. Certainly, the pandemic has been accompanied by many disruptions. But you know, post-pandemic, I think one of the things that’s making it worse right now is that magazines and catalogs, which use the same type of paper as magazines, have come back pretty strong. And it is perhaps surprising that the factories, or the factories have decided that the publishing paper is decreasing. So they are looking at converting some of their paper machines to packaging and some of the other qualities that seem to be growing these days.

Rysdal: I take it you’re optimistic about the print magazine industry, given your line of work?

Smukler: Well, yes, I am. And I think the print is really durable. While we may have 9 million monthly page views across all of these platforms, the 185,000 print subscribers are our strongest supporters.

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