Newsprint is low-cost, non-archival paper most commonly used to print newspapers, plus other publications and advertising material. It usually has an off-white cast and distinctive feel. It is designed for use on printing presses that employ a long web of paper (web offset, letterpress and flexographic) rather than individual sheets of paper.
Newsprint is favored by publishers and printers for its combination of relatively low cost (compared with paper grades used to print such products as glossy magazines or sales brochures), high strength (to run through modern high-speed web printing presses) and the ability to accept four-color printing at qualities that meet the needs of typical newspaper advertisers.
World demand of newsprint in 2006 totaled about 37.2 million metric tonnes, according to the Montreal-based Pulp & Paper Products Council (PPPC). This was about 1.6% less than in 2000. Between 2000 and 2006, the biggest changes were in Asia – which saw newsprint demand grow by about 20% - and North America, were demand fell by about 25%. Demand in China virtually doubled during the period, to about 3.2 million metric tonnes.
About 35% of global newsprint usage in 2006 was in Asia, with approximately 26% being in North America and about 25% in Western Europe. Latin America and Eastern Europe each represented about 5% of world demand in 2006, according to PPPC, with smaller shares going to Oceania and Africa.
Among the biggest factors depressing demand for newsprint in North America have been the decline in newspaper readership among many sectors of the population – particularly young adults – along with increasing competition for advertising business from the Internet and other media. According to Newspaper Association of America, the U.S. newspaper trade group, average U.S. daily circulation in 2006 on a typical weekday was 52.3 million (53.2 million on Sundays), compared with 62.5 million in 1986 (58.9 million on Sundays) and 57.0 million in 1996 (60.8 million on Sundays). According to NAA, daily ad revenues (not adjusted for inflation) reached their all-time peak in 2000, and by 2007 had fallen by 13%. Newsprint demand has also been affected by attempts on the part of newspaper publishers to reduce marginal printing costs through various conservation measures intended to cut newsprint usage.
While demand has been trending down in North America in recent years, the rapid economic expansion of such Asian countries as China and India greatly benefited the print newspaper, and thus their newsprint suppliers. According to the World Association of Newspapers, in 2007 Asia was the home to 74 of the world’s 100 highest-circulation dailies. With millions of Chinese and Indians entering the ranks of those with disposable income, newspapers have gained readers along with other news media.
Newsprint is used worldwide in the printing of newspapers, flyers, and other printed material intended for mass distribution. In the U.S., about 80% of all newsprint that is consumed is purchased by daily newspaper publishers, according to PPPC. Dailies use a large majority of total demand in most other regions as well.
Typically in North America, newsprint is purchased by a daily newspaper publisher and is shipped from the mill to the publisher’s pressroom or pressrooms, where it is used to print the main body of the newspaper (called the run-of-press, or ROP, sections). The daily newspaper publisher may also be hired by outside companies such as advertisers or publishers of weekly newspapers or other daily newspapers to produce printed products for those companies using its presses. In such cases the press owner might also purchase newsprint from the mill for such contract printing jobs.
For the roughly 20% of demand which is not purchased by a daily newspaper, common end-uses include the printing of weekly newspapers, advertising flyers and other printed products, generally by a commercial printer – a company whose business consists largely of printing products for other companies using its presses. In such a case, the newsprint may be purchased by the printer on behalf of a client such as an advertiser or a weekly newspaper publisher, or it may be purchased by the client and then ordered to be shipped to the printer’s location.
Faced with dwindling revenue from competition with broadcast, cable and internet outlets, U.S. newspapers in the 21st century — particularly broadsheets — have begun a process of downsizing the width of their newsprint rolls to a standard size across the business. The new broadsheet standard in the United States is the 48-inch web (which means the each page in its section is 12 inches wide). Newspapers such as USA Today have already converted to the new, narrower standard which is also considered easier to handle by readers. Interest in the standard increased when the Wall Street Journal said it would abandon its iconic 60-inch web (15 inch wide front page) format in favor of the new newspaper industry standard starting on January 2, 2007. The New York Times has also followed suit, abandoning its 54-inch web (13 1/2 inch front page) on August 6, 2007.
Newspapers in many other parts of the world, including The Times, The Guardian and The Independent in the United Kingdom, are also downsizing their broadsheets.
Additionally, some old newspapers never make it to a recycling plant, being used for a variety of household and industrial applications or simply ending up in landfill. Recycle rates (the percentage of annual newsprint consumption which is then recycled) vary from country to country and, within countries, from city to rural areas as well as from city to city. The American Forest & Paper Association estimates that more than 72% of newsprint produced in North America in 2006 was recovered for re-use or export, with about 58% of that going back to a paper or paperboard mill for re-use, 16% being used by molded pulp mills (to make products such as egg cartons) and the balance being shipped offshore. Of the percentage that is re-used by a North American paper or paperboard mill, AFPA estimates that about a third goes back into newsprint manufacture. Recycle rates can also vary over time with the price paid by the market for old newspapers, which can be quite volatile. As an example, in recent years, with China growing as a manufacturer of various kinds of paper and packaging – using significant quantities of recycled fiber imported from the U.S. and elsewhere – its demand for old newspapers has at times been strong enough to influence recycled fiber prices worldwide. While high recycled fiber prices are good news for the goal of reducing landfill quantities, they can affect the profitability of newsprint mills using recycled fibers.
An important consideration in fiber selection by newsprint mills aside from cost is the high speeds of both modern newsprint machines and modern newspaper printing presses. There are newsprint machines in the U.S. operating at speeds approaching 1,400 meters per minute, according to industry information group RISI Inc., while the newest machines in the world (including some recently installed in China) can have speeds topping 1,800 meters per minute. Modern newspaper presses can run at speeds of up to 90,000 copies per hour (according to publishing industry association IFRA), with a few approaching 100,000 cph.
Such high speeds place severe demands on the strength of the sheet, both on the paper machine during the manufacturing process and on the press during printing. A number of newsprint mills around the world manufacture commercially acceptable qualities of newsprint using 100% recycled fiber. However, such mill operators must be very selective about the purity of the waste stream, making sure they employ a minimum of contaminants and include as much long-fibered old newsprint as possible. Virgin newsprint is made from long-fibered (softwood) trees such as spruce, fir, balsam and pine, while some paper and paperboard products are manufactured from shorter-fibered hardwood species. Newsprint mills prefer to use old newspapers, or a mix of old newspapers and old magazines, rather than recycling other paper grades. As U.S. municipalities have recently moved toward “single stream” recycling – collecting various waste products in a single compartment of a vehicle – mills have been forced to spend more money to procure a clean, appropriate waste stream for pulping purposes.