Sun Media Group will print Washington Times

Move helps offset recent ad declines

August 07, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Reporter

The Baltimore Sun Media Group announced yesterday an agreement to print The Washington Times newspaper, starting in September, in a move that helps The Sun offset some of its declines in advertising revenue.

The Times, which produces 100,000 copies a day, plans to close its printing plant in Washington and give all of the work for 10 years to The Sun's Port Covington printing plant, known as Sun Park.

It will be Sun Park's biggest commercial customer and boost production there by 25 percent, said Judy Berman, BSMG's senior vice president of marketing. She said there will be some increased staffing at the printing plant, but she gave no specifics. No dollar amounts were given for the deal.

The printing agreement "is a significant expansion of our commercial printing operations here at BSMG, allowing us to leverage our existing infrastructure to grow revenue," Sun Publisher Timothy E. Ryan said in a memo. "Growing alternative revenue streams, including commercial printing and delivery agreements, is a key part of our strategy to win in this competitive environment."

Yesterday's announcement came just two days after Boscov's department store, one of The Sun's larger advertisers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said it was closing its anchor stores in three Baltimore-area malls.

The Sun Media Group, which also publishes 30 community newspapers and magazines, has more than 50 commercial printing contracts with customers including the New York Post and the New York Daily News. The BSMG has been delivering The Washington Times to retail outlets in the Baltimore area since 2001 and to home customers since 2004.

The Sun Media Group, owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co., has just eliminated 100 jobs as part of Tribune's strategy to reduce the size and staff of all of the company's newspapers. Tribune is grappling with high debt and rising production costs at a time when newspapers are continuing to experience a sharp erosion in revenue as more advertising migrates to the Internet.

"Newspapers everywhere are seeking out other sources of revenue, and one of the obvious places to try that is through commercial printing," said John Morton, a newspaper analyst with Morton Research Inc. in Silver Spring. "Most daily newspapers, and especially the larger ones, are not fully using their press capacity because of circulation declines over the last 20 years."

Times spokesman Jonathan Slevin said that outsourcing printing became the newspaper's only option given its limited space and the prohibitive cost of expanding press capacity. The Times' larger competitor, The Washington Post, said in February that it will close its College Park printing plant in 2010 after two presses are moved to a facility in Springfield, Va.

The Sun's more modern presses will allow the Times to print six sections instead of four, print more pages, have more color, print more quickly and do more zoning, said Dick Amberg, associate publisher and general manager of the Times.

"The economies of scale from printing two metropolitan papers at one plant lower costs while also providing more advertising opportunities and special section availabilities," Amberg said in an internal e-mail to Times staffers that was posted on Politico.com.

He said readers would benefit from more consistent news placement, better deadlines, and increased pages and flexibility.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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