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EXCLUSIVE: The major newspaper print site at North Richmond, once the jewel in the Rural Press crown, and later a major Fairfax plant, is closing, with owner ACM telling staff no other alternative is viable.

Closing: ACM Noth Richmond print site, with manroland presses
Closing: ACM Noth Richmond print site, with manroland presses

No date has been set for the closure, although Print21 understands ACM is looking at July. Some 100 staff will lose their jobs as a result. The plant is one of the biggest employers in town. 

The highly specified plant was a long time leader in Australian newspaper printing, but as printed newspaper circulations continue to plummet its ongoing operation is no longer viable, in the eyes of ACM at least. A company spokesperson said, "This decision, while difficult, is critical in establishing a streamlined, capital light business that can compete in this rapidly changing media landscape."

ACM owns the plant by dint of its deal with Fairfax two years ago, when it bought the regional newspaper business from Fairfax/Nine. Included in that deal were nine printing plants, six of which have now been closed, North Richmond will be the seventh.

ACM owner, Antony Catalano, has a known preference for publishing only, with printing contracted out, which was the strategy at his previous magazine publishing business. ACM has also moved some titles to online only.

The North Richmond site developed into a world-leading print plant under former operations director Bob Lockley, who retired three years ago. It is equipped with the latest manroland presses, with a Uniset and Geoman still running there. The heatset part of the business was sold off to IVE last year. 

ACM will switch production of some of the titles it prints at North Richmond to its Tamworth plant, which along with Launceston is its only remaining print plant still operating. ACM will also contract out some of its printing from North Richmond, with News Ltd and SpotPress likely to win some of the work.

Neither of the big Nine metro papers the Sydney Morning Herald or the Australian Financial Review are printed at North Richmond. A host of smaller titles, including independents from as far away as central Queensland, are contract printed at the site. They may now struggle to find a spot on a press, although publisher Today Group has just acquired the former News Corp print centre in Rockhampton, which has been closed for nine months, and will be offering contract print. The biggest paper printed at North Richmond is farmers' title The Land.

The printed newspaper industry has been decimated in the last year, with hundreds of smaller print titles shifted online or closed completely. Last week, Print21 reported that newsprint imports into Australia collapsed by a huge two thirds in 2020, with imports only totalling 33 per cent of the prior year’s figure, as Covid turbo-charged an already precipitous decline.

A few print newspapers have since re-opened, a few under new owners, many have gone to online only, while many have shut completely. The rise of the smartphone and the onset of the 24 hour news cycle have battered the production of printed newspapers, in Australia and around the world.

The closure of North Richmond will add to the rapid decline in ANZ newspaper printing. A few years ago there were 18 Fairfax print plants in Australia, and eight in New Zealand. The closure of North Richmond would mean only two of those plants in each country remain, with Fairfax, now Nine, out of print completely.

News Ltd is also consolidating its print plants - it is exiting Brisbane for its Sunshine Coast facility - although it is currently taking a 10-year lease on a new greenfield printing site on the outskirts of Melbourne, where it will print all Victorian newspapers for News, ACM, Nine and some smaller publishers.

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