An automatic plate sorter stretches into the distance at Würzburg-based Main Post, a clue to the highly-editionised newspapers which are keeping print alive in regional Germany.
Plate sorters, automatic plate loaders and investment in new highly-automated presses tell a rare success story in print sites around Frankfurt, as I take time out after WAN-Ifra’s European Printers Summit.
No wonder the first face-to-face ‘unconference’ event has been pitched at the DACH market, shorthand for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where the newspaper reading habit is still strong, underpinned by heavy editionising of regional daily newspapers.
The three publishers I visit in company with Koenig & Bauer’s Günter Noll – in Gelnhausen, Aschaffenburg and Würzburg – are of different size, but share a focus on delivering a mix of local and national news daily to readers via printed papers. Geo-targetted advertising, via localised freesheet editions and selective inserting, is also a part of the mix.
The common denominator is busy platerooms, turning out bar-coded page-size plates for mostly automatic loading, the sheer volume a testament to their success. The largest, Main Post in the centre of Bavaria’s Franconian wine country, gets through two-thirds of a million plates a year.
From a technical as well as a business perspective, it’s good to see businesses motivated to continue investing in print technology, and to get a return on it.
There’s a complicated relationship between Main Post in Würzburg and its customers, subsidiaries and partners, a proportion of which were once simply customers. The business is owned by Pressedruck Media through Augsburg-headquartered radio and TV production company rt1.media which also owns Augsburger Allgemeine there, and Südkurier in Konstanz, a parent group Main Post technology director Andreas Kunzemann (above) tells me has turnover of 500 million Euros and paid circulation of 220,000.
Also active in direct distribution, it delivers content marketing services both in print and online, with Augsburg itself close by as a market for printed supplements.
“It’s a strong economic area, with a population of about 900,000 and good connections by road and train,” he says, “and we share the same mindset, the same regional thinking.
“The cake gets smaller but our share is bigger.”
The core Main Post has a nightly print order of up to 150,000 with a total of 15 editions including partner derivatives such as Schweinfurter Tagblatt, Hassfurter Tagblatt and Bote vom Hassgau. Other partner products and customers add half as much again to the nightly print order and the number of editions, with individual runs between 45,000 and as few as 900 copies.
The 320,000 print order of the group’s Markt freesheet is also split into geo-targetted editions, and from a print perspective, weekly titles with circulations between 2000 copies and the 85,000 of a competitor add to the workload.
“They’re good consistent jobs for nationwide customers,” says Kunzemann, who has worked himself up to a board position with the company, not least through "constant innovation".
He shows me a range of samples including glued super panoramas – one with progressive 3D increments – a single-page version, and a precision-slit product called ‘give me five’ with vertical folds that open step by step.
The eight-tower, three-folder press spans three generations of K&B’s Commander design: two towers of a ten-cylinder version, four of the maker’s compact CT – two of them stacked – and in the latest addition, two CL towers, a design which provides more room for automation such as plate loaders.
The press is serviced by a Ferag mailroom including two MSD drums and an EasySert installation – and an Agfa plateroom based on two Advantage platesetters and one Polaris.
“We’re always looking to extend our range and reach, to be good for our customers and to be able to invest back,” Kunzemann says.
Print is only part of that. The company also produces content for a partner, producing pages but not actually printing them, with services also including advertising, layout, and letterbox distribution – “things we’re good at,” he says – with a focus on the ‘last mile’ adding 250,000 letters a day sorted and delivered across Frankfurt and Franconia.
“We’ve worked step-by-step to expand our business, so a third of it is now as a service provider,” Kunzemann says.
Much smaller, but with the same focus on innovation and daily local news is Druck-und-Pressehaus Naumann, which has the impressive address of Number One Gutenbergstrasse in Gelnhausen, an hour to the east of Frankfurt, where my host is technical manager Markus Nimfür (above).
The Berliner-sized paid-sale Gelnhäuser Neue Zeitung – launched in 1988 – is a single paid-sale edition of about 10,000 copies, but Naumann is also the publisher of Mittelhessen-Bote, a 330,000-circulation free weekly in 18 regional editions, and prints tabloid freesheet Der Neue Markt.
A new two-tower Commander CL press came online in 2017 – bringing paper savings through a format change, and replacing a slower press – enabling Naumann to win a new print customer from neighbouring Geisen. Now with six different newspapers to print, plate and reel changing automation has been added to reduce time between editions.
Nimfür says his target has been to optimise workflow, adding options such as auto reel loading (below): “The ROI of the new press offered more in every way – less waste and faster printing, 45,000 cph against the 30,000 cph of our old press.”
The business was founded in 1956 by Ehrhardt Naumann, and is currently led by his son Oliver, these days with Hanover-based Madsack as a major shareholder.
To the south – and east of Frankfurt – is another regional daily with a substantial commitment to local editions. Published six days-a-week, the larger Main Echo in Aschaffenburg was launched in 1945, and is sold mainly by subscription with delivery, supported by an online presence which includes a digital newsletter, Facebook and Whats Apps pages.
The 65,000 circulation is split into eight editions, varying in size from 1200 copies to the 26,000 of the city edition, and includes Bote vom Untermain, Wertheimer Zeitung and Lohrer Echo.
Another Commander CL, this time with a “spare” third tower, was installed in 2014, reducing the press requirement and speeding production, and also equipped to change plates automatically. Two Krause platesetters, used alternately, handle 30,000m2 of low-process violet plates currently sourced from Kodak and Fuji.
Heiko Brosig (above), production director of Medienhaus Main-Echo, says the numerous editions contribute to the success of regional publishers, and attract advertisers. Eight or nine supplements are typically added to the four sections of the main newspaper via a Müller Martini mailroom installed in 2008 to replace Ferag kit.
The publisher also produces the 240,000-circulation freesheet TopShop, which despite reduced pagination since the COVID-19 pandemic, still includes up to a dozen inserts in its six editions, and counts giant European retailer MediaMarkt among its customers.
“We’re not growing – we’ve lost 20 per cent in ten years – but the decline has slowed and is currently around 1.5-3.5 per cent per annum,” says Brosig. “And it’s the national papers, especially tabloids that are declining fastest.”
Far from the “race to the bottom” experienced in other geographies, it seems the editionised regional format popular in the DACH countries is helping keep print alive… with a little help from the enabling technologies that make it viable.