Any publisher can start a printing co-op
May 1, 2012
Editor’s Note: In February 2011, Publishers’ Auxiliary published a story about four Georgia weekly publishers forming a printing co-op to serve their seven newspapers and others. A year later, we revisited the co-op to find out how things are going. Part 1 of their story was published in April. Here’s Part 2.
It was a Wednesday morning, Josh Lurie recalls, when a publisher called requesting the new Middle Georgia Printing Cooperative to print his newspaper that very day.
“His paper was 27 inches, our limit is 24 inches, so the publisher re-sized it to fit the press,” Lurie said.
MGPC printed it that day.
It worked because the newspaper was a “slammer” publication, also known as a “bust a mug” or an arrest tabloid, filled with mug shots that were easily rearranged to fit new page dimensions.
That publisher is a new MBPC customer now.
This flexibility is the key reason four Georgia publishers teamed up a year ago, rented an old flexographic press and printing facility from the Macon (GA) Telegraph, and formed a printing co-operative.
Lurie, one of the partners who prints his own newspapers on the flexograph, treats his customers’ newspapers with the same diligence and care as he treats his paper, The Jones County News.
“I print on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, there are four bundles on my front stoop,” he said. “I know the rest of the papers are at the post office or in reader’s hands.”
Like his customers, Lurie sends his own pages to the press, and the staff there does the rest, from printing the pages and inserting the sections to addressing, bagging and delivering the finished product.
It is a one-stop shop.
“This is a goal for all of our customers,” Lurie said.
But some newspapers enjoy holding onto parts of the process, like hand inserting.
“One of our clients considered the bad economy and didn’t want to lay anyone off, so he preserved his inserting operation to keep folks employed,” Lurie said.
Lurie was just 14 when he started his career at the 117-year old newspaper he now owns with his mother, Debbie Lurie-Smith. Lurie is publisher and Lurie-Smith is editor and bookkeeper.
The newspaper, located in Gray, GA, is a 32-page weekly newspaper with an average circulation of 4,500. Half of that circulation is subscriber-based and the other half is rack sales, according to Lurie.
The paper employs five staffers, and they all wear many hats.
In addition to publishing his newspaper, helping run the printing co-op, Lurie is chairman of his local Chamber of Commerce and serves on the economic development authority.
“My involvement in these businesses and organizations reflects what the newspaper is all about—our community,” he said.
He loves the variety.
“It’s easy to get burned out if you do the same thing all the time,” he said.
Lurie manages it all by sticking to a schedule and being efficient.
At the printing co-op, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are hard charging days.
Tuesday mornings start at 6:30 and end around midnight, with pre-press beginning 90 minutes before each press run. The inserters start prepping an hour before newspapers start coming off the press.
As soon as the co-op lands a new customer, Lurie steps in to help with the transition, formatting for new sizing if needed, setting up the systems, and making necessary adjustments.
“It’s not easy to transition printers,” Lurie said. “We bought our newspaper in 2006, and the co-op is our fourth printer.”
Area newspapers are believers, and many are willing to shift their deadlines a couple of hours each way to get press time in Macon.
Because the partners are also publishers, they can look at their press facility through the eyes of a customer.
“Because the co-op is owned by publishers, we look out for more than just the way the press operates,” Lurie said, and advises other publishers to do the same when they shop around for a new printer.
He offers some advice:
• Make sure you see the pressroom. Is it dirty or clean? The care they put into the environment shows the care they put into their product.
• In the mailroom, look at the area where inserts are stored. If inserts come in early, is there a staging area with the earliest scheduled to run in the front and the later ones in the back.
• Look for inserts to be clearly marked, with each newspaper separated from the others and clearly organized.
Lurie admits the MGPC has attracted a lot of attention for its fast success, some of which he owes to his partners’ circumstances.
“To set up our own printing plant we needed a lot of money,” he said. “But we were able to lease one, and though we did have upfront expenses, they were not nearly as much as they would have been by buying a press.”
The co-op has solid customers, and is on the way to being able to show proof of their concept.
“No one has figured out how to make money online yet, and we know we are going to keep printing,” he said. “It has been one year and three months and we’re still going and growing. I would encourage other publishers to get into this (printing co-op business).”
Once the MGPC team shows proof that their co-op can thrive in the long term, they will be able to demonstrate that it is a good option for other papers trapped in a printing press revolving door.
“After all,” Lurie says. “If you can’t get your newspaper printed, you’re in big trouble.”