U.S. publishers worry about pricier newsprint with new tariffs

Newsstand in San Francisco, California.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

“To get an unbudgeted increase of this magnitude will be for many publishers very, very serious to catastrophic.”

MILWAUKEE — Newspaper publishers across the U.S. already strapped by years of declining revenue say they’re dealing with an existential threat: Recently imposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint driving up their business costs.

The tariffs are a response to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Commerce from a hedge fund-owned paper producer in Washington state, which argues that its Canadian competitors are taking advantage of government subsidies to sell their product at unfairly low prices. The tariffs, imposed in January and increased in March, are not permanent yet. But newspaper publishers are bracing for another blow to an industry that has shrunk with the loss of advertising revenue to the internet.

Critics of the paper tariffs say the businesses that will ultimately be harmed are not Canadian paper producers, but U.S. newspapers that will have to cut staff and reduce publication days to afford higher prices of newsprint — the sheets newspapers are printed on. The newspaper industry employs just over 150,000 Americans, which is about 276,000, or 65 percent, fewer than two decades ago.

“To get an unbudgeted increase of this magnitude will be for many publishers very, very serious to catastrophic,” said Tom Slaughter, the executive director of the Inland Press Association, which represents about 1,500 daily and non-daily newspapers in every state.

A large metro newspaper can expect annual increases of about $3 million in printing costs, according to Paul Boyle, senior vice president for the News Media Alliance. While larger papers might be able to survive the increase, Boyle said smaller publications might not.

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