The perplexing and possiblly pestilent paper problem

Will a lack of paper pose an existential threat to the printing industry in the future? Printing Impressions has reported on the current tightness of the market for paper that commercial and in-plants rely on. “As demand-supply relationships for communication papers grows strained, not all paper mills can handle those unexpected conditions,” it said. “When printers face temporary shortages from their regular sources, shop owners may not have many other options.” Other negative influences include paper manufacturers’ decisions to close mills, take papermaking machines offline, or rededicate them to grades for uses other than printing that are more profitable. Plus, electronic communication has reduced overall demand for paper products. Conclusion: The paper industry is currently delivering less of the papers that we need, but it’s not a crisis situation – yet!

However, actions by paper producers aren’t solely responsible for current market conditions – and news from the mills hasn’t been all that bad. For example, Catalyst Paper of Richmond, BC has 5 mills across North America with a combined annual production capacity of 2.3 million tons. Domtar’s pulp mills in the U.S. and Canada produce about 1.8 million metric tons of market pulp every year. And yet, according to IBISWorld, the paper mills industry in Canada seems to be in decline.

Over the 10 years to 2023, industry value added (i.e. an industry’s contribution to the economy) is projected to fall at an annual rate of 2.7%. In contrast, Canada’s GDP is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 1.9% during that same period. So the industry is shrinking when our overall economy is growing – which is traditionally indicative an industry in decline. However, experts say that a strengthening economy and improving corporate profits will likely prompt some mills to expand and invest to handle demands for printing paper and other print-related products.

Folks, this is a fluid situation with a lot of moving parts. But it’s a vitally important one to closely monitor. Rest assured, we’ll be doing just that in the moths to come.

Until next time, always remember that we’re here to help.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.