It’s one thing to talk theoretically about the impact of a trade war. It’s another thing to be caught in the crossfire.
But that’s where I am. Or more literally, that’s where 60 or so independent newspaper contractors found themselves this month when they lost their jobs.
In January of this year, the Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), imposed a 30 percent import tariff on Canadian newsprint. Prices have risen accordingly, costing my newspaper company $300,000 a year.
In the heyday of newspapers, perhaps we could have raised prices or found some fat. Those days are long gone. Intense competition in the media sector have driven margins to the bone. Google, Facebook and Amazon are sucking ad dollars straight to the West Coast.
Large newspaper organizations are cutting editorial, laying off excellent reporters. But what is a newspaper without original content? We were already lean and mean.
Fortunately for the survival of my company, we found an option. Thanks to a special postal regulation called Exceptional Dispatch, we will be able to use the U.S. Postal Service to get same-day delivery of our three weekly newspapers, saving a substantial amount of money and allowing us to leave our editorial staff intact.
We will have to change our printing schedules. Instead of printing at 11 a.m. for late afternoon delivery, we will print at night for early morning delivery. As it turns out, most or our daily subscribers will get the newspaper sooner rather than later.
This will not affect our weekly and twiceweekly publications, including the Northside Sun, which have always been delivered through the U.S. mail.
Switching from independent carriers to mail is a trend rapidly progressing in the newspaper industry. Even Amazon doesn’t have their own delivery force – yet.
Independent carriers are becoming an artifact of a bygone era when newspapers were chock-full of free-standing inserts and slow mail service. As the main conveyor of timely news, it was imperative that newspapers get delivered as rapidly as possible.
But those days are over. Even in rural Mississippi, 90 percent of people have a smartphone and can get breaking national news far more rapidly than delivery of a printed product.
In the meantime, the post office has automated and mechanized. It is now far more capable of reliable delivery than a part-time carrier force. Over the years, it has been increasingly difficult to hire newspaper carriers. Readers will actually find substantially improved service. Scoff if you may, but for months I have included the newspaper carriers in my morning prayers. I pray that they find better jobs. In this unique era of record unemployment that is not a pipe dream.
Meanwhile, the newspaper revenue will help bolster the finances of a challenged U.S. Postal Service. In Greenwood, Greenville and McComb, we will become the post office’s biggest customer. We look forward to a fruitful working relationship.
I am writing about this not simply to whine. After all, we all have our challenges in business and life. The newsworthy takeaway is that trade wars do not occur in a vacuum, but have huge real-world effects that can be monumental on businesses.
In today’s hyper-competive world, most businesses operate on razor-thin margins. When huge new import taxes are levied overnight, the disruption is enough to disrupt entire industries. Millions of jobs will be lost.
At the very least, such new import tariffs should be applied gradually so companies have some time to respond. Trump’s swift action imparts an image of daring bravado, but this is not a TV show. It’s jobs of real people. Just ask our carriers.
Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.