A gigantic fire that continues to spread and whose flames are fanned by the war in Ukraine. Steel, aluminum, wood, electricity, gas, foodstuffs, gasoline, paper… Behind this inventory à la Prévert, prices that climb month after month sometimes reaching historic levels. Direct consequence of a pandemic which has disrupted the mechanics of world trade, everywhere on the planet, labels are on the rise. France is no exception: inflation there reached its highest level since 2008 in February. their purchasing power. Inflation compensation, boost of 15 cents on a liter of gasoline… The government has taken out the fire hose to try to drown a fire which risks turning into a social inferno at any time. Immersed in a France that organizes itself day by day to cope. Episode 6.
How many Zolas and Balzacs should be reprinted? What stock should be planned for literary novelties? “At the moment, publishers all have to juggle book printing to deal with tensions on paper,” agrees Pascal Lenoir, president of the environment and manufacturing commission of the Syndicat National de l’Edition. It is better to do your calculations with a line and not be wrong about your forecasts. Because ordering from printers is an obstacle course at the moment. Current paper needs exceed production capacities. Results ? Longer and longer queues (six to twelve weeks) and a big price hike.
“The cost of paper has increased by 45% on average over the past six months,” warns Beatrice Klose, secretary general of Intergraf, the European confederation of graphic industries. On certain specific types of paper such as newsprint, the increase even amounts to 80%. “And we are experiencing unprecedented paper and cardboard supply shortages,” she said. A crisis that is hitting many companies hard. Book and newspaper publishers are of course very directly affected by this situation. But they are far from the only ones using paper. “Agro-food, pharmaceuticals… Most sectors need paper and cardboard to package their product, print their instructions and their labels, argues Beatrice Klose. Supply difficulties therefore pose enormous problems.”
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The colossal strike of the papermaker UPM adds to the current chaos
This situation may seem paradoxical at a time of digitalization of society. “In France, paper consumption has been divided by two years in fifteen years”, confirms Pascal Lenoir. However, the industrial landscape has completely changed in the sector. Faced with the drop in demand, many factories have downsized, reoriented production lines towards cardboard packaging (very popular to replace plastic), or even closed their doors. “In five years, we have lost more than a quarter of the papermaking capacities in Europe”, underlines the general secretary of Intergraf.
A colossal strike at UPM, which started almost three months ago, is adding to the current chaos. The Finnish papermaker is indeed a strategic producer on the European market, and its customers are holding their breath while waiting for the next meeting between unions and management scheduled for April 14. Soaring energy prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine are also disrupting the sector. This industry requires a lot of it to dry the paper.
“The war also affects the supply of wood and wood pulp to many European manufacturers,” says Beatrice Klose. Not to mention, finally, the rise in the price of freight transport which has penalized the sector, like the rest of the economy, since the start of the pandemic. “On freight, the problems followed one another. We had the boat which blocked the Suez Canal, port closures because of the Covid… As a result, the cost of transporting goods was multiplied by eight or ten since 2019”, explains Pascal Lenoir.
So far, the prices of books and notebooks have not been affected too harshly. But some publishers are beginning to pass on the rising cost of raw materials. “Following the general crisis of paper, cardboard and in general the soaring prices of other raw materials (such as ink), but also transport, we are forced to modify the price of certain publications”, indicated Panini Manga France, last December. The publisher announced on this occasion an increase of 30 euro cents on most of its series (Demon Slayer, etc.). If the tensions persist, it’s a safe bet that others will follow his example. To help the paper industry and its many customers cope with this crisis, the European confederation Intergraf is advocating drastic measures: stopping exports of wood pulp and paper to other countries for the time being. One more wedge in globalization.