The Changing of Standards
Uncoated freesheet paper is produced with controlled acidity or manufactured under neutral or alkaline conditions, which contribute significantly to the life expectancy of books. Some with calcium carbonate fillers absorb acidic gases from the atmosphere or neutralize acidic materials formed during aging.
Uncoated groundwood paper does not meet ANSI standards primarily because it contains more than 1 percent lignin (the compound that bonds the cellulose fibers together in trees). Lignin adds opacity, reduces brightness and whiteness, accelerates aging and will eventually darken the paper. Paper with lignin content will yellow in direct sunlight.
It is the noncompliance of this ANSI permanency standard that has some concerned about whether quality expectations of books have taken a step backward and are now subject to accelerated deterioration.
The Current Paper Market
Most paper prices are increasing again despite apparent short-term corrections. Uncoated-freesheet pricing has generally followed the gross domestic product. However, the difference between demand (down 2.7 percent, according to Horizon Paper’s June market update) and the current economic expansion (up 3.5 percent year to date) is a result of these new, hybrid, brighter, uncoated groundwood grades.
Horizon Paper states the mills’ ability to stabilize pricing has been difficult (with operating rates below 90 percent year to date) and, in the short term, prices may move down slightly. It states that while demand should be seasonally stronger heading into the late summer/early fall months, it may stabilize pricing, but the underlying long-term demand will probably remain weak.
The company also says one cultural advantage of these groundwood grades, not really noticed until now, is that the producers are willing to hold prices for multiple quarters, adding an element of stability that is more predictable than the peaks and valleys of uncoated freesheets.
This should be welcome news to Lysenko. He says his company’s conversion to groundwood alternatives was due to many economic factors, but one was the mills’ reluctance in recent years to lock rates for longer periods.