Rust exec to head newspaper supply-buying co-op

Monday, November 28, 2005

The cooperative represents more than half of the privately owned daily newspapers in the United States.

Wally Lage has been elected president of PAGE, a national not-for-profit organization that for 21 years has made a mission of giving small- to midsize newspapers the same buying power as larger publicly owned companies.

At its most recent meeting Lage, who will continue in his role as vice president and chief operating officer of Rust Communications, which owns the Southeast Missourian, was elected president of PAGE -- Publishers Associated to Gain Economy -- for the 2006 calendar year. Lage has served as vice president of PAGE for 2 1/2 years.

The cooperative is made up of more than 510 daily newspapers and more than 750 nondaily publishing facilities, which represents more than half of the privately owned daily newspapers in the United States. The group has a combined circulation of more than 10 million.

"I have been involved with PAGE and have been on the national board since its formative years," Lage said. "Fortunately, I have worked for family-owned newspapers who wanted us to give back to the industry."

The group has members in all 50 states, according to John Snyder, general manager of PAGE. Members pool their individual purchases to create large-volume leverage that earns significant discounts and rebates from more than 90 preferred suppliers.

Snyder said that members purchase more than $240 million annually on items like ink; graphic arts material; pressroom and circulation supplies; newsprint; office, production and electronic media equipment.

Lage is the man for the job, Snyder said.

"He certainly has plenty of experience," he said. "He's bright and decisive. He's somebody who can make a decision and stand by it. He's not afraid to make decisions that may not be popular if he thinks it's correct. Really, I should be his campaign manager for Congress. That's how much I think of Wally."

Lage served as founder and chairman of the most active PAGE committee, the vendor evaluation committee, for 15 years. In that role, he negotiated with all the vendors to determine who the organization would allow to sell to its members.

"We ensure our members get the best deal possible," Lage said. "And we have been known to kick vendors out of PAGE if they try to pull any shenanigans, like refuse to give all members the same deal regardless of size of the member."

Lage said he will still serve on that committee as president because "that's where the rubber hits the road."

The duties of president, Snyder said, are to oversee board meetings and set the agenda. The president also oversees the advisory board, which makes decisions that need to be made between board meetings.

Lage said PAGE was founded 21 years ago as a cooperative venture to help privately owned newspapers buy supplies with the most savings possible. The cooperative is not profit driven, he said, noting that any profit is returned to any participating members.

The group was formed when a newspaper publisher, Chuck Berky, in Pennsylvania, sold his daily newspaper to Gannett, which today is the largest publicly owned newspaper company in the United States. Berky had been asked by Gannett to continue to run the newspaper for them after the acquisition.

A week later, Berky got a bill for newsprint and the price was significantly less than he had been paying for the same vendor. Berky called the vendor thinking the bill was in error, but was told that it accurately reflected the "Gannett discount."

Berky got with a couple other Pennsylvania area publishers and decided it was unfair that publicly owned newspaper companies, because of their buying power, had an advantage over family-owned newspapers. Berky helped established PAGE and became CEO of the PAGE cooperative and continues in that role today.

"It helped us get clout," Lage said. "We had so much success with newsprint that we branched out in other areas."

It's been helpful for Rust Communications, too, Lage said. Rust, with its group of 50 newspapers in eight states, was the largest single purchaser last fiscal year. Lage said Rust bought $6 million in supplies through the cooperative.

"Still," Lage said, "to give you an idea of the size of the co-op, that represented a little more than 2 percent of volume."

335-6611, extension 137

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