Why are South Indian language papers investing in 4 x 1 presses?

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Why are South Indian language papers investing in 4 x 1 presses?

The divergent paths of Indian language newspapers

According to the Group M report published by Mint on 16 February 2017, ad spending in India including radio, cinema and OOH is expected to grow by 10% in 2017 to Rs. 61,204 crore (approximately US$ 9.7 billion). The same report states that digital advertising will record the fastest growth at 30% to reach Rs. 9,490 crore in 2017, albeit at a slower pace than the 47% growth in 2016. Television is the largest ad medium and is expected to reach Rs. 27,638 crore at a growth rate of 8%.

In 2017, print advertising is forecast to achieve a stable growth rate of 4.5% to Rs. 18,258 crore, which is a slight increase over the 4% ad revenue growth in the previous year according to the same report. The increased spends is expected from sectors like auto, banking, financial services and insurance and eWallets that are said to prefer print advertising.

The report further quotes Girish Agarwal, director of DB Corp., which publishes the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar and Gujarati and Marathi dailies both named Divya Bhaskar, “In the past few years, English dailies have grown around 1-2% while Indian language print publications have grown at around 8-9%.” Other research indicates that a part of the digital ad revenue is also coming to newspapers. At the same time, the Indian dailies are reducing their dependence on ad revenues by increasing their subscription revenues by as much as 4-5% annually.

Indian language dailies are growing much faster than the big English language dailies and they are also benefitting from subscription price rises and growing digital ad revenues. However, there seems to be an imbalance or difference in the quality of investment in productive assets between the North and South Indian language dailies.

Long-term trends
More than a decade ago, it became apparent that the major trends amongst Indian dailies were increased circulation, increase in the number of color pages, an increase in geographic reach and in some cases new launches in other Indian languages. Another established trend was that many of the Indian language dailies were highly localized with at least one broadsheet page being changed for each district that the newspaper covered. Even before the idea of big data, Indian language dailies were able to fine-tune print runs on a daily basis with quality feedback from their distribution system.

As runs became longer, with many Indian language dailies having multiple editions and production plants, combined circulations reached and exceeded a million copies. Since they were driven by color ad revenues, to produce significant quantities with high quality color pages and plate changes for localized coverage, the new technology 4×1 presses were a reasonably logical choice—at least for their main or major centers.

Simultaneously, 4×1 press design improved with better shaftless motors, spray dampening systems and slenderness ratios that allowed thinner diameter narrow gap plate cylinders to reliably perform at higher speeds. New CCD technology brought better registration and closed loop color control systems while improved electronics and software improved computerized integration and control systems.

4×2 and 4×1 presses for high volumes
To reiterate, a 4×1 web offset press has a four broadsheet newspaper page wide and single page circumference plate cylinder. Before the advent of the 4×1 web offset presses, in order to print 70,000 copies an hour and above, it was necessary to have a 4×2 press whereby the press essentially rotated at 35,000 RPM but there was a second set of plates that could double the output. Big English language groups such as Bennett-Coleman, HT Media as well ABP for its high circulation Bengali daily have been running 4×2 presses for many years.

Of course this also meant that for changing one page for as little as 5,000 or 10,000 copies, two plates need to be changed. In addition, 4×2 presses with four color towers (4-Hi stacks) occupied large press rooms with a separate floor for the reel-stand and auto-splicers.

The four operation levels included a basement, a ground floor for press towers and control console; a first level gallery for plating and inking the 3rd and 4th color plates; and, a second level gallery for the superstructure (web movement, splitting, turning and combining webs). This necessitated large pressrooms and infrastructure costs for 4×2 presses. (There was also the additional cost of a mailroom equipment to automate the evacuation of high volume output which remains a consideration even with 4×1 presses).

In contrast with the huge infrastructure capital costs for installing a 4×2 press, the 4×1 (single circumference plate cylinders) reduced the height and weight of press towers while also encouraging reel-stands to be mounted on the same floor as the more compact towers. The operational costs associated with running a 4×2 press were also high in terms of manpower and electricity—webbing up and restarting after web breaks took a lot of time and considerable newsprint waste.

Made for India 4×1 presses
The initial 4×1 presses imported were the manroland Web Systems Regiomans by Bennett-Coleman and HT Media. Kasturi and Sons who were convinced of the 4×1 design and configuration, and were running a Mitsubishi 4×2 press at their Chennai plant, approached Mitsubishi to design and build a 4×1 for them. Called the DiamondSpirit SA (for South Asia), this 4×1 was first installed in one of Kasturi and Sons’ out of state plants in South India and later in many of their plants including its new plant in Maraimalai Nagar near Chennai. Japanese newspapers came to India to see the new 4×1 press and purchased these for their own modernization.

Partly at the urging of some of the language dailies in South India, the web press manufacturers such as manroland, Mitsubishi and Manugraph came up with more economical ‘made for India’ 4×1 presses. While Dainik Bhaskar was the only Hindi daily to purchase 4×1 presses which consisted of several KBA Prisma lines in a joint purchase with the newly launched English daily DNA, in collaboration with the Zee Television group, most of the 4 x1 presses have come to South India.

The exceptions are TKS 4×1 presses purchased by HT Media for their Greater Noida plant and the manroland Cromoman 4×1 presses purchased by Bennett-Coleman for their Pune editions in both English and Marathi and another Cromoman 4×1 purchased for their new Bengali daily out of Kolkata. The Cromoman was the first ‘made for India’ 4×1 press—designed to fit into a 2x pressroom—and could handle electricity outages with a soft stop instead of web breaks and webwraps.

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South Indian dailies dominate the 4×1 market
The largest base of 4×1 presses and the one with the greatest growth momentum is clearly amongst the South Indian language dailies. Malayalam daily Malayala Manorama has in several stages purchased more than a dozen 4×1 presses from both Manugraph and Mitsubishi. Its fierce competitor Mathrubhumi has purchased five TKS 4×1 presses over the past five years. Tamil daily Dinamalar installed a Manugraph Smartline 4×1 in its new Madurai plant and then purchased a pair of the Goss Uniliner S 4×1 presses that were initially installed by the Deccan Chronicle group. Tamil daily Dina Thanthi installed both a new Seikan 4×1 press and a second-hand Seikan 4×1. The Printers Mysore, publishers of Deccan Herald in English and Prajavani in Kannada, purchased and re-installed the KBA Prisma 4×1 that English daily DNA had installed in Bengaluru. The most recent installation is of a manroland Cromoman 4×1 press is by Telugu daily Namaste Telengana for its new plant in Hyderabad.

Economics?
Apart from the question of why it is the South Indian language dailies that are by and large interested in and investing in 4×1 presses, there is also the question of why some of the Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati dailies are reluctant to do so? In many cases, language dailies are buying 6- and 7-tower 2×1 presses at speeds of 35,000, 40,000 or 50,000 copies an hour to cope with increased color pagination and circulation. In many of the language dailies, there are now multiple centers with circulations above 250,000 and in some cases around the 400,000 level and even above this. To produce this number of copies of a 24-page broadsheet daily with even acceptable quality color pages and advertising would require a minimum of two 2×1 presses, each with 6 full-color towers.

While the cost of two locally manufactured 2×1 presses is less than that of an imported 3-tower 4×1 press (for 24 pages full-color broadsheet pages), there are significant operational economies in a 4×1 press in terms of space, manpower, newsprint wastage, electricity and even ink. Both webbing up and ink pumping are automated functions in a 4×1 press. This difference in cost is greater in the case of the imported 4×1 presses than would be the case of Manugraph’s Smartline 4×1, which is locally manufactured. It is true that the cost of an automated mailroom is significant but attempting to automate the evacuation of several high-speed 2×1 presses may be more challenging than a mailroom system for a single 4×1 press, let alone the facility of producing uniquely counted and wrapped bundles with on-line labelling for distribution.

Flexibility
Apart from the cost considerations, some newspaper publishers feel that they have more flexibility and ease of operation with a battery of 2×1 presses, as they can run a variety of products. In fact, this often means that when running the edition with the same pages and advertisements on several presses, color quality is compromised while wastage and other costs are much higher.

The operation of 4×1 presses with automatic register, remote ink pumping and other controls has become easier. Improved handling with slitting of the web on top of the tower for combining the two webs into a single-width folder makes it easier for operators trained on 2×1 presses.

As far as running more than one product, this flexibility is now available on 4×1 presses with several types of split runs, especially as these presses are truly shaftless and electronically controlled. Any number of press towers on either side of a double folder configuration can be configured as two presses with great flexibility in the pagination of each product.

The author is a G7 Expert and an offset printer with hands-on experience in running sheetfed and web offset presses. You can reach him at editor@ippgroup.in.