Poddar Global sees advantage for imported newsprint

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Poddar Global sees advantage for imported newsprint
Sunil Poddar

Poddar Global is among the largest importers of newsprint in India with a substantial warehousing space to store the tons of newsprint that it imports. The company was launched by the Late Ram Karan Poddar, who worked as a journalist before venturing into the newsprint supply business 28 years ago. Today, Poddar Global is run by his son and successor, Sunil Poddar, who is the managing director and under whose supervision the company has charted unprecedented growth. The company has built a network of warehouses across Mumbai, Chennai, Vishakapatnam, Cochin, Kolkata and Delhi with a combined area spanning 3.75 lakh square feet and storage capacity of nearly 1.5 lac metric tons of imported newsprint. Indian Printer & Publisher met Poddar at the company’s head office in Pitampura, Delhi, for a discussion on the Indian newsprint industry as well as where Poddar Global stands in this fast-evolving market.

Newsprint procurement worldwide
Poddar Global imports newsprint from Canada, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Newsprint production takes place in factories that are close to the virgin forests in these countries, which are covered in snow for a quarter to three quarters of the year. The other process is recycling of newspaper to produce the newsprint. In places where newspaper collection rates are high, about 80-90% of the waste newspaper is channeled back to the recycling system for newsprint production.

In India, waste newspaper is recycled for newsprint production but it is done at a much lower scale in plants that are much smaller than those in countries like Korea, Malaysia, Germany and some other parts of Europe. This is primarily because newspaper is not easily available in large quantities owing to its use in several economical secondary packaging applications, such as protective inner cushioning in glassware packaging, economical stuffing material for newly made shoes, and various other unconventional uses. Poddar estimates around 40% of waste newspaper in India going into unconventional uses and he doesn’t see it changing anytime soon because selling it to the unconventional users fetches a higher price than selling it to recyclers that buy it for newsprint reproduction. The balance 60% gets recycled as newsprint.

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A forklift in operation at the Poddar Global warehouse in Kolkata

Quality of paper in smaller Hindi editions
Poddar points out that many Hindi newspapers in northern India use this recycled newsprint as they service a market that is not particularly touchy about the paper or print quality unlike readers in the other parts of the country. According to him, Hindi newspapers with multiple editions across various small towns and cities in northern India often use better quality paper just for the cover page and while settling for an inferior quality recycled paper for the inner pages. This poor quality recycled newsprint comes out of the small recycled newsprint plants that are found across different parts of North India.

These publishers do not mind the additional cost they have to bear owing to the shorter lifespan of blankets on the printing rolls that get damaged faster when poor quality newsprint is used. Poddar says that many of these Hindi editions are printed far away from the sea ports and publishers are able to avoid the higher cost of imported newsprint by procuring poor quality locally recycled newsprint. He doesn’t see this situation continuing for too long as the market is evolving with a growing list of readers demanding better quality newsprint. Adding to this, the publishers will also feel the pressure of big brand advertisers who wouldn’t want their ads to appear on shabby paper.

According to Poddar, India presently imports 70% of its newsprint requirement and this figure is expected to go up in the future. There are several reasons for this—quality consciousness will increase in the Hindi newspaper market forcing newspapers to use better quality imported newsprint. The other stark reality facing many of the local recycled newsprint producers is the amount of pollution they cause on the rivers that could end up with their closure as stricter environmental laws come into force. Currently, India procures about 5% of the global supply of newsprint and this figure is gradually going up as consumption of paper increases in the country.

Summing up on why the newspaper industry is going through a rough patch in most OECD countries, Poddar shares that there is a major advantage that India has over these markets—low per capita income and a very good distribution system. “We’re able to deliver the newspapers to people’s homes at 6 a.m. in the morning at a very low cost. In comparison, the distribution cost is very high in the western countries; e.g. if newspaper is to be distributed to 100 houses, for somebody working about 2-3 hours to do the job, the cost would be around a hundred dollars for the job, which is a very high price.”

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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