Replika continues to dominate its export business

Printing businesses hit by fluctuating paper prices

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Replika’s book printing facility at Sonipat, Haryana
Replika’s book printing facility at Sonipat, Haryana

Replika Press primarily prints books, mostly for international publishers. Its clients are in the UK, some of the European nations, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. A few years ago, the company decided to diversify from its book printing business to packaging. The main reason behind this was the reduced demand for print.

“The overall growth in the printing industry over the past few years has become stagnant and so has the hope of increase in the rates and better profit margins. Once we realized there is not much left for us printers, and we were being compelled to absorb the inputs which took a toll on our profits, we decided to diversify,” says Bhuvnesh Seth, managing director of Replika Press.

He further explains, “We entered into packaging observing its increasing potential. Packaging, as we all know, has been improving over the years. It has a promising future in the country and hence we decided to give it a shot. The main difference is that in book printing, everybody knows Replika by the brand that we have managed to create over the years, and they are also aware of our quality standards. However in packaging, where we have to compete with the industry majors, it is a different ball game altogether. However, the growth rate in case of packaging is higher. I think it will take another 4 to 5 years for us to make our mark and consolidate in the packaging segment.”

Book printing growth flat

Replika has a presence in the book printing industry for more than 20 years. In 2014, the company recorded 21% growth; following it, demand took a hit and the figures started reducing year after year. In 2018, the company recorded just 7% growth. Like every other printing company, Replika too is badly affected by fluctuating and rising paper prices. Paper prices in India have increased eight times in the last one year alone. The customer pays for the increased paper prices if it is mentioned in the contract, else, it is the printer who has to bear the loss which is the case most often, according to Seth. “Publishers sign contracts with us on an annual basis. There, it is difficult to predict the scenario. So, more often than not, it is we who bear the loss.”

Replika has a total of 14 sheetfed offset presses, 3 digital presses, 2 perfect binding machines, 6 automated section sewing machines and 1 automated hard cover machine. Out of the total production, 96% is from the company’s offset section which is entirely exported to other countries, 4% production share goes to digital, of which a very low percentage is exported and the major volume is used to supply the local market. The company uses digital presses mostly for short-run jobs or making samples and advance copies.

Need for innovative solutions in competitive atmosphere

The annual turnover of Replika is between Rs. 150 and Rs. 200 crore and it looks to integrate its offset printing capacity and automation capacity. “The export demand over the years has reduced. We are being forced to bear high input costs and the print runs have gone down. The competition in the market has taken a turn for the worse and it is difficult to survive in the market as a traditional printer. One has to look beyond the traditional practices and innovate or offer more and better solutions to the customer to survive in the market. Overall, the demand for books in India is not going to die soon. Digital is yet to take over. So, we’re hopeful of better demand in the coming days. Though the profit margins are trimmed, one never knows what’s on offer in future,” Seth concludes.

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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