Freedom! Social Media. Economy. Education.

Shrinking Free Speech

Social Media

In an interview published in the Times of India (18 January 2019), Jiby J Kattakyam asked Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia, “Is the public space for intellectuals and free speech shrinking despite new avenues like social media?” Zacharia’s reply was, “The space for free speech for any citizen, leave alone intellectuals, has shrunk to a minuscule niche in today’s India. Free speech is the proprietary privilege of politicians. The media, if it wishes, can still exercise free speech, but in general prefers not to. For the first time in India, intellectuals have been murdered for representing reason, sanity and truth. Social media’s failure to be a democratic and civilized space and the barbarism with which some use it to attack free speech is a tragedy of monumental proportions. And given the shrunken minds of India’s political class across parties it is doubtful if even a regime change will return India to a free intellectual climate.”

Zacharia’s answer is an indictment of politicians, the media and social media. As publishers and printers we are to some extent in the service of, and users of, all three. Those who think their publishing and printing businesses can be neutral or uncaring of politics, intellectual freedom and free speech or indeed the issues of publicly supported education, health and infrastructure, are of course deluding themselves that their businesses or their work can grow merely by technology, monetization or subscriptions. If news media and book publishers continue to give in to hate, fear, censorship, threats and self-censorship, they will deservedly lose relevance.

In addition to ad revenues, newspaper subscription revenues are down and are not likely to recover or be saved by digital subscriptions except for those who can deliver content that readers are ready to pay for. Social media, even as we try to learn and understand it, has lost much of its credibility and even the power to influence beyond entertainment, pornography and some viral videos. Of the estimated Rs. 13,000 crore (US$ 1.7 billion) to be spent on the coming general election by all political parties, it is estimated that Rs. 7,000 crore will go to below-the-line spends such as rallies and other activities. The remaining Rs. 5,000 crore will be divided between print media, television, outdoor signage and social media. Moreover, if the overall election ad spend goes up, it is social media that is likely to gain with Facebook the winner, according to some experts. Social media advertising is expected to rise by as much 150% to Rs. 12,000 crore over 2019 according to the experts.


The publishing and print industries are not really showing exceptional or even real growth. Our experience in researching these industries for the past 20 years (in IppStar) has shown that high growth that allows real investment only occurs when the GDP growth rate is far above 6%. In the past three or four years this does not seem to be the case, no matter what kind of numbers the government cooks up and claims. Yes, there is growth but most of it is absorbed by the wider base engaged in minimal improvements in their subsistence. While this too is an admirable achievement, it does not create yet the economic dynamics for industrial growth and societal change for the better.


The last point that I would like to make is that notwithstanding the recently released ASER report on the dismal educational outcomes across India and the relatively better results of private education, education is a foremost government responsibility. The decline in education expenditure relative to the GDP (from 3.1% in FY 13-14 to 2.7% in FY 17-18) is a shameful occurrence. The defects and corruption of public education must be overcome and not merely transferred or shifted to the private education system. Or, even to some digital or robotic future. The educational system is of primary concern to publishers and printers and if it is not fixed we are headed for hypercompetition and economic bankruptcy; and, not only the moral, spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy that Paul Zacharia is talking about.


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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