Digital photo albums – is there enough headroom to grow?

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The print industry in India is one of the few in the world where the net number of print businesses has grown in the past decade, although many offset printers in the bigger cities have closed down. This is primarily because of the influx of new and old multicolor presses in Tier-2 and -3 cities and the low entry cost of digital printing.

Many photo print shops have bought good digital production presses and become suppliers of photo albums. More than 30,000 photo albums (largely wedding albums) are printed in India each day. However, this may not be enough to sustain those among the 6000 digital printers who can print and bind these unique and personalized luxury products.

There are 12 million marriages in the country each year, which comes to an average of 33,000 weddings daily, but it’s a seasonal business. (The number is confirmed by expert sources who have solid calculations of this still popular social phenomenon.) Digital printers who specialize in the photo album business and have large capacities with several presses can produce as many as 400 albums a day during the peak wedding season, but there is not much work for them the rest of the year so they are beginning to develop other market segments.

Nevertheless, the successful photo printers who are buying the newest digital presses are also adding lay flat binding equipment and digital enhancement machines of which the two best known are the Scodix sold by Monotech India and the MGI JetVarnish sold by Konica Minolta India and its distributors. It’s very clear that while value addition with coatings, textures and glittering gold and silver sells with print in general, it fits extremely well with short runs. Decoration is in and booming.

Do numbers really matter?

Do numbers really matter to print businesses? It’s not clear whether the GDP growth rate actually influences their decisions more than local demand and competition. Although our job is to put forward reasonable explanations and justifications for modernization, professionalism and the adoption of new technology, we realize that a great deal of equipment and consumable purchasing is more emotional than rational. The best printers are really those who could make anything work (or get the best out of what they have at any point) and those who have, over time, rationally distilled their experience to find the balance between better technology, automation, ease of use and return on investment.

We do think that numbers matter – both in a general and particular way and in the case of every business. We know that if the GDP really grows at only 5-6%, the print industry cannot grow meaningfully. At that rate it cannot expand because the demand for books, newspapers and magazines and packaging is stagnant or grows nominally (incrementally in volume) and not in real value growth. According to a recent article by a former finance minister, “Growth slowed down rapidly in 2018-19. In the four quarters, it was 8.0, 7.0, 6.6, and 5.8%. It will probably decline further in April-June 2019. Anticipating a downtrend, RBI has lowered the forecast for 2019-20 to 7.2%.

GDP growth is driven by investment (not merely consumption) and gross fixed capital formation was 29.3% (at current prices) in the past year. Promoters are reluctant to invest because capacity utilization in manufacturing was only 76% in the past year. In my February editorial in these pages, I wrote: ‘The publishing and print industries are not showing exceptional or even real growth. Our experience in researching these industries for the past 20 years (in IppStar) shows that high growth only occurs when the GDP growth 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.’ Unfortunately, our industry is an accurate barometer of the country’s economy and we need to keep learning how to read its trends and the relevant economic signs. And to keep speaking out.

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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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The digital album printing market in India is in absolute crisis in the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. There was a country-wide lockdown starting on 25 March 2020 that lasted till somewhere near the beginning of June with ‘Unlock 1.” However, that has coincided with the exponential increase in Covid-19 cases where India is only behind the US and Brazil on daily cases increasing. The digital photo album market and the wedding card market both relied on digital printing and they are both close to zero in most of the country especially Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and North India. There is a legal limit on 50 invitees to a wedding and so even if weddings are being organized given the social distancing constraints, there is not much requirement for wedding cards or albums.

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