Digital photo albums – is there enough headroom to grow?


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.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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  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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