Oldest Chandigarh printer migrates to labels for survival

Overcapacity dents commercial print demand

Lalit Azad, managing director of Azad Offset. Photo IPP

Lalit Azad, the managing director of Azad Offset, is an IIT Roorkee graduate civil engineer. Azad’s father, a freedom fighter, began the family printing business in 1947 in Ambala Cantonment soon after independence. The business acquired its first treadle letterpress printing machine in 1950.

After his graduation, Azad moved the business to Chandigarh. He saw a sudden increase in business within a couple of years. In 1974, under the government’s scheme to improve the state of offset printing in India, Azad was sent to Germany as part of the 13-member group from India to receive rigorous training in printing. Azad received training from Polygraph, the manufacturer of Planeta printing presses in erstwhile East Germany. On his return from Germany, Azad purchased a Planeta 22 x 32 inch offset printing press.

Sample of labels produced by Azad Offset

Recently, Azad purchased a second-hand Heidelberg Speedmaster 102, 28 x 40 inch 4-color offset press. Apart from this, Azad owns two Dominant presses and a single-color Roland 28 x 40 inch offset press. “We have invested close to Rs 3 crores in this unit. The cut-throat competition in Chandigarh has reduced the margins to a large extent. There is sheer overcapacity in the city and the print runs are coming down. Also, in such a scenario we have to keep a close watch on our expenses,” says Azad.

Used presses fit for purpose in Chandigarh market

Azad has so far never bought a brand new printing press. The machines purchased by Azad are mostly a decade old. “A Rs 4 to 5 crore machine will surely give me higher productivity but at the same time, the market doesn’t give me enough money to be able to afford that machine.

Heidelberg Speedmaster 102, 28 x 40 inch 4-color offset press

“With these used machines, my productivity goes down by 25%, but one has to consider production only when the demand is on a equivalent scale. The rates will anyway remain the same. If I’m able to service customers with a second-hand printing press pretty efficiently, I don’t see a reason in investing more money in a brand new one,” Azad explains.

Slowdown & short runs

Azad says that Chandigarh has close to 150 printing presses in the city whereas the demand is not enough for these printers to be able to sustain businesses. He says that a slowdown in the market pegged with the increase in short runs is eating up the commercial printing market. For short-run printing Azad has purchased a Xerox 550 13 x 19 inch production printer.

“So far, we have not thought about investing more in the digital technology. Somewhere in back of our minds, we do have plans but we will assess the situation closely as always before taking any further step. For one, we will not invest in any printing equipment this year,” Azad shares.

Azad feels that the demand for print advertising has declined sharply. He says, “Inflation in the market has a huge role to play in demand. Print is no more an effective media for advertising. We used to have at least 50 advertisers in our customer base, which has now reduced sharply to 5 customers only. We are able to survive only because of our quality and timely service.”

Azad invests in a second-hand Mark Andy for labels

Six months ago, Azad purchased a second-hand 8-color Mark Andy narrow web flexo label press. Labels, he feels, is a segment that will grow along with the growth in packaging. “We bought the machine which originally costs nearly Rs. 4 crores for just Rs 80 lakhs. Currently, we print close to 2 lakh labels daily. Nevertheless, we have not been able to penetrate this segment as much as we had anticipated. There are a number of label printers in Baddi and they have the major share of the market in this region. We have invested in the Mark Andy only to be able to survive in the market as the demand for commercial print is down,” Azad adds.

The second-hand Mark Andy is capable of printing at least 10 lakh labels a day according to Azad but his company is not able to utilize the machine’s capability fully for lack of demand. The press has foiling and embossing capability as well. “If and when we’re lucky, we use this machine twice in a week. With this pace, it will take some time for us to get the ROI on this label press,” Azad 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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