The index of optimism

Organisms that survive are capable of self-correction

Various sectors of the Indian brand owners, printers, packaging converters and suppliers vary in their views from optimistic to realistic about the economy and industry recovery after the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted. Graphic IppStar 2020

As technical and science writers, we speak on the basis of evidence and facts. We gather evidence and opinions to understand and interpret the evidence from various points of view. We argue the evidence. And we question and criticize the statistical information delivered daily by the financial press, which often quotes handouts from research and consulting companies.

Our informed questioning of data and ready-made statistics has persisted for over 30 years. We have looked at the industry process, and technology changes to understand migration, which is one of the most potent tools in trend forecasting. Needless to say, when we began our research, most of our respondents and expert informants noted that what we were trying to do – to put numbers on an incredibly fragmented industry – was impossible.

In 1999 we began our formal research our organization of the Indian printing, packaging, and publishing industry, for both global and Indian clients. In 2001, we set up a separate company, IppStar – Ipp Services, Training and Research. Ever since, several clients have entrusted us with repeat projects. On occasion, we were invited to present our findings at industry fora in India, the United States, Germany, Japan, and the Middle East.

Although, we always felt that bankable numbers were an input needed for any industry to mature and thrive, expecting a fragmented industry to invest in such work was always a bit optimistic. Nevertheless, we have persisted in the search for numbers, nuances, growth drivers, levers, and links to the overall economy. The analytical aspect of the research process has made us reasonably close students of the Indian economy.

Our magazine’s readers, who are often also our research respondents, share information with us honestly. We have interviewed some of them more than ten times in the past 20 years, building a degree of trust that the information will be treated responsibly. Ethically, without sharing individual company data with anyone. We have never given anyone any gift for filling out a questionnaire.

However, research is not pure science, where we identify the unknown in a test tube by adding reagents and putting them in a centrifuge. Our quest for reliable ideas and trends is based on several beliefs. One belief is that the industry verticals or domains that we are expert in – publishing, print, and packaging will grow and become more organized. And for this, they will ultimately want better and more precise research.

Our work is also driven by the belief that societies and economies are continually trying to improve themselves. And that our industries will succeed as long as they find a way to be part of improving entertainment, information, communication, science, education and, in the instance of packaging, modern trade practices.

During the recent COVID-19 lockdown, we conducted a research survey to ascertain our industry stakeholders’ views as to when the lockdown would end and how quickly the economy and their segment or sector would recover. In the main, we found that our more than 200 respondents were resilient – and a relatively high percentage, 23% across segments, were optimistic about a quick recovery of the economy and their business from the lockdown. A significant portion, 53% across sectors, felt there would be a slow recovery. The results of the survey with graphs and charts are available in the overall analysis.

We have kept talking to the respondents since the survey and to several industry experts keeping in mind that 18% of the offset and commercial printers expected a quick recovery. Recently a senior supplier of digital presses and a significant global publisher said this figure could not be seen as pessimistic.

The publisher says that having lost at least two to three months of sales, he expects turnover to take a 25% to 35% hit in this financial year, and the negative effect will partially linger in the next year as well. Rebuilding the economy and our businesses are going to require a careful and global process. And, like any successful organism, we should boldly expect our economy and government to be capable of self-correction and adaptation.

This article has been slightly corrected on 6 June 2020 by the author.

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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