Indian government – Stop print!

Digital simply cannot do what print can

stop print
Representative photo used by NITI Aayog for report on school children's mathematics outcomes

In a bid to presumably cut costs and promote less use of paper, the Indian government has banned the printing of diaries, desktop and wall calendars, and greeting cards. This ban will apply to all union ministries, all departments of the government, public sector units, and autonomous bodies, according to a circular released by the finance ministry on 2 September 2020.

“As the world is increasingly moving towards adopting digital technology for productivity and given the fact that using technological innovations for planning, scheduling and forecasting is known to be economical, efficient and effective, the government of India has decided that there will be no further activities towards printing wall calendars, desktop calendars, diaries, festival greeting cards and similar materials by all ministries, departments, autonomous bodies and other organs of the government,” the finance ministry said.

All such activities, including materials that were earlier printed in physical format, shall be done digitally online, the finance ministry said. The printing of coffee table books is also banned, and appropriate use of eBooks is encouraged, it said.

Commenting on this development, Suresh Shah of Mumbai-based Nulith says that this will impact many printers in the near terms that were dependent on government orders to a great extent. “I think this will definitely impact a lot of printers in the short-term. I think the government should have timed this decision better as the commercial print industry is going through a tough time,” he argues.

Parag Shah of Hitech Systems, another Mumbai based firm, on the other hand, does not consider this to be a very negative development but rather a part of the shift towards more digitalization. He says that other segments where the government print orders have been increasing will compensate for this loss.

“Demand for items such as calendars and diaries were anyway declining for some years, as people were shifting to the digital medium. It was just a matter of time before the government also did so. I do not think this will have a big impact as in banking, finance, and insurance, print orders from the government, are increasing. For example, take banking. With more and more bank accounts opening, there will be a higher demand for passbooks and checkbooks, etc. Similar development is happening in insurance and finance,” he says.

Digital simply cannot do what print can

With due respect to the well-meaning but misguided, there is no known instance of government print orders for any product increasing. The banks given as an example above are not even interested in providing statements, checkbooks and passbooks – they want us to do all their work online! Sitting idle the whole day, they are unwilling even to update passbooks. Most importantly, banks don’t want to do any banking. 

They do not want to lend us any money based on banking risk and only want huge margins on guarantees provided to them by the government to offer us loans at exorbitant rates with total security. The so-called government stimulus will only wind up lowering the interest rates for bigger industrialists.

The school textbook industry is thrown into absolute confusion, delay, and malaise by the government’s New Education Policy and lack of serious textbook production. It is a fact that if a child cannot read print, she will be illiterate. Unfortunately, the nation’s industry and culture cannot be developed or changed with WhatsApp messages and fake news on Facebook.

To build a school or make a road or construct a port requires textbook learning and practice in writing, calculation, and communication using words and sentences that can only come from reading and writing skills. Your smartphone cannot replace your brain, and video games cannot yet replace the skills needed to feed 1.37 billion people and recover our health or our economy from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Print is essential to reopening education – a vital part of the economy

As Gareth Ward wrote recently about UK schools, print is essential to reopening up this most vital part of the economy. The editor of Print Business wrote, “Print is making the return to school [in the UK] possible thanks to some enterprising thinking, though is hampered by lack of funds and confusion over what schools need to do.” This sounds familiar to us in India where there is no indication of when schools will reopen, let alone safely while the pandemic rages at a level where we have achieved the number one status in new cases each day.

Ward continues, “The power of print will be ably demonstrated the length and breadth of the country this week as printed graphics remind school children to keep apart from their friends, to keep washing hands and where they should stand and sit to minimize risks of spreading Covid-19. Digital simply cannot do what print can. Print has a key role in society for all ages, not just older generations.”

Print industry can do more

Ward writes, “Other printers are producing exercise books with microbial coatings, creating sanitizer stands and printed workbooks. This is all very encouraging for our industry, but more can be done. For example, education’s adherence to remote learning using computers and online resources for those not in school is disappointing. The evidence is clear that not every child has unfettered access to a laptop and a decent internet connection. Those without may be left behind. Yet every child can (or ought to be able to) read print. Printed books can level the learning playing field. Children can use printed materials without the distraction of Fortnite or Counterstrike.”

World News Day 2020

Indian Printer and Publisher is one of the publications supporting World News Day and we will be publishing shared stories from around the world with an emphasis on stories from the Indian newsrooms such as The Hindu Business Line, The Quint, and The Indian Express that have made their stories available, as well as a couple of our own stories.

Our own stories concerning the education, publishing and print industries that we are putting forward to share in the celebration of World News Day are:
Indian government Stop Print! by Shardul Sharma 
Indian media fatalities to virus exceed those to violence by Nava Thakuria Indian print media to lose Rs 18,000 crore in FY 20-21 by Naresh Khanna The end of the great international trade shows? by Ron Augustin

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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