Indian paper makers and distributor’s webinar

One answer lies in exports and hence in better technology

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Indian
Paper manufacturers and distributors from across India speak at the IPPTA webinar

In the Saturday morning webinar of the Indian Paper and Paper Technical Association, several speakers contributed their experience and views of the past seven months of the pandemic and the current state of the country’s economy and industry. The paper mills and paper distributors spoke of resilience and the relatively strong showing of the packaging sectors in monocartons, litho-laminated cartons, and corrugated cartons. The reports amounted to good health in monocartons, better prices for corrugated liner although these have been volatile, and a dismal situation for publication papers, including writing and
printing papers and especially newsprint.

The pandemic, lockdown, and ensuing un-lockdowns have led to relatively high demand for carton paperboards and corrugated liners, especially for the food and pharma industries. Label face-stock, not mentioned in the webinar, has also fared well with the high demand for essential products and the sudden boom in the new sanitizer category.

However, several speakers pointed to the shortage of recyclable waste, mostly imported waste and fiber shortages, and higher waste paper prices. Changes in recycling regulations were also mentioned. Some speakers pointed to the extensive demand by eCommerce and essential products for corrugated cartons, liners, and firming up liner prices. They also suggested that the liner prices in India cannot hold without its export.

Better liner is the key to viability

While liner is currently being exported and helping to maintain prices in the domestic market, the speakers were equally frank in pointing out that India’s liner quality has to improve to increase exports significantly. Technology is needed to enhance Indian liners for corrugation – to produce an odorless liner with better score-line properties and higher strength. Speakers pointed to newer mills with better technology that are already on the path to improved corrugation liner and sounded what may be taken as a
warning –– either produce globally acceptable liner for exports and domestic production or risk price volatility and closure.

Publication papers and newsprint

Commercial printing, both offset and digital have been at a standstill and only marginally active since the July phase of the un-lockdown. While the Covid-19 pandemic is hopefully expected to decline, schools and college opening is erratic and uneven throughout the country. There is continued and total confusion in government schoolbook production and even in college textbook production since it is not clear when face to face education will resume. This sector was in trouble for the past several years because the government has abdicated its obligation to provide ‘the right to education’ and mostly left it to private
schools.

Since education is a concurrent subject involving expenditure by the central and state governments, the central government has only created huge confusion in the production and delivery of textbooks in terms of content and the imperative needs of producing physical books rather than merely digital content. Naturally, since it is mistakenly seen as ‘bad for business,’ the IPPTA webinar speakers were silent on public education and the need for subsidized textbook production, which is crucial not only for equity, economic growth but also for the paper industry in the country.

Apart from giving vague local figures for the consumption of publication papers and newsprint and calling the current year of zero expectations, the webinar had no solution for improving their production and consumption. While IppStar’s research shows that newsprint consumption in the FY 20-21 year could dip by 50%, indications are that other writing and printing papers could fare even worse, even if the pandemic declines and the economy returns. The IPPTA members are neither looking at the situation structurally nor does it seem like anything but an old boys club with no intention of either collective
advocacy or action.

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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