Shaking off the pandemic trauma

The recovery in newspapers and textbooks

A newspaper report of MK Gandhi's arrest in Bombay on the sedition charge in 1922. Gandhi was sentenced to 6 years in prison but released after 2 years for medical reasons Image Wikkicommons

The sun has broken out in Delhi for the past week or so and it has warmed up a bit. It feels like spring as both the print industry and the individuals who are a part of it, try to shake off the trauma of the pandemic. Most of us have survived and are full of hope and looking for the so-called green shoots of spring – for industry revival. 

In the past 22 or 23 months, we have learned to moderate our optimism with realism and the reality that the pandemic may not be over, but the need of the industry to get up and walk and run is so great that it cannot wait. And some of the good news that this issue contains is that the Indian print industry (not just packaging) is back. 

New machines are being installed (at least digital presses) and the commercial book printers are busy with textbooks as schools have opened at least in the major metros. However, the commercial printers in smaller cities and towns are still waiting for work – their machines are at a standstill for the past six months. 

The newspaper industry is also back and taking part in the economic recovery. While circulations and advertising of the large dailies have not recovered fully and might not for a long time, there is an overall optimism as the economy and the face-to-face segments of retail, entertainment, travel, and events, restart. 

The ongoing elections in several states are also helping dailies with their political advertising. And although the courts have requested the news media not to carry ‘paid news’ or ‘advertorials’ this edict is unfortunately likely to be ignored. Even many of the bigger news organizations continue to demonstrate a mixture of greed and ignorance with impunity. 

The digital transformation of the larger news organizations is also being taken more seriously. The number of major dailies that are investing human and financial resources to make analytics and digital subscriptions work has increased markedly in the past two years. At the same time, we have reliably heard that some of the larger news organizations have streamlined their front office operations in an attempt to dispense with the inessential layers. Trimming the fat, was in some cases, long overdue.

Dailies in the smaller towns that depend on local ads and government libraries and patronage are also back in business. The few we have talked to, have not closed down and demonstrate the continued Indian fascination with small and local news publishing.

Gandhi and refashioning the history of the freedom movement

Despite a large section of the news media falling prey to unabashed praise of the central government and the ruling party, the most remarkable experience of the past two years is the resilience of journalists, editors, and publishers in continuing to speak out and contradict the counter-factual narratives of the government. This is not limited to the alternative or digital media platforms.

Innumerable news organizations across regions and languages have challenged the government on its lies about its mistaken proclamation of the end of the pandemic, on the oxygen shortages and Covid-19 deaths and burials on the river banks in April and May 2021. They continue to report the facts on the false imprisonment of journalists, on the protection of politicians who are party to heinous crimes and their coverups, and to the government’s use of the Israeli Pegasus hacking software against journalists and citizens in violation of the constitution, and then, stonewalling the Supreme Court.

An example of the news media speaking out is Shyam Saran’s forthright column in the Business Standard of 16 February 2022, ‘Amrit Mahotsav without Gandhi.’ Saran considers the attempt by the central government to celebrate the country’s seventy-fifth independence anniversary while belittling the role of Gandhi among other leaders of the freedom movement. “Gandhi’s message is both relevant and compelling today,” Saran writes. And, after citing several of Gandhi’s writings on the hankering after wealth and the destruction of nature, he ends his column by saying, “One hopes that in refashioning the history of India’s freedom struggle, this most precious of its legacies does not fall prey to the politics of the moment.”

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.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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