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.”

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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