Commercial print comes back as schools open in India

Private publishers scramble to produce books in time

Schools maintain social distancing as they reopen Photo The Week
14/09/20 Gurgaon, Haryana. For GALLERY Following the MHA directives the schools have started moving towards normalcy. From sanitisations, thermo-scanning to guidance and counseling sessions, schools will not be the same in post Covid era. Photos by Aayush Goel

The central government’s strong push to open all schools in the first half of February has caught many private publishers off-guard. As they scramble to produce and distribute their books across the country, many mid-size book printers have become overly busy. The textbooks need to be despatched to warehouses from 15 February to mid-March, for the coming semester. As the Omicron variant and the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic recedes and vaccinations also become available for children below 18, there is an overall resurgence in the economy, looking to get back to business.

As we wrote recently, there are several dislocations in the educational process. The digital divide means that large numbers of children in the rural areas and economically weaker sections are not able to benefit from remote and web learning – the sooner government schools open the easier it will be to try and make up for two lost years. Amongst the wealthy and city-dwelling demographic a great disaffection among parents has grown with tablets and computers.

Apart from the health and eyesight issues, parents are upset by the adventurous and overly convenient ingenuity of their wards in using the Internet. The extended unnatural indoor existence has become torturous for both children and parents who benefit from school environments in multiple ways and activities.

The value of schools is rising in the collective consciousness in a positive way. Publishers are playing catch-up and trying to get their revamped or refreshed titles printed and distributed to their warehouses in this month itself and at the latest, by mid-April. We have talked to a couple of book printers who are now busy and even turning down titles that they will not be able to deliver in time. Some of the mid-size commercial printers who had work throughout the pandemic have with some foresight, built up a reasonable inventory of paper in their stores and warehouses.

Publisher printers have been showing interest in ordering new presses for the past few months. Even government textbook presses have initiated large new press orders. Deliveries are hampered by the shortage of chips and so most of the new press deliveries and installations will only come about in the new financial year that starts in April.

Some of the book printers have in the meanwhile added more digital presses. They have added drum and toner machines with extra colors and metallic effects for book covers and promotional materials. At the same time, they are now graduating from monochrome drum and toner and inkjet presses to full-color inkjet web presses for the text pages. One can sense the renewed optimism among the book printers who are flush with work, have the paper in hand to deliver, and new presses on order for what they believe is an inevitable growth in demand.

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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