Sigmarq’s web offset business bounces back in 2021-2022

Robust recovery in newspapers yet to reach pre-pandemic levels

(L to R) Rajesh Ghorpade and Pradeep Shirale, directors at Sigmarq Technologies at Printpack 2019

Kolhapur-based web offset press manufacturer Sigmarq Technologies has seen a robust recovery in business from the lows of the 2020-21 financial year. However, the supply of presses to the newspaper and book printing industry is still to reach the pre-pandemic levels.

“Our business in the 2021-2022 fiscal year has recovered from the pandemic hit 2020-2021 financial year. In terms of inquiries as well as orders, there has been a strong bounce back. We were closed for four months in 2020-2021. And although we producing towers and press lines, we are yet to reach the pre-pandemic levels. We are at about 60% of the pre-Covid levels and hope to go back to pre-pandemic levels of production in the next fiscal year,” says Rajesh Ghorpade, one of Sigrmarq’s directors.

Situated in the Five Star MIDC estate, about a 30-minutes drive from the city of Kolhapur, Sigmarq is now well established in the web offset industry. Managed by two industry veterans, Rajesh Ghorpade and Pradeep Shirale, the company now supplies single-width single circumference web offset presses to some of the well-known names in the newspaper and book printing industry. 

The company started manufacturing autopasters in 2011 when not many Indian companies were in that line of business. Sigmarq achieved success with its autopasters and progressed to making towers and folders in 2012. In 2014, it launched its Crusader brand of 4-Hi towers. 

The company’s first 4-Hi tower was supplied to the Dainik Jagran newspaper group in North India which has remained one of its most consistent customers. Some of its other daily newspaper customers include Eenadu, Gujarat Mitra, Malayala Manorama, and Daily Thanthi.

Newspaper circulation back to pre-pandemic levels in north India

In late March 2020, the central government announced a complete lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. During the first four months of the 2020-2021 financial year, that is from April to July 2020, the country was under a hard lockdown. 

The lockdown had a severe impact on newspaper circulation. In many cities across India, readers stopped buying newspapers completely as there was an apprehension that the virus could be transmitted through the surface of the newspaper. Although this theory was debunked, the damage was already done, especially in multi-story housing developments where entire apartment buildings and housing estates were off-limits to newspaper delivery men. As the lockdowns were lifted and the first wave of the pandemic subsided, the industry recovered some of its circulations which kept improving in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

According to Ghorpade, newspaper circulation and pagination are back to pre-pandemic levels in North Indian states. “What we are seeing is that in the recent months’ circulation and pagination are back to pre-pandemic levels in North India. Elections in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Punjab have given a boost to circulation as well as pagination. In South India, however, (with some exceptions) the circulation is yet to reach pre-covid levels,” says Ghorpade.

He says that the circulation recovery in South India is slow because many readers who shifted to digital formats are taking their time in returning to the physical format. “Due to better awareness about digital media, a large number of readers in South India began to consume news on smartphones during the period when the supply of newspapers was restricted. Many of those readers are yet to go back to the physical format. I believe this is the reason why the recovery in circulation in the southern states is a little slow,” he argues.

Launch of book printing press

Sigmarq Technologies informed Indian Printer and Publisher about its plans to launch a book printing press in the coming months. Ghorpade says the project is progressing well. “This press is mainly for book printers but can also be used for newspaper printing with some customization,” he says.

The company has also expanded its shop floor by almost four times. It has bought two acres of land and set up a larger manufacturing facility. “We expect the book printing and newspaper segment to pick up in the next financial year. So, we wanted to be ready with a bigger manufacturing capacity. The unit is built and ready and will be used as and when required,” Ghorpade concluded. 

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.

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– Naresh Khanna

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