Paperex 2022 reflects growing Indian demand

Paperex Conference takes up sustainability and window of opportunity

Paperex 2022 panellists
Paperex 2022 Conference panel on Lessons to be learned from the pandemic for the Indian print, publishing, packaging and paper industries' – L to R Moderator Naresh Khanna, panelists Ashish Batra of Magic Papers International, Vasant Goel of Gopsons Papers, RHK Sinha Bindals Paper Mills, Atul Kumar Goel of Amar Ujala, and Amit Sharma of Harper Collins Publishers India Photo Indian Printer and Publisher

In spite of the heat wave in North India, the Paperex 2022 exhibition in Greater Noida, had tremendous participation by the paper industry, its suppliers and customers who by and large are printers. Partly a reflection of the keen-ness of the industry to return to business, the printers and packaging converters have taken the opportunity to network with paper companies so that the upsurge in demand and their return to business is acknowledged and to ensure that they can get the best prices and delivery times for raw materials.

For the paper companies it is reassuring to see that demand has returned and as several printers said in one of the panel discussion in the Paperex 2022 Conference, that I moderated, production levels and print demand especially for books, is currently exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The discussion took up the supply chain breakdowns for raw materials in paper and the strikes and increased energy charges in Europe as well as the way forward from the two years of the pandemic.

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Amit Sharma of Harper Collins was emphatic that demand is back and the opportunity should not be missed to both grow the domestic market and exports of book production. Vasant Goel of Gopsons and Ashish Batra of Magic Papers International agreed, and the printers concurred and emphasized that more than ever before there is a need to expand and improve the manufacture of publication papers.

There seems to be no shortage of book printing paper in India because the Indian paper mills have been able to improve their quality and also because the many of the leading book printers have increased their storage of paper stocks over the past two years of the pandemic. A packaging converter in the conference audience Pratik Chheda of Shapes Cubes Packaging in Gujarat, said that he was able to get locally manufactured paper and board within a day and the delivery time for imported paper and paperboard was not more than two days.

When I questioned the panellists on the role of the edutech companies in Indian education both Amit Sharma and Vasant Goel responded. Sharma said that first of all the edutech companies are creating educational content and as the country and they want their digital content published in ink and paper formats also. Additionally, even online education requires tools and accessories so the product mix of the publishers has adapted to enable the supply of teacher training materials and stationary. Goel added that edutech company Byju’s has a current budget of Rs 100 crore (US$ 13 million) for print materials. Thus the burgeoning edutech industry is likely to add to print volumes both directly and indirectly by enabling a young population that is both literate and with the resources to acquire more materials for their creative and competitive educational pursuit of higher studies.

There seems to be some sentiment that some paper traders have exploited the current news of raw material shortages and global logistics prices and shortage of containers to resell their stored paper and paperboard at higher prices. Thus while we have been hearing of paper shortages in Europe partly caused by the UPM four month strike that ended this month in an agreement largely meeting the demands of the Finland unions including Paperlito, in India the book publication papers are of sufficient quality and supply. The book printing exporters have built up stocks to meet their immediate commitments but in the future there is a need to upgrade the quality of publication papers.

Around the Paperex 2022 exhibition we have also been receiving the news of the Indian paper mills rebuilding their pulping capacity with higher and more sustainable technology as well as putting in better technologies in their paper machines especially for corrugation liner and paper boards. The sore point in Indian paper demand remains high quality publication papers and especially quality newsprint that can be run efficiently on automated high speed web offset presses.

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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