Sajith Pallippuram of Welbound is a surprisingly calm person. There have been some challenges to the Welbound book production equipment and consumable business, which includes the manufacture and sale of folders, perfect binders, 3-knife trimmers, and automated bookbinding lines. These surfaced at the last Printpack show in 2019 and the floods in Kerala in past years also impacted the company. However, since 2019, the Welbound factory has rolled on through the pandemic in a higher gear with its manufacturing set up in Bengaluru. Over the past 40 months, the company has calmly kept its poise and its belief in the growing demand for books and book production in India, intact.
As we know from the continuous research of IppStar (www.ippstar.org) over the past 23 years, and Sajith also knows and comprehends, most Indian publishers’ and printers’ associations are totally unaware of the scope, size, and depth of the Indian book publishing and production industry. Foreign researchers and publishers cannot grasp the extent and nature of language publishing in India, nor the full scope of its educational systems, and the demand for both private and government textbooks.
For instance – as we have written on the basis of the Book Publishing and Production in India and Bangladesh project by IppStar completed in 2019 – the school (Zero to Twelve standard) textbook consumption in India per school-going child is only 66% of what it is, in Bangladesh.
Sajith has understood this from getting his hands dirty in the binding departments of book printers across the country, as he has continuously tried to instill some skill and quality into the Indian book production industry, making sure both short run and long titles can be produced with the lowest CAPEX and consumable cost of adhesives and other inputs. He has connected with the large, medium, and small book printers knowing that while they may buy his 6-clamp perfect binders at a high rate today, 15% of them are likely to grow each year and buy his 12-clamp perfect binders and another 7% will graduate each year to buy a completely automated perfect binding line.
At the current Printpack, Sajith was wearing a kurta the day I met him. For me, this is significant because he is enjoying the show – in his element. He explains the space-saving of being able to turn a couple of corners with his automated BindLine. It not only saves space but demonstrates an understanding of the movement of signatures to the binders so that he is confident of manipulation and fine-tuning of the machines so that it will perform – the full line will gather and perfect bind and trim 5,000 books in an hour – at perhaps half the price of an imported machine.
This is another case of Indian manufacturing coming at the right time, a time where the large binding machine manufacturers of Europe at least, are under pressure, uncompetitive, and challenged. It is not clear whether their mergers, acquisitions, or combinations will save them, or if any Indian book producer will be able to ever afford a new binding machine from them again and remain competitive.
Meanwhile as the Indian economy and society recovers, and its education systems sort themselves out, we can expect the book production demand growth to continue. Welbound has already sold a half dozen of its automated BindLine in India and Africa to its early adopters and expects an increase in sales in the current financial year of this efficient system. The machine being demonstrated at the show may go to one of its early book printer adopters.
There are challenges in the education system that need to be sorted out, especially if we want to match Bangladesh in public education, but the groundswell of public demand is there. In addition, it seems that the cloud-borne edutech industry may turn out not to be a threat but a contributor, to the education system and culture. We heard recently that one of its biggest players has a Rs 100 crore budget (US$ 14 million) for print and books. While we consider this budget trivial, it is an indicator of the belief of leading educational publishers and printers that the edutech companies are ultimately content generators, and the real demand from educators, parents, and school-goers who want to succeed is for printed content.
The Welbound Bindline 5000 system is the Indian Printer and Publisher and Packaging South Asia hot pick of the Printpack India 2022 show.