Offset commercial print volumes shift to digital

Commercial printers increasingly add digital presses

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Commercial printing in India: toil and trouble
The printers' associations, dominated by commercial offset businesses, are asking members to build their digital capacities.

The 2022-23 financial year is witnessing a resurgence of print. Offset printing is enjoying increasing volumes and success in book printing and, especially, in book printing exports. This explains the high number of 8-color sheetfed offset machines being imported and installed in this financial year – which at the last count were three new such presses and at least one second-hand good condition machine. Many if not most of the two dozen commercial multicolor offset presses to be installed till March are for book printing.

However, an industry insider says that while offset print volumes for book printing may continue to rise, for general commercial, including marketing collaterals and various other kinds of information leaflets, pamphlets, and even stationary – these volumes will never come back to pre-Covid pandemic levels. While the print industry is recovering, the comeback in general commercial printing is much stronger for digital than for offset. 

Thus while more than two dozen multicolor presses are likely to be imported and installed by March 2023, the number of digital press installs is of a much higher order – above 1550 digital presses, including about 375 monochrome presses and about a dozen digital label presses. Ricoh seems to be the biggest gainer – its market share likely rising from almost negligible in the previous year to double digits, behind Konica Minolta and Canon, for digital press installations in the current financial year. 

From early industry reports of installations in the first half of the calendar year, Xerox is likely to lose the highest proportion of its digital market share in India this year, although there will also be a dent in Konica-Minolta’s overwhelmingly dominant share previously. The biggest gainer is likely Ricoh, which has two distributors and will likely sell more than 225 machines till end-March 2023.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted commercial offset printing most and accelerated the shift from offset to digital printing in India. While this shift was expected to take longer than in developed markets earlier, the two-year disruption of schools, colleges, hospitality, and in-person retail has deeply affected general commercial printing that is not likely to return. 

The war in Ukraine and the disruption of supply chains in Europe and China have also driven up the price of paper and other raw materials, which also makes less or no waste digital print more compelling. It certainly makes fewer quantities and zero inventory a doable cost-saving measure. 

We have written earlier about the cutback in general commercial printing and stationary by corporates to one-tenth of their pre-pandemic budgets. The new normal means a pronounced and quicker shift to digital commercial printing, variable, on-demand, and short-run print. For now, book printing continues to be dominated by offset – but this may also be a matter of time before it shifts further to digital print. Many European and American publishers who import printed books from India also prefer shorter runs. 

It is no wonder that the Indian printers’ associations, which are dominated by commercial offset businesses, are now suggesting to their members that apart from packaging and labels, there is little alternative but to build digital capacities.  

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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