The Indian newspaper printing industry continues to slowly recover from the scars of the Covid-19 pandemic. The festive season this year brought better advertising than the previous one but industry experts expect flat revenues going into the new calendar year.
As our article on the Q2 results of Jagran Prakashan, DB Corp and HT Media shows, the raw material consumption of the three listed news media groups discussed has gone up by 33 to 75% in Q2 of 22-23 as compared to Q2 of 21-22. This increase can be attributed to an improvement in pagination and ad revenues as well as the inflation in the cost of newsprint and other consumables such as inks and offset plates necessary for printing.
Unfortunately Indian newsprint and publication paper capacity is not keeping up with the demand as paper mills find it far more profitable to manufacture papers and boards for packaging. Apart from the news media industry, this has a dampening effect on book printing exports where the Indian printers are finding greater interest and demand from global publishers.
Leading book printing publications who took part in the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, cannot be sure how many of these leads will materialize into orders with the current constraints in raw material supply, especially paper. Although European and American publishers are keen to move at least 20% of their book production out of China, these may not come to India. Unfortunately, neither our paper industry nor our government can be considered agile enough to ameliorate either the raw material, logistics, or taxation anomalies that even successful exporters encounter daily.
While newspaper ink capacity utilization for printing in the country is now being pushed to the 24-25 financial year, so is the news media’s revenue recovery to reach even pre-Covid levels. There is also the somewhat pessimistic belief within the industry that print circulations may never recover beyond 85 to 90% of previous levels, which totally discounts rising incomes.
Nevertheless, at least three or four language dailies are refurbishing their capital equipment and sporadically investing in new plants in order to extend their market presence. And many of the big dailies will need to spend on refurbishing and automating their large presses if they are to survive in an era of steadily increasing newsprint prices.
Another possible impetus to investment by news media may be the 2024 general election with regional leaders wanting to extend their influence in the Hindi belt across middle and north India with its population of 500 million. We see regional dailies in states such as Bengal starting up Hindi editions first in their own state (as West Bengal has a considerable Hindi-speaking population) and then perhaps extending these to editions elsewhere.
Lastly, it must be noted that the digital world may not be what it was cracked up to be – an inevitable demolition of everything real and printed – from bank notes to education. The demise of cryptocurrencies, the comeuppance of Meta, Facebook, Twitter, and the Indian edutech companies – and even the war in Ukraine and the COP 27 meeting on climate change point to the need to get back to basics.
There is a demand for real products and services instead of instant fame and riches. And more than ever the need to create real knowledge, technology, and competence instead of self-praise, and mass political manipulation on social media. Publishing and print excel in the creation and dissemination of fact and science-based information, technology, knowledge, and education – and this is why our industry must show more self-belief.
– Naresh Khanna firstname.lastname@example.org