Publishing and printing are reconnecting with their audiences

Face-to-face events will speed up the sporadic recovery

The digital world may not be what it was cracked up to be – an inevitable demolition of everything real and printed (Unsplash)

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

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.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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