Revealing the challenges in Indian book exports

Ravi Shroff’s insights on the export opportunity

India’s book printing can take advantage of the opportunity as several of its leading printers have a very good export track record. Photo IPP.

Ravi Shroff, managing director of Nutech, says that especially since the adoption of the ‘Zero Covid Policy’ in China, there has been some sort of a disconnect in global supply chains. Often, China goes into sudden lockdowns, which are inconvenient and disruptive to customers who rely on its exports. These include global book publishers who rely on China’s competitive book printing. And due to the recent disruptions, many of them are now developing a second source of supply.

India’s book printing can take advantage of the opportunity as several of its leading printers have a very good export track record. The interest of international publishers is also somewhat inclined toward India. However, according to Shroff, only time will tell how the opportunity comes to fruition in terms of growth and expansion.

Shroff comments on the Asian giant’s production of raw materials, “China has been the factory of raw materials for the global market for a very long time, especially for print. It has substantial resources in manufacturing, which is not very common in comparison to the produce from other Asian countries. Some may specialize in particular sectors, for example, Bangladesh is the lead supplier of some textile products. China, however, produces a wide array of materials.”

Government support

Along with India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and countries from the south-Asian subcontinent will surely benefit if global publishers de-risk their imports from China but according to Shroff, major revamping will be required. “If other countries were to boycott China and not source raw materials from them, there is no country with such production strength to be able to fill that gap. China has huge capacities and other countries haven’t progressed as far. It started exporting to the world in the early 1980s whereas other countries started producing much later, and the infrastructure and the level of production of all the countries combined cannot compare to China as of now. For instance, China has a sole monopoly over sound books and books with toys which no other country can produce as efficiently without the considerable inputs, resources, and processes that are in place in China,” Shroff explains.

“Printing is a complex process. Books are always custom-made and customers are very specific about their requirements. Exporters need more support from the government, as the global market is extremely competitive. If you are competing with 10 players in the Indian market, you are competing with 100 players in the global market. Finance again is very expensive as printing is both a capital-intensive and a labor-intensive business. Hence the government could formulate additional schemes and policies to enable Indian printers to better utilize both their capital and labor. Resources can be invested in a better manner, and printers could also update their equipment from time to time and focus on the efficiencies needed for export production.”

The global pandemic highlighted the value of the industry’s human resources. Initially, it was challenging in terms of labor shortage. The way the pandemic unfolded, the lack of medical facilities, and the rising death rates scared many employees, who were migrants to the cities and urban areas. Many went back to their villages and needed encouragement and assurances to return to the factories. Salaries were paid in advance – health insurance for those who didn’t have it and assurances provided for worker’s safety, as there was no mandate or basic health policy by the government that applied to Covid-19.

Out of its total print business, Nutech’s production is split 50-50 between domestic and exports. Its domestic customers vary from small business owners to multinational conglomerates. It has export customers in 80 countries on practically every continent. “Our main focus has been on quality of production, being a customer-oriented company we cater to multiple book segments. Everything from paperbacks, hardbacks, and board books – coffee table, children’s, school textbooks, diaries, dictionaries, coloring books, travel guides, and calendars. We also print high-quality bibles on 28 gsm paper that are exported to multiple countries – a very niche market as not more than ten printers in the world print can produce these.”

Modern multicolor presses from Mitsubishi, Heidelberg, Komori, and RMGT together with finishing and soft and hardcover binding comprise Nutech’s physical infrastructure. It imports 10% of its raw materials while 90% are domestically sourced. Specialty papers such as high pulp paper are imported from Scandinavian countries and high-grade art papers are imported from European countries.

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in nominal and real terms – in a region poised for the highest change in year to year expenditure in printing equipment and consumables. Our 2024 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock – to emphasize your visibility and relevance to your customers and turn potential markets into conversations.

– Naresh Khanna

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