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.

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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