The good news and the bad news

Talk is cheap and progress is slow

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The good news and the bad news
Continued hyper-competition in a time of stress, may destroy the commercial printing industry just as it has already undermined the newspaper industry with its ridiculously low cover prices.

The good news is that the economy continues to grow – our estimated forecast is for the GDP to most likely grow at 6.3% in the 2022-23 financial year ending 31 March. We believe this to be a fairly reliable forecast in spite of daily revisions by plutocrats, bureaucrats, rating agencies, banks, and government financial institutions. While we are perhaps more pessimistic than others, our forecast has been at this realistic level for the past nine months – as others started at higher levels and have continuously revised downward.

The other good news is that leading printers continue to be optimists. In spite of the inflationary price of raw materials, and the periodic ups and downs of global and domestic calamities, their experience indicates long-term growth. Yes, it would be preferable if more printers used MIS systems that reflected their real costs and were more committed to maintaining both specifications and profitability.

Nevertheless, our leading printers are informed optimists. Their experience leads them to believe that there are numerous opportunities for Indian industry – that both the large domestic markets and the development of exports in various sectors will ultimately bring an upturn, possible as soon as FY 24-25 or FY 25-26.

On the other hand, continued hyper-competition in a time of stress, may destroy the commercial printing industry just as it has already undermined the newspaper industry with its ridiculously low cover prices. The low cover price of newspapers means that the home delivery distribution of dailies, which is already stressed, will collapse. A growing economy has meant that the bottom of the pyramid resources in the urban centers also require a living wage that is aspirational and no longer merely one of subsistence. The value and price of what printers and publishers produce have to increase in order to invest in better resources and growth.

Ease of doing business and rules

While there is much talk about the ease of doing business, this is largely a fantasy in a country with thousands of rules that apply to even small businesses. Rules for factory safety and employment conditions come from the days of British colonial rule and the founding of the Republic in 1950. The lending rates by banks for capital expenditure continue to be extortionate and unrealistic.

There is increased global interest in purchasing book printing services from India but to take advantage of the opportunity, the government must show more agility in providing finance, infrastructure, and access to raw materials. It must also act on the necessity of domestically manufacturing publication papers to reduce the dependence on costly and erratic imports.

The environment

While the paper-based publishing and printing industry thinks it is immune to environmental considerations, the fact is that Indian packaging, publishing, and print buyers show little interest in these challenges. Several newspaper publishers and supplier companies in the industry own windmills apart from the solar panels installed at their plants. However, the dysfunctional electricity uploading and distribution laws hardly allow them to directly benefit unless the windmill is installed at their manufacturing site.

A leading commercial printer (and a perennial optimist) who has maintained all the certifications and preparedness for environmental compliances for the past 15 years, has found only two customers thus far – for the environmental report of a global pharmaceutical company; and, the annual report of a global software company.

The implication is that to export, one has to comply with and account for one’s carbon footprint, but domestically, in spite of the progress in renewable power generation, we are wedded to poor practices with impunity as well as fossil fuel and our standby diesel generators. The only thing that will work is the reliable supply of clean energy and, ultimately, as our optimistic printer friend says, legislation that demands the use of ecologically sound and recyclable materials and the establishment of responsible waste streams for their collection and recycling.  

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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