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.
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.