Thoughts on commercial print after the Covid-19 pandemic

A printer’s legacy is to think and write

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Tushar Dhote
Tushar Dhote

The Indian commercial print industry had been plunged into a complete catastrophe during the Covid-19 pandemic which further propelled the digital transformation in all spheres of business activity and communication. Newspaper printing and magazines were the worst hit during the pandemic as many readers switched to online channels. Even IKEA stopped printing catalogs and uploaded them on the Internet. As people started to work from home, (and children started to study online at home) one of the biggest transformations in human behavior took root and became formalized.

With communication relying on the internet and social media, corporates reduced their print requirement to save costs. They first went online and kept increasing their digital posts using several channels. Finally, as Covid-19 began to slow aided by widespread vaccination, and markets began to open up, businesses realized, or at least thought, that their turnover was not overly or adversely affected by the cutting of their print communication spending during the pandemic. In many cases, the balance sheets even appeared to be greener.

This began to affect commercial printers in a big way. Volumes became shorter, and color pages were reduced to a great extent – especially in the case of magazines as advertisers shifted their attention to digital media. Many commercial printers searched for options and many turned to packaging. As in many other businesses, the printing industry is always evolving, innovating, and adjusting to the changing demand from consumers.

The commercial and packaging print market according to me is slowly shifting to short-run digital printing with value addition such as personalization and embellishment, invisible ink, and security features. These enhance documents of all kinds and attract more attention on shop shelves and make you feel great with their touch and feel.

Book printing during the pandemic and opening up period had a great time in short run POD. Led by educational and technical books the demand for books in India will maintain steady growth compared to other parts of the world. India has the highest number of readers and our education system is more books and workbook driven than eBook or cloud-driven. So far, eBooks have failed badly due to their inherent problems, such as poor region-wise internet accessibility, not comfortable to carry, and being very expensive to maintain. Moreover, printed books will always remain more sustainable than their digital counterparts.

To sum up, I feel print will go a long way, but print businesses need to focus on the process as per the client’s need. Post-pandemic, a new and open environment will create better opportunities for the companies that have managed to survive. Once this happens, (perhaps wishfully) there will be fewer instances of low-value printing operations leading to hyper-competition, and adaptable printers at all levels will thrive.

The demand for commercial print demand will never die, and as many say, it is just changing its form into a more qualitative than a quantitative product. Printers who embrace technology and use its’ potential along with 360-degree service offerings and fulfillment, will not only survive in the long run but will likely maximize their take-home profits with fewer working hours. I hope that they will also enjoy their family life along with other social commitments – something that many earlier-generation printers probably felt they missed out on.

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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