The state of Indian book publishing, printing, and export industries

Book printing and exports are robust despite the usual clouds

Photo Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In Indian business, even as time flies and bills and creditors line up at the end of the financial year, there are as usual several threads out of which one has to create one’s own strand or path of optimism. Recently, IppStar ( conducted three surveys based on the financial results reported to the Registrar of Companies – of the news media industry, the carton packaging industry, and the leading book printers, who are also book exporters.

Although our sample of the book printers and exporters is the smallest, unlike the other financial surveys that cover five financial years, we have looked at the past 10 years. After five years of relative stagnation from FY 2013-14 to FY 17-18, there is significant growth in the next five years from FY 18-19 to FY 21-22, except for the pandemic year FY 20-21. However, the rebound to the growth trajectory in FY 21-22 is significant and back to the trend line.

Beyond this, of the processors, IppStar’s research also monitors the suppliers, that is the influx of new capital equipment and raw materials. In the case of book printers, this would be multicolor offset equipment, binding equipment, and the consumption of offset plates, inks, and adhesives. The long-term growth trajectories of these were interrupted by the pandemic and then their recovery has been dampened by the inflationary prices of equipment and consumables. 

The reasons given vary from chip shortages to steel, energy, and logistics costs. An alternative reason for inflation and the devaluation of the Indian Rupee against the US dollar could be the enormous printing of US, UK, and EU currency during the pandemic, followed by printing more currency to finance Ukraine, and then further followed by the as yet US$ 450 billion bail-out of Silvergate Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, First Republic Bank, and Credit Suisse.

The upshot is that while the book printers across India seem to be keen to buy imported multicolor presses, their borrowing capacity may be further impaired by the looming financial crisis. There is nothing new in this for most of the industry that is looking at new 4-color presses, they have always had to deal with unreasonable banks and credit facilities. The book printing exporters are generally larger printers and these are looking at 8-color perfecting presses. And from what we can see in their balance sheets they will get the loans they need and may only have to contend with the disrupted supply chains of the manufacturers to get their machines delivered in time.

The good news

The good news comes to us from a book printer and exporter who has been traveling to Latin American and European book fairs over the past three months. He says that the demand for printed books is strong and growing. Global publishers are experiencing significant demand and at the same time, they are looking at reliable and competitive Indian book printing exporters as alternative suppliers to China.

However, several publishers said to him that the Chinese book printers have re-entered the industry very aggressively in the past six months and have become extremely competitive to not lose their customers to alternative suppliers. While they may not yet be able to challenge the Chinese suppliers for a large number of value-added books, for Indian book exporters a tough but interesting challenge is emerging – to install automated and efficient equipment, secure credit and raw materials, and be competitive.

The growing local market for general and textbooks is adding to the resilience of Indian book printers. They feel that the continuous expansion of education and particularly of private education is coming into play as a demand driver. And when the print exporters meet global publishers who speak optimistically about printed book demand, they again start to believe in the inevitable and unmet local demand for school and college textbooks.

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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