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 (www.ippstar.org) 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.