As newspaper circulation and profits begin to decline, especially after the Covid pandemic, big media houses have started diversifying into different and related segments of the printing industry such as commercial printing and packaging to stay afloat and profitable.
HT Media is one such newspaper publisher that has ventured into the commercial printing space. The media house is printing daily editions of The Hindu at its plant in Udyog Vihar, Greater Noida, along with several other magazines. Its book publishing clients include Om Books International, Rupa Publications, Prakash Books, Bharat Prakashan, Mahindra Publications, DG Publications, Career Launcher, Aakash Institute, and Scholastic India.
A recent report by market research company International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group (IMARC) put the size of the commercial print industry in India at US$ 33.2 billion (approximately Rs 2,72,862.5 crore) in 2022. In an industry of that big a size, many players are trying to buy high-end and low-end presses to set up a print business in India. A small segment of these is newspaper publishers, who are adding sheetfed machines to make the most of this opportunity.
HT Media has an armory of sheetfed and web-fed presses, including web heatset, web coldset, Roland 5-color with coater 705, a 5-color Heidelberg 705, two wide format Komori machines, and a full Muller Martini setup for center pinning and perfect binding. With this huge setup of printing presses, the company can print 40 metric tons a day, out of which 30 metric tons are on web and 10 metric tons is on sheetfed machines. Its print run ranges from 12,000 to 2 lakh copies. It has a QC department where every book is checked before packing.
“Before starting the commercial printing set-up eight years ago, we had only a newspaper setup that could do 10 metric tons per day. We have increased our capacity from 10 metric tons to 40 metric tons from the time we started our commercial printing operations. We doubled our turnover in two years,” said Ajay Madan, business head of commercial printing, HT Media.
Speaking on the challenges in the printing industry, he said, “There was a fluctuation in paper prices in the last year, which affected us a lot. There was no fixed price for paper as the availability of raw materials was affected due to the Ukraine-Russia war. The prices were up by 35% in the last year but now it is coming down. I believe in quarter two or quarter three of this year, things will stabilize.”
The second challenge from the publishers’ side, he said, is the GST issue. “The government has imposed an 18% GST charge on the books that we use. This adds to the publishers’ costs. They cannot claim it from the government because they are not selling the books with GST,” he said.
The company also plans to start monocarton packaging in the near future along with digital printing facilities. “Most of the book publishers of Delhi-NCR such as Thomson, Nutech, and Sterling do packaging. We wanted to leverage this segment as well,” Madan said.
The Malayala Manorama group from Kerala is another major newspaper house that has ventured into packaging.
With newspaper giants such as HT getting into commercial printing, other traditional book publishers such as Thomson, Nutech and commercial printing companies such as Rahul Print O Pack, Samrat Offset, and many other players in the Okhla, Nariana, and Patparganj industrial areas are likely to feel the pinch.
For the majority of these traditional players, commercial printing of books, magazines, brochures, pamphlets and diaries is their mainstay. And if newspaper giants get into this industry, it may lead to cut-throat competition with book and commercial printers scrambling to retain clients.