‘Print media is not dead yet. Long live print media. Digital, however, is the ultimate future.’ This was the general refrain at the 31st Wan-Ifra Indian Printers Summit 2023, attended by more than 300 media leaders from around 75 organizations in the bustling and vibrant port city of Kochi in Kerala.
At the two-day event featuring a diverse range of discussions that celebrated innovation, sustainability, and excellence in print, the participants overwhelmingly reaffirmed their belief in the newspaper publishing business in India, which they felt had a long way to go compared to other parts of the world.
In his keynote, Jacob Mathew, former president of Wan-Ifra and the managing editor of the Malayala Manorama Group – one of the leading media powerhouses of not only Kerala but the entire country – said the resilient business strategies of news publishers have been able to keep the print business alive amid the digital onslaught. This conference, he said, offered an opportunity to learn from some of the best business practices from the leading media houses. Print media, he said, helps gain the trust and credibility of both brands and consumers.
Mathew addressed the challenges that the news sector is facing such as newsprint prices and the situation in Europe, encouraging the media industry to enhance the use of the latest technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to build scale. “AI will help add value to businesses within the ethical framework. It is important for all to understand it well and not resist it blindly,” he said.
The keynote address was followed by the launch of Wizone, Wan-Ifra’s new online marketplace, by K N Shanth Kumar, Wan-Ifra board member and director of The Printers Mysore – publishers of the Deccan Herald and Prajavani dailies.
The first presentation of the day was from Mylene Sylvestre, publishing director of Guardian News & Media, who joined the audience live from London as she couldn’t be in Kochi because of visa issues. Stressing the power of print and how the medium is still profitable, Sylvestre reflected on how print still plays a crucial role for The Guardian, and offered valuable perspectives on the coexistence of print and digital media in today’s media landscape. Significantly, she stated that the group has taken a moral and ethical stand to forego advertising from fossil fuel companies.
Sylvestre spoke about how the Guardian drives print subscriptions, on the plans to further expand its home delivery network in London especially, to gather data on readers to reduce waste and explore print opportunities. “Print is still profitable, impactful, and has its loyal readers,” she said. The key is cost control, low pagination, a strong distribution network, and a unique editorial voice, she said, adding digital cannot replace the print experience as both are completely different mediums.
Getting the young audiences
The following panel discussion on the ‘Print business trends and current demands of the industry in India’ was moderated by Vinodini Sukumar, managing director, of Team One Advertising. The panel included Varghese Chandy, vice president of marketing and advertising sales, Malayala Manorama; Sudeep Kumar, general manager of Media Solutions (Print), Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing; Oommen Thomas, National Head Ad Sales, ABP; Pradeep Singh, head of integrated sales, Amar Ujala and Deepak Saluja, chief executive officer, Metropolitan Media Company.
The discussions ranged from initiatives and strategies adopted by various media houses to attract the digital-savvy younger audiences and how these changes led to increased profitability for businesses. The panelists acknowledged the growing trend of younger audiences avoiding the printed news media and agreed that the print medium can remain relevant in India only through publisher resilience and active engagement with advertisers and audiences.
An important aspect of other discussions was the sustainability in print operations, renewable sources of energy, and the need to be more environmentally conscious.
Sustainability and green practices
During the day, speakers from various prestigious news publications discussed the role of renewable energy, sustainability, and Industry 4.0 in print operations. PT Bhasi, senior general manager of Production and Maintenance at Mathrubhumi spoke on shared responsibilities of publishers in sustainable development and the best practices and initiatives for sustainable production.
Sharad Patil, senior general manager of Production and Engineering, DB Corp, and Neeraj Aggarwal, head of production at HT Media, made presentations on solar energy in print production plants as well as the challenges and opportunities in reducing the carbon footprint of the industry.
A post-lunch session on sustainable consumables and manufacturing of newspapers saw a lively discussion on the responsible sourcing of raw materials and eco-friendly transportation and logistics in the supply chain. Heads of technology and production of leading companies discussed the topic moderated by Snehasis Roy, Technical director at Bennett Coleman.
BS Shesh, vice-president of Supply Chain at HT Media, Dinesh Sharma, associate vice-president, DB Corp and Amit Khurana, deputy CEO of Digital and offset Print solutions of TechNova, spoke on the shared responsibilities of media houses to ensure cleaner processes in newspaper printing, which can be a highly polluting and carbon-intensive industry.
The subsequent session on sustainable publishing practices in newspaper manufacturing and print production best practices had Ganesh Kumar Vijayakumar, AVP head of sales, Deutsch Quality Systems, speaking on the options for newspaper publishers and print production houses for an emission-free and carbon neutral/carbon offsetting techniques for newspaper publishing. Vijayakumar explained how the sustainable practices of newspaper publishers will not bear fruit unless the allied sectors such as raw material suppliers, transporters, and others go green.
The Indian Printers Summit featured two parallel tracks of the conference: the Printing Summit and the Advertising Summit, providing attendees with comprehensive insights into the industry’s branding and revenue dynamics.
The first day ended with The Best in Print Asia 2023 Awards, which recognize the newspapers across Asia that excel in newspaper printing as per ISO 12647-3 and Wan-Ifra quality standards. The awards were presented in two categories – newspapers with a circulation of less than 100,000 copies and more than 100,000 copies. The Times of India, United Printing & Publishing, Abu Dhabi, Anandabazar Patrika, Malayala Manorama, The Hindu, and Jagran bagged the winning titles among others.
Day2 – Media mix, newsprint and distribution
The second day began with a keynote by Laya Menon, executive vice-president, and business head of South, Lodestar UM (IPG Mediabrands), who presented insights into the media solutions from the advertisers’ eyes. She spoke of how the vernacular media was gaining ground as well as the role of print in the media mix. Print, she emphasized, has grown from a reach medium to a driving medium, and stressed the urgent need for an updated measurement index for the sector as IRS 2019 has become prehistoric in the changed post-Covid scenario.
Emmy D’Silva, an eminent engineering and newsprint consultant, got a standing ovation after one of the most insightful and humorous sessions that addressed the reasons behind newsprint cost fluctuations in India and what lies ahead. M Rajagopalan Nair, vice-president of Circulation, and Cinu Mathews, chief general manager of Circulation, both from Malayala Manorama, shared the success story of the Kerala market, which we have written about in another report.
The concluding panel comprised Sridhar Aranala, vice-president of Sales and Distribution at The Hindu Group; Devika M S, director of Operations, Mathrubhumi and Vinod Bidwaik, Group Director-HR at the Sakal Media Group, who deliberated on distribution strategies and owning up the last mile for the future of print. The panelists expressed their views on the potential benefits of publishers collaborating and sharing distribution infrastructure to enhance operational efficiencies. Notably, at the end of the session, Sridhar reflected on the new media industry’s need for self-belief.
Other technical sessions at the conference that we plan to discuss in the November issue of Indian Printer and Publisher deliberated on the challenges of managing the cost of plates, maintaining machinery, and managing spare parts; the advantages of LED UV for a better environment compared to conventional UV inks; and automated layout as a key component in the full automation of editorial print workflows.