In the Indian financial year from April 2023 to March 2024, the reports on the economy and segments such as automobiles and FMCG sales vary from month to month. But the overall story is of real GDP growth from 5 to 6%. The print and packaging industries are also in this area in terms of volume growth but with the inflationary price of raw materials over the past years their nominal growth appears higher. Raw material and consumable supplies have eased and the prices of at least paper and board have cooled down.
Within this context, and at a time when commercial printing has been written off with a shift to online and digital media in many parts of the world, ink on paper and other substrates remains resilient in India, especially in commercial printing, including books. Newspapers with their combined circulation of about 50 to 60% of their numbers before the pandemic, continue to return in terms of circulation and pagination. Our research (www.ippstar.org) indicates that the bigger publishers have come back faster than smaller dailies, accompanied by some cannibalization of the ad revenues, which, in some cases, have shifted to better ROIs.
Nevertheless, initial reports suggest that the current festival season is better than last year’s for print generally, and ironically even the high flying packaging industry has become reliant on a five to six-month period of high consumption to carry it through the year. Disparities in rural and urban consumption of FMCG products remain, although there is an improvement in eCommerce consumption in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
Commercial print capacity creation is high
Indian commercial printing capacity is set to continue to rise in the current financial year from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024 with both offset and digital press installations rising, and digital presses set to far exceed pre-Covid levels, and even the expectations of the industry in the previous year. However many of the current offset installations are of machines delayed by delivery constraints of the manufacturers or the infrastructure delays of the printers.
Although supply chain delays and chip shortages have eased, the average delivery time of any multicolor offset press to the Indian market is now at 6 to 8 months from firm order. Commercial press installations are likely to exceed those of the previous year by at least 30 to 40%. And some of the leading manufacturers already have multiple orders for presses that will be delivered in the next financial year. The demand for both brand new and good quality used 8-color perfecters by book printing exporters continues unabated.
High growth for digital press installations
There has been a significant increase in the number of new monochrome and color digital presses of all types, including drum and toner and inkjet presses installed by book printers in the 2023-24 financial year. The strong sales momentum Q4 in the previous year has continued into the current financial year with total installs expected to exceed even optimistic forecasts by about 30 to 35% by 31 March 2024.
According to industry insiders, Konica Minolta continues to dominate the digital press market in the country with its large installed base. It has increased its market penetration with its digital yatra, where fully equipped buses performed demonstrations in 300 smaller cities. Ricoh, with the combined sales of Minosha and Monotech, has expanded its installations significantly in the past four years and is expected to match Canon’s numbers in the current financial year.
Xerox is expected to come in fourth as far as installation numbers, while the Fuji Revoria continues to sell a respectable number of its higher-priced machines, especially to the photo book market. HP also continues to sell its much higher-priced machines in what can be called a totally separate segment. However, one can expect that the high-quality photo book digital print market will see increased segmentation with the entry of new digital presses with unique value-added capabilities.
Web-fed inkjet digital book presses are gaining traction and there is now increased competition between imported presses. Monotech and Vinsak continue to make inroads and gain market share with Monotech also exporting its inkjet book presses. On top of all this, there are great expectations of new B2 sheetfed ink presses to be demonstrated and ready for market at the forthcoming drupa in May 2024. The Indian buyers are optimistic about their markets but are also clear that the capital cost of these digital machines has to come down considerably to make them viable in one of the liveliest print markets in the world.