Do numbers really matter to Indian print business?

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Do numbers really matter to Indian print business? It’s not clear whether the Indian GDP growth rate actually influences its print industry’s buying decisions more than local demand and competition. Although our job is to put forward reasonable explanations and justifications for modernization, professionalism and the adoption of new technology, we realize that a great deal of equipment and consumable purchasing is more emotional than rational. The best printers are really those who could make anything work (or get the best out of what they have at any point) and those who have, over time, rationally distilled their experience to find the balance between better technology, automation, ease of use and return on investment.

We do think that numbers matter – both in a general and particular way and in the case of every Indian print business. We know that if the Indian GDP really grows at only 5-6%, the print industry at least in our country cannot grow meaningfully. At that rate it cannot expand because the demand for books, newspapers and magazines and packaging is stagnant or grows nominally (incrementally in volume) and not in real value growth. According to a recent article by a former finance minister, “Growth slowed down rapidly in 2018-19. In the four quarters, it was 8.0, 7.0, 6.6, and 5.8%. It will probably decline further in April-June 2019. Anticipating a downtrend, RBI has lowered the forecast for 2019-20 to 7.2%.”

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GDP growth is driven by investment (not merely consumption) and gross fixed capital formation was 29.3% (at current prices) in the past year. Promoters are reluctant to invest because capacity utilization in manufacturing was only 76% in the past year. In my February editorial in these pages, I wrote: “The publishing and print industries are not showing exceptional or even real growth. Our experience in researching these industries for the past 20 years (in IppStar) shows that high growth only occurs when the GDP growth is far above 6%. In the past three or four years this does not seem to be the case, no matter what kind of numbers the government cooks up and claims.” Unfortunately, our industry, the Indian print business, is an accurate barometer of the country’s economy and we need to keep learning how to read its trends and the relevant economic signs. And to keep speaking out.

Slightly edited version of an editorial that appeared in the July 2019 edition of Indian Printer and Publisher – Editor 22 July 2019

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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