As book publishing declines during the pandemic, how are Indian printing presses coping?

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Anand Limaye of Indian Printing Works in Mumbai is a printer and book publisher. Every year during festival season he is ‘super busy duper’ with Diwali Anks, the exceptionally sized magazines published in Marathi during Diwali, featuring literary writings and advertisements in equal measure. “This year, instead of 19 Diwali Anks, we printed 11,” Limaye said.

It’s not too bad for the Limaye press, which has operated a single shift in its factories in Wadala and Bhiwandi since March. For Limaye and many others like him, the factories are working again post-containment. Printing equipment is the lifeblood of any printing business. These machines are expensive and require regular operation and maintenance. The fact that they couldn’t do it during the lockdown was the biggest problem printers encountered when things stopped.

Now the machines are working, but the printing numbers have gone down. For example, more than a hundred Diwali Anks have given up on the print publication due to reduced advertising and the logistical problem of getting copies to readers.

Limaye said: “If there had been a problem like Zee UtsavNatyancha with a lakh of copies, supported by television commercials, the Diwali Ank the market would have seen a rise. Usually the Marathi Diwali Ank reader visits the booth and picks up other magazines as well. This Marathi reader is now in save your money mode.

To combat the situation, major publishers have raised the idea of ​​selling five leading issues for a combined sum of Rs 1,000, plus a free Storytel gift card. The scheme elicited an overwhelming response.

The traditional printing mecca of Mumbai, Shah & Nahar in the Lower Parel is eerily quiet. Roopesh Sawant of Superlekha, a Mumbai-based printer, says: “After seven months we are seeing 25-30% of pre-Covid levels. Promotions are at an all-time low.

Faheem Agboatwala of BMPA, a leading Mumbai-based printing association, said: “Commercial printing is going to undergo a drastic change and there will be permanent damage in several areas of the printing business. I had hoped people would find out sooner or later. It is a pity that printing still does not have the status of an industry in our country.

Decrease in demand

Since most of the printing is ink-on-paper, a quick look at the demand for paper since March gives us a fair idea of ​​where book printers are. Deepak Mittal, a paper trader in Bengaluru, said: “The demand contraction has been rapid, in a way that has never been experienced by the industry. The writing and printing segment has been hit the hardest due to its dependence on the education sector, which contributes almost 60% of demand. With schools and colleges, except for grades 10 and 12, which are unlikely to reopen this school year, the picture is grim.

“To add to the problem, commercial and promotional printing, such as diaries, calendars, brochures, catalogs, etc. “Diary Grandpa LIC has canceled diary printing this year, and many other government departments and businesses have followed in their footsteps.”

Anil Kumar, CEO and Executive Director of Shreyans Industries, speaking on behalf of the Punjab-based paper mills, said: “Order books have improved but it’s not good enough yet. The demand for educational books in Ludhiana, for example, has fallen from 40 to 45%. As a result, he explained, 2020-2021 will not bring any profit growth for the paper industry and companies will face volume losses.

A Venkat, former president of the Federation of Paper Traders Association, Chennai, added: “Along with the economic impact of the pandemic, banks, telecommunications providers and government organizations have been encouraged to switch to digital services by using unsubstantiated environmental claims such as “go green – go paperless”. This has been detrimental to the ink-on-paper industry, which has a strong environmental record.

Thinning orders

Obviously, the situation is grim for Indian commercial printers, especially the small and medium ones. Kamal Chopra, based in Ludhiana, president of the Indian Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP), said: “Covid-19 and the pandemic have had a pretty severe impact on the Indian printing industry, which is dominated by small and micro units. If there are 250,000 printers in India today, I can say that over 85% of them are facing financial hardship due to the combination of the lockdown and the pandemic. “

Magazine for the printing industry Print week conducted a survey asking CEOs of Indian printing companies, large and small, to describe their cash flow. The results revealed that 27.3% of businesses were on the verge of closing. Of the remainder, 36.4% said they were reasonably comfortable with their cash flow, but things could be better; 13.6% had contingency plans for a crisis situation, while 22.7% said their cash flow was not affected. Rahul Kumar, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Print week, said: “Close reading reveals that at least 3,000 printing companies across India could go bankrupt by March 2021.”

He said only three things can save the commercial printing industry: an affordable coronavirus vaccine; a government vaccine to boost the balance sheets of small printing companies; and a macroeconomic vaccine. Kumar is confident that none of the three will be available in the next six months. The magazine’s assessment: Even in the best-case scenario, commercial printing plants are operating at 55% -66% of pre-Covid-19 capacity.

New workflows

Much of the work of printers depends on the number of titles and copies published by publishers. In August 2020 Print week interviewed Indian publishers to assess their situation. Designed and conducted by production expert Subhasis Ganguli, the survey reached 68 CEOs of printing companies, large and small.

The finding: while nearly 40% of publishers expect to resume their activities in six months to a year with the same number of titles and the same quantity of prints as in 2019, the majority think the opposite. Most publishers said they would like to change their workflow to pre-selling copies before giving a print order to giving a print order and then spending money on warehousing.

This could change the supply chain and the procurement process. Digital printing for small runs could be further enhanced, provided the turnaround time can be significantly reduced. This can only be achieved if publishers and printers work in partnership and there is no shortage of raw material. In the absence of precise projections of needs – as is the case when the publisher waits for orders – the paper cannot be purchased and stored by the printer, which will affect the efficiency of the line.

There are also other technical aspects of printing that publishers, printers and technology providers will need to work in partnership with. For example, while paper represents the highest entry cost for offset printing (typically used for printing longer run books), ink is the most expensive when it comes to printing. ‘digital printing (generally used for printing shorter run books). Optimizing costs in the event of a move to more digital printing will require technological adjustment.

“Whether we accept it or not, Covid-19 has definitely made a difference,” Ganguli said, “That’s right, change is painful, but it’s time for the leaders in publishing and printing of the book decide to change for the good of the whole ecosystem. According to Ashish Batra of Magic International, a paper stationery factory, “In the post-Covid scenario, you will rely less on people and more on processes.”

From the point of view of a specialist publisher, according to Priya Singh of Hachette, there have obviously been ups and downs. “From the palpable fall in March and the Covid-induced recalibration in the months that followed, we are seeing a kind of comeback,” she said. “But with orders much more conservative than before and fears of stock storage, digital has grown while offset has declined.”

As a result, Singh said, hard covers gave way to paperbacks and paperbacks to e-books in the early days. “This calendar year will likely end with a drop in volume of between 20% and 30%, although we are quite confident that 2021 will see a return, if not to normal but at least to the old stadium. Of course, this will depend on whether the physical libraries are restarted. “

For now, however, with fewer print runs, many publishers are relying more on digital printing. “About 25-30% of the titles slated for release between April and December may have moved from offset to digital printing,” Singh said.

CJ Jassawala of Thomson Press said that when it comes to commercial printing, his company has only recorded new orders for commercial books. “All other product categories, from business segments like textbooks and magazines to catalogs and brochures have collapsed.” This, of course, applies to the internal market. Export markets are doing better in all product categories.

“Yet the average circulation has grown from 4,000 copies last year to around 2,000 copies today,” Jassawala said. There are also bigger prints, but I’m talking about the average. His business is supported by book and export orders, but “our web offset machines, which print periodicals and textbooks or high-run print jobs, remain underutilized.”

Do things differently

And yet, there are companies that do things differently. Take Arihant Offset, a 22-year-old unit based in Nazafgarh Road, New Delhi, which has invested in a brand new binding kit. Founder Anil Jain said, “We have focused on government tenders across India, specializing in textbooks. He said Arihant can produce and deliver books anywhere in India from its factory, no matter how many copies it takes, whether it’s a thousand pounds or a million.

Jain was especially proud of a book published for the Department of Agriculture, which he said his company took from concept to delivery in 72 hours. It also delivered 65 million books for a textbook company, within 60 days from the date of the order. And when the Technical University of Punjab wanted six lakh answer sheets in a week, they turned to Arihant.

The Dussera-Diwali festival season is expected to boost the economy. But we don’t know what it is Actually will occur during peak season until December. Some presses have started operating at 60% capacity, but no one knows how things will turn out.

(The author would like to thank the Print week team, especially Ramu Ramanathan and Noel D’Cunha, for their ideas.)

Dibyajyoti Sarma is a Delhi-based journalist.


This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.


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