Ramu Ramanathan (RR): At the Asian Print Awards, you bagged six titles this year. Plus the 26 metals at the KMPA awards. What is Anaswara’s win record?
O Venugopal (OV): It’s our twelfth year at the Asian Print Awards. We got the first Asian Print award in 2004. We were glad that our work was at par with the international standards. These awards help us understand where a print firm in Kerala stands as compared to the rest of the world.
In 1994 we received our first national award at an exhibition in Cochin. From then on we decided to participate each year and have also been winning every year. The record of winning awards, thus, goes back to 65 years.
RR: Against the herd mentality, you have invested heavily in softwares like GMG and the DMI tool. In a way, you were the first one in South India to implement the entire project...
OV: I first met the GMG team a few years ago at a Kerala Master Printer Association seminar. But GMG was implemented at Anaswara only after my son, Anoop, took over as the technical manager. With a BE degree in printing technology he insisted on the standardisation processes and investments. This has now become a referral point for a lot of other printers.
RR: There are two schools of thought; one, who think that these workflows make a huge difference and others, that this is market hype. What is your take?
OV: We have benefitted from this investment. The quality has improved, we have attained press standardisation across the production floor. Most importantly, we are able to handle files and people better. Today, it is difficult to imagine production without this software.
Location: 20,000 sq/ft unit in Ernakulam
Turnover: Rs 18 crore
RR: What are the changes that have transpired at Anaswara in the past one year?
OV: At Anaswara, we are taking one step at a time. As of today, we are trying to strengthen our pre-press and post-press operations through small investments. The other key development is, we are seeking to shift of our operations outside the current premise - where we are seated. As you can see, there are land constraints within the city. But this will take some time.
RR: Are you looking at catering to a particular segment at the new unit?
OV: Initially, the new project will be a commercial print unit but we are planning to foray into mono carton packaging. As you see we have taken baby steps in this direction with a few short run exports orders. Our main aim will be to combine club printing with value added products.
RR: What are Anaswara’s growth projections?
OV: We have managed a growth rate of 15-20 % minimum. We plan to grow further by adding new machines to boost the capacity.
RR: Sir, you are the angry young man of the print industry. Can you clear the air about KMPA’s relation with the All India Federation of Master Printers?
OV: I have been with the AIFMP for the last many years as a member. I feel that this is a privilege not only for me but also for the Kerala printing industry. If I am taking a stand, it’s for the industry and not in an individual capacity. Being a part of the industry I feel it is my moral obligation to do something for the betterment of the industry. I organised the print awards to change the outlook of the Kerela print industry. The printers in Kerala produce great print jobs as you saw during the print awards ceremony. But these printers are hesitant to showcase it.
RR: How would you rate the AIFMP's performance as compared to Indian Newspaper Society, Label Manufacturers Association of India, etc?
OV: My personal opinion is some persons in the AIFMP don’t have a process. They occupy positions of power for their personal agenda. But now the scenario is changing. Last year, AMSG Ashokan has taken a lot of good initiatives. He is a big player from Sivakasi and he had no fear about doing the right things. Also, with Anand Limaye stepping in, I am hopeful the AIFMP will do something for the betterment of our industry.
RR: You have been an integral part of the organising committee for the awards in Kerala. What went behind the introduction of a new process?
OV: The KMPA awards were conceptualised during one of the weekly association meeting. The primary motive to introduce the awards has been to uplift the Kerala print industry. You have travelled around the state in the past few days. You can see that Kerala is at the cusp of growth with sizeable investments in the new and latest technology and the quality of work produced.
RR: How well was the initiative accepted by the printers?
OV: The Kerala industry is very insulated. Getting entries was a herculean task. People were reluctant to participate and showcase their products. We sent out brochures to every printer from Cannanore to Trivandrum. Around 30-40 printers came forward to send their entries and we got 260 entries.
RR: That's a very healthy number. What were the categories?
OV: We divided the categories under three groups; mini offset for the small-sized printers, digital printing, and offset printing. We decided to split it in three groups according to the size (number of units); small (one to three units), medium (4-10 units) and big (11 units and above).
RR: What were the key trends according to you?
OV: In Cochin alone, you have 104 colour printing units. Anaswara has three printing units. Everyone has one or two press; and at times a four-colour machine. of this, the four-colour machines are producing very good print jobs as compared to other states of India. The message from the awards is, the industry has to be up-to-date in order to do something better than the competitors.
RR: Yes, but there have been many changes in the last decade...
OV: Ten years ago, there was nothing in Kerela. There was a rare single colour machine or something. After that a four-colour press was installed. On cue, the market perception changed and the volume of work changed and dynamics changed. Even the outflow of work from Kerala to other states reduced. The challenge for print firms is, even today 50% of work is going outside of Kerala. To impress print buyers and agencies we have to do create something extraordinary. Otherwise it will be difficult.
RR: Of the 175 HP Indigo units in India, 25 are installed in Kerala. This indicates a digital boom in the state, especially in the photo printing segment. What is your analysis?
OV: One of the main reason is, in Kerala we want everything to be printed; from an invite to a small get-together to marriages and cremation. A lot of work has shifted to the digital market. The second factor is the standard of living and the spending capacity of the people here. There is no rural class in Kerala. Even when you travel through Kerala on the roads you realise it's almost one large urban mass with high literacy rates.
RR: How severe is the labour issue in the state?
AV: In Kerala, there are only two to three institutes that provide funding, one for diploma and the other in B Tech. The students from these institutes gather experience for a year or two and then exit to the Middle east for lucrative salaries. Two years ago, 62% personnel quit. However, last year it reduced to 10-15% exit.
RR: In your speech in Malayalam at the KMPA Awards, you referred to Pragati as an exemplar of quality; and a print firm whom the other printers should take a cue from. What is the advice you have for printing firms in Kerela to reach the level of Pragati and achieve that scale or size?
OV: One, be consistent and passionate about your work. Two, although it’s a business, it’s ultimately a service-oriented industry and the aim should always be to deliver much more than a mere printed product. Third, be open and exchange ideas thus improving quality. And finally, educate the client about the innovations in print.
RR: A lot seems to be happening in Kerala. You have fabulous newspaper plants like Malayala Manorama and Matrubhumi; plus manufacturers like Redlands, Welbound and GMG are operating out of the state. Is there a possibility that many more manufacturers will come to Kerala to using the skill of education, knowledge, IT skills?
OV: It is possible. The industry is changing and IT is an integral part of every industry. Today everything is integrated with computers. But the attitude of the Kerala-ites need to change to accept and grab on these new opportunities.
Read more about Kerala print industry here...
A PRINTER WHO LOVES TO READ
I read Malyalam literature and weeklies. I read a lot of articles in Matrubhumi. Most of the columnists at Matrubhumi are authors and I know most of them. I am familiar with lot of Bengali novels.
We produce a lot of the books by Basheer and MT Vasudevan Nair. Also, I am very familiar with O V Vijayan’s works.
There are library services in Kerala. Plus a co-operative reading movement.
The Kerala State Institute of Children's Literature, with its publications, has tried to create reading materials, which, through their colourful illustrations, aim to develop the visual sensibility in children and instill interest in books and reading.