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A publisher's needs in today's marketplace - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

09 June 2018

Publishers and printers came together to discuss the way forward in a closed-door roundtable discussion titled ‘Anatomy of Bookmaking in India’ on 8 June in New Delhi.

For a full day they confabulated about how to introduce a set of best practices and how to make book manufacturing and distribution more time- and cost-efficient. The discussion ranged from sustainability and safety on the shopfloor; plus how to re-look at management, distribution, print and fulfillment of book orders, and inventory.

The Sunday Column provides a glimpse into the discussions hosted 48 hours ago

attendees

Publishers and printers from across India came together to brainstorm on the course ahead during a closed-door roundtable discussion titled "Anatomy of Bookmaking in India". Organised by Henkel Adhesives Technologies India, Impel (Welbound), and PrintWeek India, the event took place at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on 8 June. The event was coordinated by Subhasis Ganguly, an independent publishing consultant.

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S Sunil Kumar of Henkel, Sanjiv Gupta of Penguin Random House India, Ananth Padmanabhan of HarperCollins India

The takeaway from the discussions, which revolved around the challenges of book printing in India, was that of a positive outlook. As Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO, HarperCollins India explained, books are agnostic to economic and cultural changes. He gave the example of Raghuram Rajan’s book which went on to become a bestseller. Again, contrary to the popular belief, he asserted that reading habit is not on the decline. Publishers are doing well, he insisted, adding that there are opportunities to do better.

Padmanabhan said the country now has the infrastructure and the wherewithal to print good looking quality books. At the same time, he argued that the stakeholders should not get complacent about what they have achieved and should work towards building a foolproof system, which is future-ready.

He said the industry is yet to tap the advantages of technology in their supply chain to make the entire process smoother and faster. He also expressed concerns about turnaround time, especially during reprints, the unchecked piracy and the publishers’ inability to increase the cover price of books.

Sanjiv Gupta, COO, Penguin Random House India, echoed that since books are considered non-essential items, the market is highly cost-sensitive. This is one of the reasons for the proliferation of piracy. He also argued that reading habits, which were taken over by the electronic media, is set to return as there has been an increased focus on inculcating reading habit among schoolchildren. This will increase the readership for books.

Both Padmanabhan and Gupta spoke during the second half of the event, where they answered questions related to the business outlook of the industry.

The event started with S Sunil Kumar, business director – industrial adhesives, Henkel Adhesives Technologies India sharing the story about Henkel and Henkel's industry initiatives globally. This was followed by a presentation, where Munish Agarwal, MD, Edelman Group India, spoke about the processes he has implemented in the company, primarily, CAPA (corrective actions preventive actions methodology).

The roundtable then invited attendant printers and publishers to share their experience on a host of issues, including recyclability and how to leverage paper; safety at the workplace; saying no to the use of single-use plastic; minimising waste during production and quality standards, among others.

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Ajay Joshi (holding the mic in the pic above) of Penguin Random House said the company had become the first trade publisher in India to move to FSC paper entirely. He also added that the company has now taken the initiative to recycle the excess unsold inventory to make stationery products for internal use.

On the issue of avoiding single-use plastic, the publishers were of different opinion. Some agreed that it’s possible to forego lamination and opt for UV instead. They also urged printers to suggest a suitable paper for cover where lamination is not necessary. On the other hand, publishers of education books argued that lamination on a cover is important for their books as they are thicker.

On the usage of shrink film for the pack, Hachette does not deploy individual shrink wrap whereas Penguin does. And both publishing majors get their books multiple copy shrink-wrapped. All the members at the roundtable agreed that it is required to have a re-look at the packing specifications, especially monsoon-packaging.

On the publisher-printer partnership, Chander Shekhar of XSEED, an education publisher, explained how the company chose print partners across different geographies, closer to the company warehouse, to avoid logistics delays. He added that the ideal situation would be the one where the printers directly supply the books to the schools.

On wastage of paper, two important points came to the fore. One, as mills supply paper in roll form, the paper stock in the core is often wasted. Again, the system of paper handling remains primitive where hooks are used to unload the rolls. This adds to the waste.

Two, both the printers and the publishers agreed that often there is no consistency in the same category of paper supplied by the same mill. This invariably affects quality.

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On ensuring quality, MN Pandey of Avantika highlighted the use of software and production maintenance. He also urged the stakeholders not to worry about cost control and instead focus on wastage control.

During the event, Ramu Ramanathan made a presentation on some leading book printers, including Lovely, Inndus, Kadam Digital, Pragati and Repro, to illustrate their endeavour towards saving cost and resources.

The full-day roundtable conversation concluded with a commitment by printers-publishers to help control, monetise, and secure their content while boosting revenues. Almost everyone agreed that "Publishing is going through a big change. A couple of years ago it was  - print is dying or not relevant anymore, and we need to move everything to an eBook or online course material. However, that’s not what the market wants, especially in India."

Book print is growing again, and publishers who were present sought a seamless system to keep print relevant but help them change how they print, what they print and where they print. Some things like best practices on sustainability, safety, and standardisation, the 3S, plus IPR can be easily implemented through mutual discussion.

Subhasis Ganguly said: "Publishers want tools to help them better monetise their content, which is technically their product. They want to be able to get more value out of that content and secure the content, and then they want to find ways to innovate that content, bridging between both print and digital."

Padmanabhan of HarperCollins India said it would be a boon to standardise the creation of a book. "One of the biggest hurdles is the creation of every single book that looks similar - from paper to format to grain direction. We need a system to make the process repeatable and easier."

Everyone agreed that the forum should be re-convened, soon, since this is the best way to offer solutions which can have a direct impact on the bottom line, improve profitability and efficiency.

What we need is a concerted effort to maintain the momentum so that in time we can arrive upon a set of best practices guidelines which are acceptable to all stakeholders, from publishers to paper manufacturers to printers. In time, the scope can be widened to include others, such as distributors and sellers, both physical and online, and even the literature festivals, big and small.

Perhaps the book print and publishing industry can borrow a leaf from other segments and lobby aggressively for its collective welfare. 

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