It's all about pursuing radical business ideas

By 23 Aug 2019

Ramu Ramanathan, editor at PrintWeek India talks about the culture of print businesses.

Ten years ago, it was very different from what it is now. It is important for all of us to ask the question – "How do you see print and packaging engage with the new generation of print?"

Predicting the future is hazardous. 11 years ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2008, they invited an expert. He was a futurologist. This expert said four things will alter the humanity in the next 15 years.

First, oil at USD 500 a barrel.

Second, water like oil would be a commodity, and like the LME and SME, there will be a NY Water Exchange and Mumbai Water Exchange.

Third, the inevitability of Africa becoming an economic world power. Something I would like to see. Not to see that continent and its people as a resource for football and lithium.

And fourth, according to this professional prophet, our blue planet shall witness the disappearance of the printed book!

Well, eleven years later, one thing is clear.

The expert was not right and we must – as a rule – distrust experts who claim they can predict the future, accurately.

The expert at Davos got all four predictions wrong. But, as editor of a print magazine, I am concerned with his fourth prediction.

50% of the 7.7-billion citizens on Earth believe that the printed book is extinct. The printed book has got a bad name in our industry.

The book is like a spoon or scissors or hammer or shoe laces or a wheel! Once invented, it cannot be improved! Yes, minor modifications and tweaks (for example, reducing paper wastage from
offbeat sizes) are possible. But, in the larger scheme of things, the book is the best.

More importantly, we, the print industry, have to counter these naysayers.

The past 24 months have been steady. Not just steady, top publishers have had 20% growth with printed books. Books like, The Art of Thinking Clearly and a Man Called Ove have topped 2,00,000 copies and 1,00,000 copies respectively. These are successes from scratch plus no tailwind from the West, and no controversy, no celebrity.

My point is: all of you are starting out into the brave new world. Ensure the messaging (external and internal) is positive. It cannot be defensive or apologetic. Be it about print, about digital print, about packaging, about green, about smooth workflow, about women in print.

This is not easy. All the experts say: Listen to the market!

And the non experts ask: What is the market?

In my view, in our industry, the market is equated with trade feedback. Today, one can rely on the ‘market’ for a lot of information and some knowledge, but it can’t be banked upon for insight. In trade publishing particularly, we need to go with one’s own hunches and insight. India is unique among publishing markets, in that 99% of those calling the shots in the book publishing business are not readers.

The age of print can be divided into three parts.

There is the controlled management era, which is top down, where quality is controlled with mass production in mind.

Next is the era of continuous and incremental improvement, where the individual – the customer and worker – is the focal point. The approach is bottom up – the Japanese style – where workers get involved. The goal is to satisfy the current customers and achieve defect reduction. The improvements are based on internal information.

But the Internet and globalisation of economies have ushered in the breakthrough management era. If a company has to grow at an accelerated speed, it has to pursue radical business ideas that may even include changing the line of business or transforming it to become more innovative and powerful. The idea is to create a consumer segment where it didn't exist earlier. As product life cycles are getting shorter and competition is increasing, Indian companies need a new direction – so breakthrough management is important.

In a globalised business environment, one has to think radically and be willing to take risks.

(Excerpts from a speech, which was delivered at DIGC's Annual Convocation programme at MIG Club on 10 July 2019)




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