3,415 book titles for 140 publishers in 2013

PrintWeek India visited Replika, the three-time winner of the Post-Press Company of the Year. Bhuvnesh Seth, managing director of Replika, spoke to Ramu Ramanathan a day after his 60th birthday, about the future of the book industry and the future plans for the Kundli-based factory.

12 Dec 2013 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): A hat trick of PrintWeek India Post Press Company of the Year Award. Are you content? 
Bhuvnesh Seth (BS): We were confident of winning the award for the said category. This is because  we are equipped with the latest, youngest and best online system for all kinds of binding, be it soft cover, case maker, hard cover, casing in line or jacketing.  

Team Replika collecting their 2013 PrintWeek India Post-Press Company of the Year Award
RR: Some of the biggest publishers say that Replika is a formidable book factory. Neil Bradford of Random House has rated you as the best in the book business. What is the reason for such accolades from top publishers?
BS: We supply books which are on par with the international standards and our quality control is not compromised. Our exports percentage to developed countries like UK, USA , Germany are much higher. We have a strong presence in these countries. Now over a period of more than two decades we have built a reputation among esteemed international publishers. 
RR: The perception about an Indian book print firm is not good. Please share three things which you have done that has impressed the international client.
BS: First you have to honour your word. This contract has to be sacrosanct. Besides you have to be prompt to communicate, more so, if there is some delay. There should be no room for ambiguity on this score. These are the basic reasons. Needless to state, quality and volume play a part. We are successful in meeting these requirements since we have all our operations under one roof. In UK most of the publishers are aware about Replika’s body of work. 
RR: How long has it taken you to create the Replika brand?
BS: We started our Export Oriented Unit (EOU) in Narela in 1998 with a small facility. Since the beginning, we were printing books for the Indian representatives of international publishers. Iain McWilliam of Hodder Arnold visited us to approve their print material in June 1998. This was under the EOU scheme that provided facility to  overseas publishers to have part supply in India without selling copyrights, which boosted exports from India. In September, he allocated us print jobs of around 40 titles with split deliveries to India and UK. Eventually it became Hodder Education, a division of Hachette Group with Alyssum Ross as operational director. This was our largest ever account in 2011. In 2012, the Hodder Education medical list was sold to Taylor & Francis. This resulted a sharp decline in our business. In exports, it is important to overcome upheavals in order to meet targets and increase business.

RR: How has exports panned out for you over the years?
BS: From 1998 to 2002 we had an even growth. During this time, a majority of international publishers asked for supplies in India under the EOU scheme. Our real export growth picked up between 2004 to 2006. We printed 682 titles  in 2005 for Blackwell Publishing (Oxford) alone for exports to UK. This translates into three titles a day. 
RR:  How long does it take a firm to develop a book client? 
BS: International publishers plan well in advance and it takes almost one and a half year for things to click. 
RR: Why did you shift from Narela to Kundli?
BS: When we started our EOU in Narela, we had two different locations for printing and binding with a few processes being outsourced. John Strange, group production director, Blackwell Publishing visited us for a factory tour. That was the time I realised it will be beneficial to have all operations under one roof, and less outsourcing to get more business. 
RR: To rewind a bit. You are four brothers – Bhuvnesh, Ramesh, Lalit and Vinod Seth. All four are in the same business. Describe the early days.
BS: From my college days, I had a mindset about doing business. I was not prepared to listen to the advice of joining government services from my uncle, Jagdish Seth. I wanted to join my family printing business at Rajkamal Electric Press, which my father, the  late Shori Lal Seth had started after India’s partition in 1947. Rajkamal was equipped with two small chandlers and two old cylinder machines. I was of the opinion that we must replace these old cylinders with one or two present-generation automatic machines. This required finance and my father was reluctant as he had never availed of a loan. It took time to convince him. In the meantime, my brothers Ramesh, Lalit and Vinod joined. All of us  contributed to the maximum in different departments. 
RR: When did you join Rajkamal, your father’s business?
BS: I joined Rajkamal Electric Press in 1977 and my father purchased a secondhand automatic letterpress, Manugraph’s OM 2, from his friend’s press in Solan. It made me more comfortable, with reasonably presentable infrastructure, to request my college friend, Mahendra Singh Sejwal, who was in the production department at Tata McGraw Hill, to allocate our first job, Nomenclature of Organic Chemistry by RK Bansal. Rajiv Beri, who was its editor (presently managing director of Bloomsbury) and Mohinder Singh Phogat, were so impressed with our quality that we became – and have remained – their number one printer for two decades.  Later, I befriended Manas Saikia, the managing director of Cambidge University Press, who became my great adviser and encouraged me to start exports.
RR: When did Replika come into being?
BS: With the growth of the family business, working space became a big hurdle. So my father decided – wisely – to equally split the existing facility between the combination of Bhuvnesh and Ramesh on one hand; and Lalit and Vinod Seth on the other. This meant Ramesh and I moved to Replika Press in Narela; while  Lalit and Vinod retained Rajkamal Electric Press. Today Ramesh, due to the growth in family, has started Sanat Printers We have excellent business co-operation, and at times produce work for the same client thanks to excellent infrastructure in Kundli.
RR: How did you arrive at the name, Replika with a “k”?
BS: Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press, whom I rate as the best editor, is a close friend of mine. I  sought his consultation. The name ‘Replika ‘is his brain-child.
RR: So you think, your father’s decision was the good one?
BS: Yes. He was a visionary and always took sane decisions. I remember him going to Chawri Baazar to procure three reams of paper on his bicycle. He was a very hard worker.
RR: When you shifted to Kundli, what was the aim? 
BS: We shifted to Kundli in 2000 with the aim to have printing and binding under one roof and also to minimise outsourcing. With God’s grace we had fully utilised our first plot (310). Then in 2002, we purchased the adjacent plot (311) and thus making it total integrated area of 66,000 sq/ft. We acquired similar plots (444-445) across the road in 2008. 
RR: Why did you decide to expand post-press operations?
BS: In my early years of exhibiting at Frankfurt Book Fair and London Book Fair, I realised the vacuum of hardbound books at our stall. Moreover the finishing of books printed overseas on modern online binding machines was much better. Therefore we invested heavily in post-press.
RR: When you decided to export, was it based on a strategic blueprint or client feedback?
BS: In the beginning, I used to read galley proofs from my hand typesetting unit. The proofs submitted to textbook publishers were almost error-free. I desired to explore the opportunities of typesetting books for overseas publishers. I could not make it happen and missed a golden opportunity when typesetting was at its peak. I regret not making most of that opportunity. 
RR: What is the focus, now?
BS: Our focus is on export. And in the year 2012-13, it was 73% of our total production.

RR: Currency fluctuation is a burning issue. Who benefits? The printer or the publisher?
BS: Currency fluctuation is a very serious issue with the falling of the rupee vis-à-vis foreign currencies. We have to absorb all increases due to enhanced prices of raw material, like inks, binding material etc. International publishers do consider and give weightage to international paper prices. Indian paper mills, on the other hand, have increased their prices four to five times resulting in an overall 15–20% increase, which on conversion to foreign currency is much higher than the international price. 
RR: Publishers are seeking shorter runs ...  
BS:  Yes, international publishers are asking to print short runs, which are not viable. Plus it is time consuming for conventional printing. Mainly to cater to this requirement and ensure quicker turnaround time, we have ventured into digital printing. This completes our printing facility.
RR: Today, how many titles are you doing per annum and how many publishers are on your roster?
BS: In the calendar year 2013 up until November end we have printed 3,415 titles for 140 reputed publishers. The contribution from 40 publishers is substantial and eight contribute to the maximum of the said list of clients, which keeps on changing. We specialise in short-run mono, four- colour, soft cover to hard cover with an average print run of 2200–2500. There is steady growth in our turnover.  
RR: Major book publishers follow best practices. They say, we can educate Indian book printers. You have visited national and international book printing plants. According to you what is the standard of the Indian book print firm?
BS: We are unable to make India a printing hub in spite of the largest English speaking population, due to lack of government support. This is when compared to our competitors, mainly China, where printers have access to raw material, logistics etc. We are not competitive when it comes to print runs of 5,000+ and they are not interested in short-run. As a result, our volume of business does not increase. 
RR: What else can be done to increase our global share? 
BS: At trade fairs, we have noted Chinese printers support each other. It is the opposite when it comes to Indian printers. We have to support each other instead of competing.
RR: Is that possible?
BS: The Book City was a good move initiated by Welbound and PrintWeek India. It set the tone  for Indian book export printers to develop a common forum. But the discussions and conversations indicated that a collective forum is difficult because of a good number of issues.
RR: Recently, we were having a discussion with your client and he said that the one good thing about Replika venturing into digital print is, their costing model has become professional. The customer added, now we expect a similar costing model for offset systems. Your view?
BS: In digital printing, the cost of production and delivery times are reduced and suited for short runs up to 200 as compared to conventional printing. In higher runs, digital printing is not viable as at present we are the fourth pocket to make money after paying click charges, interest to bankers and wages to staff.
RR: But you seem to be bolstering your digital facility.
BS: Yes, to deliver volume ultimate solution is inkjet continuous web. To start with, we wish to go for mono-colour and at present we are looking for the appropriate infrastructure from print to bound stock to meet our requirements. 
RR: Inkjet v/s toner? Your view.
BS: There is a substantial difference in cost between inkjet web digital printing with high-end and with complete online post-press solutions as compared to  semi-automatic partly offline post-press solutions. This is because a publisher’s interest is on quality and maintaining low costs.
RR: Will there be re-strategising within Replika or you will target healthy margins?
BS: Book printing is a competitive high risk business since, most of the time, we have to deliver goods to publisher’s warehouse without any advance payment and rarely on letter of credit. At times, because of a delay in logistics, we have to compensate clients for airfreight consignment partly or offer discount for non-fulfilment of commitment. While our competitors in China are well-supported by the government with incentives and even cover risk of currency fluctuation.
RR: You are a key member of the All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP). Was this request made by the AIFMP to the government? 
BS: We should request government for more incentives, improvement in logistics and consideration of import duty on paper for a level playing field. 
RR: In terms of marketing the book image, how much do you highlight safety, health and waste?
BS: We are an ISO 9001:2008 and 14001: 2004, BSCI, FSC accredited compliant company. 
RR: What about waste management?
BS: We have set up ETP effluent plant for treatment of waste water, and have a contact with companies to recycle the waste material. 
RR: You have created a plant with 1,80,000 sq/ft space per floor. This is in addition to your three existing plants in Kundli. What is the plan? Does this mean a massive foray into packaging?
BS:  At present, the  printing and binding are at two separate locations across the road. It is difficult to coordinate. We feel, it  will be cost saving to shift both under one roof. This will also give us more space to expand. Moreover, we are only into book printing and will prefer to diversify to packaging, label printing, etc. 
RR: Are you seeking inorganic growth or even the acquisition of niche independent publisher?
BS: At present in the printing book business, we have grown from a very tiny unit and do not feel any outside support in investment. Yes, but definitely for our future plans, an  acquisition is welcome. 
RR: You have invested 40 years in the industry. The next generation of Replika is handling the show. What is your advice for them?
BS: Our family’s next generation is very promising and sincere. My advice to them is not to work under pressure, to be transparent in dealings, and above all follow the path laid by our founding father late Shri Shori Lal Seth.
RR:  And finally, what is the future of books?
BS:  Books  will last forever. India and Africa are growing markets and will remain so for at least two decades.

  Sanandan Seth

RR: You were at Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF). What is your feedback about the show?
SS: Slowing down of global economy had an effect on the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013. It has become more business oriented as compared to earlier versions of the fair. FBF is certainly the biggest book fair of the world. We come across publishers from the world-over at one place.  
RR: What do you use FBF for? To tap new ventures, garner new clients? Does this happen?
SS: It’s a place of learning, new developments in publishing. We come across new clients and it provides a good opportunity to meet our existing clients at one place. Opportunities are there but lesser as compared to earlier editions of the FBF.  
RR: What is the definition of a printer in today’s times? Does a printer need to do more activities over and above traditional ink, paper and printing?
SS:  Today, customers want more ease of operations as compared to earlier.  Besides delivery of consignment to warehouse, publishers are more interested in content management, warehousing and distribution.
RR: What about eBooks, HTML tagging and so on? Will that be a space for Replika?
SS: Today publishers are asking for complete content management from manuscript to final PDF file to print. We do have a reasonable typesetting unit and submit error-free proofs for approval.  
RR: Most of printers are looking up to Latin America and Africa. 
SS: Print runs are decreasing because of increase in ebooks and digital printing in European countries. Digital printing cost in Europe is at par or cheaper as compared to print in India. Publishers are going to print less and also warehousing cost will be less. Exports are likely to be affected and we have to work hard to maintain the current level.
RR: Replika’s domain has been Europe. Will you see a shift? 
SS: Europe is a big market catering to all over the world, and to expand we will definitely look into African and South American market where quantities are large though at competitive price. Replika is catering to short print run overseas market, which has a good future. 
(The interview was conducted at the Replika plant in Kundli. Photographs and interview supervision by Rahul Kumar)