It’s time for printers to match their steps with print buyers

Print will survive, but competition will grow. Rajnish Shirsat, CEO of Mumbai’s R&S Enterprises, chalks out an invaluable ‘to do’ list for Indian book printers on their way to capture the market.

14 Oct 2015 | By Rajnish Shirsat

Our belief that printing companies in India need to evolve has been re-enforced.
Even today, readers prefer print to electronic media when reading books, news, magazine content, complicated information and bills. While on-screen reading occupies an increasing amount of consumer time, people’s preferences are still for a physical reading experience. They believe this to be a ‘safe’ medium which is more informative, less distracting and less harmful to their health.
And so, in a way, the debate whether print will survive or rather impact of digital is put to rest.
Under our print consulting arm at R&S Enterprises, we have successfully groomed enterprising print companies to not only get a direction and right business focus but most importantly, to course-correct and export with the right perspective. 
The following are some key points every printing company needs to know.
  • Research and market study. A thorough PEST analysis works wonders. With easy access to information electronically, an insight into the political, economical, social and technological side helps tremendously. Traditionally, India has been exporting to the US, the UK, European Union countries and Africa, but I believe there are other pockets around the world where Indian book print firms can export. The PEST analysis is a must for this. Understanding the volatility in foreign exchange, government regulations within the country for imports, access to the paper, trade barriers, etc are equally important.
  • Work to your strengths. Learn to say NO. When I see fantastic books, quality stands out. Some of the printers we work with give us fantastic results. This comes from them being proud of what they do. In fact, publishers are to be blamed for price reduction. I have never once asked a printer to lower his prices. We may not accept the first price, but that does not mean we pitch a printer against another and ask him to beat the current prices we pay. Once this happens, it is a race to the bottom of the dungheap.
  • Have a process-oriented flow from estimation to delivery. This means no compromise, no surprises and no breaking the rules. The thumb rule for a publisher in India or overseas is finding a really good supplier that delivers every month and has a high level of attention to detail on printing and binding.
  • Focus on throughput (the rate at which something can be produced) and not just the output. It’s a challenging market environment. Deadlines are important. If a customer says ‘we need something’, you’ve got to burn the midnight oil and make it happen.
  • Quality should be followed in all aspects. This  reflects in business retention, repeat business, the SOPs set, right up to the last mile of reaching the customer’s doorstep, particularly in case of exports where consignments are exposed to strikes at ports, infrastructural and transport challenges, etc. Remember: A book has permanence. Gandhi’s autobiography The Story of My Experiments With Truth in a library shelf tells you everything you need to know about it. It’s a perfect manifesto for print. But it has to be produced superbly.
  • And finally, customer service is a key differentiator in terms of prompt communication, responses and ensuring that no stone is unturned to satisfy your customer. Remember: The print buyer has changed. It’s a challenge to understand and communicate the reduction in supply chain. Print buyers are used to booking things at the last minute and changing paginations. None of the personnel in sales are old enough to remember the times when you had to book things in advance! Are you ready for this change? The crux to good business is client services. If you get looked after properly, you feel well managed, and the print buyer knows the printers will go an extra mile whenever they can. This wins a lot of brownie points.
  • Certifications are important if an Indian printer wants to progress in the international book markets. Some of these are ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001, Disney, FSC, PEFC and ISO 27001. This way one can cope and optimise the customer’s data. Fundamentally, a good ERP and workflow in production is a starting point. At R&S Enterprises, after the initial diagnostic study, we have groomed its panel of printers to progress this way.
The print management services at R&S Enterprises have benefited print buyers from India and abroad in terms of outsourcing their book printing requirements. We anchor publishers who have appointed us on the contractual basis. We help the printers on our panel in their job, from sourcing the correct material, to passing stringent quality tests and conducting social audits, such as SA8000, Disney, etc.
Today, a lot of third parties in Europe or Africa are procuring from India. Under such circumstances, it’s hard to get quality service from suppliers because of prices being pushed down. If you’re not dealing with a trained print buyer, you may need direct access to marketing. Today, many publishers prefer to print in India. But you need to know the rules and by-laws, and above all, the importance of time and key deliverables required in the international markets, which R&S Enterprises has mastered over two decades of experience.
The above methods have brought us close to myriad types of printing firms. It has enabled us get the opportunity to assess the available talent and bridge the gap. Our talent acquisition arm extends to print, publishing, media and related companies.  Our goal is to groom talent at zero level. Currently, we are in talks with printing colleges and institutes so that we can train students to take on the world of print.
I believe print is a fantastic industry. It is our mission to keep print alive and kicking, since there’s a lot of marketing pressure for everything to be online. The pace of change keeps accelerating and with smaller teams, every book print firm has to do more.