“Flawlessness is the big challenge,” says RD Bhatnagar

On the eve of the Wan-Ifra show in Bengaluru, RD Bhatnagar, chief technology officer, at DB Corp discusses newspaper trends and explores the next big thing with Rahul Kumar

08 Sep 2013 | By Rahul Kumar

Today, DB Corp is one of the largest media companies and listed entity on BSE and NSE with four major newspaper titles in four different languages, namely, Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi), Divya Bhaskar (Gujarati), Divya Marathi (Marathi) and DNA (English). The company also owns 17 FM Radio stations and I Media Corp, which is the digital arm of Dainik Bhaskar.
Rahul Kumar (RK): What are the new developments in Indian newspapers’ industry on the technical front? How much does the format of the newspaper (broadsheet, Berliner or midi and tabloid) affect the printing process?
R D Bhatnagar (RD): All major newspapers already have one product or another in different formats like tabloid, Berliner or quarto. Broadsheet by far is the preferred choice. Size difference does certainly affect various settings on the press like the ink duct length, inking and dampening roller lengths, former centre etc. Less width of the web demands more number of printing units to compensate for the loss of advertising space.
RK: What are the differences between a foreign and Indian made web offset printing presses? Do Indian printing press manufacturers meet your demands?
RD: The level of automation and precision separates Indian presses with imported ones. Most of the foreign manufactured presses in India (in newspaper industry) are double-width and have speeds exceeding 70,000 copies per hour.  Our tier 2 markets are highly fragmented hence does not offer potential of ‘print and distribute’ and rather is suitable for ‘distribute and print’ business model. Any regional press does not print beyond 1.5 lakh copies at a single location. Our major requirement is thus fulfilled by the single-width presses which are of reasonably good quality that satisfies the aspirations of the retail advertisers.
RK: You have a solid understanding of printing because of your educational expertise, what were the various initiatives that you have implemented in DB Corp over the years?
RD: I can boast of introducing many firsts in Dainik Bhaskar. We were the first to introduce four-colour printing and internet connection in an Indian language newspaper, trained the first batch of journalists on computers in Hindi, and introduced the first ever content management system for regional languages. We have printed 4+4 using just three Y units instead of four at Vadodara, and printed special colour (gold and silver) on Manugraph’s Newsline machine at Jaipur. The Jaipur edition of 5 November, 2010 was printed in 3D which won the first prize at Emvies, and we also printed the entire Bhaskar edition 42 lakh copies with fragrance of Gulal on 20 March, 2011
RK: You have also master-minded many installations ...
RD: I spear-headed the fastest ever press installation at DNA. Six press lines including the unique configuration of seven towers with OH dryer (first ever installation in India) was completed in just 65 days.  Other achievements include, the first ever installation of a third balloon former in India, printing eight-colour job using two towers, spot varnish on standard newsprint on web offset, developing 3D printing technique on SNP for newspapers, printing the first newspaper with fragrance using static dispersion technique, commissioning the first set of double-width KBA presses at Bengaluru, Jaipur and Ahmedabad, introducing gate fold concept in the country for the first time on KBA Bengaluru. 
RK: One of the German manufacturers once said, “India is a primary market for the 4x1 printing presses.” Your take on this and why will printers shift from 2x1 to 4x1 format printing press?
RD: Around 2007, this was the predicted course of action, but it seems to have now dimmed with the realisation that there is no room for any further exponential growth in tier 1 markets; and the tier-2 and tier-3 markets are so highly fragmented that only the single-width machines capable of printing about 1.25 lakh copies in a window of four hours would justify ROI. 
RK: The revenue of newspapers and publishers saw a considerable fall in advertising revenue as well. Is the market picking up and will it sustain?
RD: Past two years have been bad. This year there is hope that the markets should pick up especially with the elections around the corner. Considerable improvements in the telephone and internet networks now provide the right opportunity for digital convergence. Print will continue to lead in revenues but would get traction from its online audience base.
RK: Is there any threat to the newspapers from the new medium of information, especially in India? 
RD: DB Corp realised the threat much earlier and therefore consolidated our digital presence via bhaskar.com, which is now one of the largest news websites in India. We have a well-crafted digital strategy to be the leaders in that domain as well. However, we think that print will still be the preferred medium for the advertisers in our markets, as language fonts will remain a barrier for the next few years.
RK: Being the second largest populated and 105 ranked (in 2007) literate country, what are the plans in place to capture this huge opportunity?  
RD: We are the only newspaper with four languages operating in 13 states, and our time is now since India Inc has started recognising tier-2 or the language markets.
RK: Cut-off sizes have been discussed to death, yet no conclusive answers. What is the ideal cut-off for web offset printing presses according to you? 
RD: Well the cut-off is mainly determined by savings in the newsprint cost, it might bring. We have not only shortened the width of the newspaper from 32 to 27inch but have also reduced the length of the newspaper from 546 to 533mm. Shifting to a new cut-off is not easy as the investment on the existing machines is huge. The industry will continue to experiment with various form factors just like what the mobile manufacturers have been experimenting. Nonetheless, broadsheet continues to be the most popular until now. 
RK: What are various modifications on the production shopfloor, which is modifying the way in which business is being conducted?
RD: We are proud to be a part of a progressive organisation that adopts modernisation as it comes. We have installed many inking systems, closed loop registration and cut-off systems. We will now be buying spray dampening for all our presses. We have replaced our conventional plate making systems with CTPs; this in addition to a full-fledged integration of our workflows with the PP module of SAP. Our production and IT use dashboards for decision-making.
RK: With the attention on environment gaining acceptance in the industry, recycled newsprint is being touted as panache. Your view?
RD: There are huge qualitative issues with recycled newspaper. The fluff release is comparatively more, which takes away the shine of the printed ink, shortens blanket’s life, and mandates blanket cleaning after every 50,000 impressions. This means the press has to be stopped for a scheduled blanket cleaning. This lowers productivity. Also, recycled newsprint consumes more ink.
RK: For flawless production and satisfaction of the newspaper industry, what are the precautions to be taken by an ink, paper and printing presses manufacturers?
RD: Considering the current state of newsprint availability flawlessness is a big challenge. Tier 2 newspapers whose entire economics is dependent on newsprint prices can seldom choose to print on the best substrate. Hence, it is the ink manufacturer who will have to work hand in glove with the newsprint manufacturers to frequently change their recipes. Printing press manufacturers will have to add more automation and precision but within the same cost bracket.  
RK: What is the ideal speed of printing press for Indian market?
RD: 80,000 cph for the A class units printing more than three lakh copies, 50,000 cph for the B class printing about 1.50 - 2.00 lakh cph, and 36,000 for below one lakh copies should be the ideal. 
RK: As press speeds go up, what are the parameters which ink, paper and printing presses manufacturers should consider for making top-grade equipment and consumables for newspaper printing?
RD: Newsprint being the first limiting factor for high speed machines, the manufacturers should keep the tensile and cross directional strength consistent, but any changes required in these two parameters invite cost right from the quality of pulp to calendaring and moisture retention. Ink theology also has to improve with the speed of the press. 
RK: What does future hold for printing technologies like water-based flexo and digital (inkjet) will be ever used for newspaper printing in India? What will be the success rate for it?
RD: I have my doubts about water-based flexo but digital inkjet looks promising. Some of the early inkjet printers in the market have achieved about 80,000 impressions per hour. Their use in newspaper would initially begin with innovative advertising and customising specific content for customers. We have tried many breeds of digital inkjet technology. It looks very promising as it is close to imagesetter quality and very low TCO’s for a newspaper with less than 40,000 copies.
RK: Waterless offset, will it be a viable process in India?
RD: The energy cost of having a waterless offset is quite high. Tropical conditions where humidity varies a lot will always pose challenge to consistent quality.
RK: Is UV printing applications in the Indian newspaper industry, the next big thing? 
RD: The next thing that will come up in newspaper printing seems to be UV. The revolution in LED technology and the new breed of cool UV LED’s available may change the entire paradigm of printing on glazed surface. The heatset machines are being replaced by coldset machines fitted with LED lamps, hybrid inks, etc. 
RK: Do you see combination presses finding the flavour in the future, especially with space constraints issues and ROI?
RD: Yes, this hybrid culture exists in our environment already, where we have tried coldset and spot UV coating on the same press at full press-speed. We are waiting for the advertisers to respond. But I think it’s a plausible future. 
RK: So is a move towards commercial printing a viable solution to support ROI on pressroom?
RD: We have already diversified into commercial printing. We have three heatset machines, sheetfed and flowline binding machines. 
RK: How can you keep a tab and control wastage?
RD: It is the mindset that increases or keeps the wastage low. We can proudly say that we have contained our gross wastage to less than 4.5 %, in spite of using 80% indigenous newsprint even for a double-width machine
RK: What roles can a technical team play in containing the price war which has broken out in the print media?
RD: Have strict control on cost and re-engineer the processes that can eliminate a few stages and reduce input costs. Increase revenues using print innovations and utilize idle capacity to do other job works.
RK: This is often termed as the year of consolidation and mergers, how far do you think this global trend has trickled to India?
RD: This is yet to be experienced in India. But one thing that can be clearly seen now is that like in telecom industry, the trend of infrastructure sharing has begun in newspaper industry. It is a very positive sign that would result in reducing the ROIs. 
RK: After launching new editions for Divya Marathi, what are the other developments that are yet to come from Bhaskar Group?
RD: We are planning to add two centres in Maharashtra and one in Bihar this year. We have made drastic changes in our IT by outsourcing our SAP application management. We have also adopted the complete Microsoft collaboration suite like exchange, MS Office, Lync, and Share Point etc to support the growth.

Printing Plants 49
Printing Presses 70
Editions Inc all products and proterties) 231
Products Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi), Divya Bhaskar (Gujarati) Diyva Marathi (Marathi), DNA (English), Business Bhaskar, Jan Jagriti, DB Star, City Bhaskar (City Specific Supplement), Rasrang, Navrang, Madhurima, Bal Bhaskar Magazine), Aha Zindagi (Magazine) Lakshya (Magazine) and all regions have their specific pullouts.
Total Copies 56 lakh per day
Total Towers 253
Plates/year 22 lakh
Ink/year 4337 MT
Newsprint/year 1.75 lac MT