We are the 100% recycled newsprint consumer: Pradeep Unny, Amar Ujala

With recent strides to commercial printing, Amar Ujala has re-established a strong footprint for regional language newspaper publishing. Rahul Kumar talks to Pradeep Unny, associate vice president, production, Amar Ujala group.

30 Oct 2013 | By Rahul Kumar

Rahul Kumar (RK) -What is the structure of your organisation and your role?

Pradeep Unny (PU) –Amar Ujala Publications is a publishing house of newspapers and magazines, including Hindi broadsheet daily Amar Ujala, Hindi tabloid Compact and magazines like Safalta and many others.

The average configuration of the daily is 24 pages broadsheet including 16/20 colour pages. Along with the daily Amar Ujala also publishes 20-pages weekly tabloid ‘Compact’ and three weekly supplements.

I am responsible for flawless production in all the printing centres and delivery of the newspapers on time, hiring and training the entire technical newspaper production team, and adopt and implement technological advancement according to the newspaper production house requirement.


RK - Please let us know about number of printing plants, editions, products & properties, copies, towers of printing presses; consumption of plates, consumables and paper?

PU– We print 118 editions of Amar Ujala from 18 print locations spanning across seven states – Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and one union territory covering 167 districts. We have 34 printing lines from Indian manufacturers Pressline and TPH including 140 4Hi towers with cut-off size of 546mm. We consume more than two lakh thermal CTP plates per month of 586mm size and printing ink worth Rs three crore  and in quantity 150 tonnes per month. Amar Ujala recently entered in to commercial printing arena by establishing a separate plant nearby in Noida.


RK – According to you, what is the size of newspaper industry in India and what is your share in that pie?

PU–It is very difficult to give a statistical figure about India newspaper industry but we are at number three in regional language newspaper publication. We print around 22.2 million copies per day of Amar Ujala and about six lakh of Compact.

RK - What are the new developments in Indian newspapers’ industry on the technical front? Does size (broadsheet, Berliner or midi and tabloid) of newspaper really matter for printing process?

PU - Yes, the size of a newspaper matters. We are producing both broadsheet and tabloid but do not see any chance for making a switch to Berliner. Regional markets will take time to adopt a tabloid newspaper. Since we have witnessed growth in this segment, we are sure that growth is certainly there. We are also planning to launch a new tabloid very soon.

I am not very happy because some newspapers are opting for double width, double circumference printing presses. If you run your machine at a speed of 45,000 copies an hour and getting 90,000 copies an hour then it is not a viable proposition for regional newspaper house until or unless you have such kind of volumes. In pre-press, most production houses have shifted to CTPs.

In India, huge investment in post-press of newspaper production house is not a wise decision since manual labour is more economical as compared to automation and is also easily available. We also do not have several marketing inserts as markets in Europe and Americas have. I do not see any benefit to adopt fully automation in post-press for newspapers like us baring few centres Indian market do not require fast speed machines.

Metro cities are declining as far as newspaper is concerned. So everyone is focusing on regional markets because of the growth in regional languages. Contract production is in demand and giants are also taking help of regional newspapers printing plants in remote areas.

RK - What are the differences between a foreign made web offset printing press and Indian made? Do Indian printing presses’ manufacturers meet your demands?

PU – Yes, Indian manufacturers meet our demands of good and consistent printing presses. However, consistency of the European made machines is far better when compared to Indian presses. You can dismantle and rearrange the foreign made but for Indian made, you are dependent on some jugaad.

Nevertheless, with Indian printing presses manufacturers are opting for CNC machines and other modern manufacturing equipment. We can expect that Indian machines too shall be offered with the same functions and facilities in the future.

Adoption of fully-automated presses will take time since we are a maturing market. Yes, Indian manufacturers too offer automation options but it depends on you how many features you want to adopt. But in that case return on investment (ROI) is a big concern.

More automation directly means more investment and we are not yet ready for that. Being a regional and semi-technical company we use around five types of substrates so options like auto inking doesn’t help us but auto registration is a helpful feature. Spray dampening too does not make any sense when retrofitted on an old machine but on new press it can be effectively used.

RK – What kind of initiatives did you take for technical developments at Amar Ujala?

PU–Being from a printing background, I know that how much it hurts when the quality of production gets hampered. If your advertisement and news content is not printed well a reader will not buy or read your daily again. Being a semi-technical company, my core strength and my focus is our workforce and from last three years I have put them as my top priority. We always provide shopfloor training to our staff on the regular basis because they should be in sync with what we want to achieve. Training is one of the most effective tools, we have at our disposal.

We organise two programmes – one for our photographers and the other for government officials/ agencies to create awareness about the prepress and printing defects. Our current focus is more on the pre-press side and therefore we are planning to organise few programmes at our printing facilities in remote areas.

Around 90% quality related issues with advertisement printing has been resolved because of these continuous training programmes. We send regular updates to the creative media agencies to update them.

RK - One of the German manufacturers once told us that India is a primary market for the 4x1 printing presses. What is your take on this? And will printers shift from 2x1 to 4x1 format printing press?

PU - I want to adopt but I cannot because of the huge investment. For 4x1 printing presses, you need a solid support of advertising, marketing and circulation. Most of the newspaper publication houses want all pages colour because their competitors are doing this.

To talk very idealistically, all of newspaper publishers should come together and talk about a common technical platform. Ultimately all the newspapers houses are cutting their input costs. Increment in the cover price of newspapers will be also helpful because you can put the money generated off it to adopt new technologies. When all the TV channels and radio networks match their advertisement slots why can’t newspapers reach at a conclusion?

RK - The revenue of newspapers and publishers saw a considerable fall in advertising revenue as well. Is there some pickup in the market and will it sustain?

PU – We are in to a package era, the focus has shifted from individual products. For instance, Amar Ujala is one of the biggest e-papers in the country. Now customers want to go for one stop solutions like print, audio and video and online from a single vendor. Ultimately, publishers need to offer a platter with multiple dishes.

RK - Is there any threat to the newspapers from the new medium of information, especially in India? Should the technical team of Amar Ujala be worried about the newspaper market?

PU–The new media is just a hype created by software companies and some forums because they always take the examples of American and European market. We are a different market all together. See the infrastructure required for establishing a new medium of information. We are a maturing market. I do not see any downfall in print for atleast for coming 20 years in the country. Small players will be taken over by big players or will shut down their operations due to bad decision making such as printing more than 20 pages colour without advertisement support. I still feel that newspaper is a better medium to sell. The only drawback with newspaper is only literate or semi-literate people can enjoy it.

Most of the marketing and sales executives are selling the printed copies of newspapers only. I do not see any conviction in their views; most of them do not have the entire knowledge about their product portfolio.

Marketing guys must convince their advertisers that newspaper is a better medium to advertise with the longest shelf-life compared to TV, radio and internet. For example, how many times you have clicked on a pop-up advertisement on a website. Literacy rates are improving. Also, Indian mentalities are different. We buy a bottle of water for Rs 10 to 15, but how many out of us crush it after use? All of us bring it to home and use it. The same case is with newspaper industry. Newspapers had died in western countries because they were free of cost. No one values anything if it’s free. I should get 50% back of my invested cost for everything; same is the case with newspaper. Technology is a place where you need to invest but it must be viable.

RK - Being the second largest populated and 105 ranked (in 2007) literate country, what are your plans to capture this huge opportunity? 

PU - You need conviction to sell. We are looking at rural market for our growth, the market is full of big opportunities. We are ready for every opportunity in the segment. We have just entered commercial printing with a separate facility. 

RK - Lot of discussions on cut-off sizes, now 546 is in use, what is the ideal cut-off for web offset printing presses?

PU- 546 is in use but 533 is the better option. Cut-off size is the easiest point to cut corners. Ultimately, newspaper production houses would need to go for smaller size and there is no other option. Indian newspapers will shift to a size between broadsheet and Berliner. Most of the Indian manufacturers are making this cut-off. Bhaskar has installed printing presses with the 533mm cut-off size.

RK - What sort of modifications do you see on the shopfloor? For example, inking system, dampening system, reel stand, folder, drive system, digital plates, toolings, inspection systems, etc which is modifying the way in which business is being managed?

PU – Automation will be a good business model if the pollution department of government will charge you more. We use conventional dampening system but future is for spray dampening system. You will save on power and would not damage the environment too. Auto inking system is a good option for huge volumes. Return on investment (ROI) on auto inking system is a long term but auto splicer and reel changer are future; they will save your time. Short length printing presses will be also useful because of the cost of real estate is too high and these printing presses  give you better registration with lesser wastage. 70% cost of our newspaper is newsprint, so cost-cutting measures can be implemented there too. On the shaftless machines you can save almost 30% on the operating cost of the power consumed compared to a shafted machine.

RK - What about the 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?

PU–These are expensive technologies, I do not see any future for these in India atleast for next one-and-a-half decade. Semi commercial setups are not viable options for newspaper production until or unless you have advertisement support like TOI and The Hindu.

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?

PU - Always use the standards of production. Ink should be standardised. For flawless production you also need software for news content. These software stop the repetition of stories and can also do auto spell check.

We have developed customised quality management system, software for pre-press, true feedback system and it works regularly. Every newspaper production house consumes multiple newsprints so we have in house quality checking lab for the same. All the manufacturers like TechNova, Kodak, DIC and others have standards of quality.

RK -What is the future of inkjet printed plates for offset in newspaper segment?

PU - Yes, there is a future for inkjet printed plates but for small production newspapers only, who cannot afford CTP.

RK - As press speeds go up, what are the parameters the ink, paper and printing presses makers should consider for making top-grade equipment and consumables for newspaper printing?

PU – Please follow the international standards. Inks and chemicals manufacturers follow the standards and Indian newsprint manufacturers need to adopt standards too. We are a 100% recycled newsprint user with 90% of it being procured from Indian manufacturers and 10% is imported.

RK - How do you see UV printing applications in the Indian newspaper industry?

PU - As I said, semi commercial printing plants are not viable for newsprint production houses. So there is no space for UV printing until or unless your advertisers are ready to pay the premium ink cost or the cost come down drastically.

RK - What is the trend considering the heatset machines are being replaced by coldset machines fitted with LED lamps, hybrid inks, etc. Everywhere space is a constraint. Do you see a trend where a single machine does the work of two machines with same quality – the concept of combination press?

PU – The production quality will be always different. A coldset machine cannot produce the quality like heatset printing presses. Whatever arrangements you do, the ink drying systems are entirely different. Drying inks with a drier cannot match the quality of auto drying. The production cost on a heatset printing press is also very high so people are seeking for other options. I do not know how the hybrid ink will help the newspaper publication houses whether in drying or anywhere else.

RK - There is much more attention paid to environment now; and re-cycling of paper is in focus. Do you anticipate any kind of printing problem with recycled newsprint?

PU - Being a 100% recycled newsprint consumer, we face few problems but those are taken care of from time by time. It depends the how much virgin pulp has been added to strengthen it. Being a regional newspaper your budgets do not allow you to use all imported newsprint made of Virgin pulp.

Thermal plates are lesser expensive as compare to violet and proven technology. Violet is for speed but now thermal is also providing the same speed. It is a stable technology and our team is comfortable with it.

RK - You have entered commercial and books printing, what kind of opportunity do you see?

PU–We have done a business of almost Rs 10-crore in last year with similar setup. And now we have established a separate facility for the same so we aim to do more. We are very optimistic for our commercial setup. Our management invested money in technological advancements. We have also taken contractual printing of smaller newspapers which cannot afford setting up printing press at several locations. We are printing newspapers, flyers, and educational books. For this, we have ordered several finishing equipment. By the year end we will be in full flow of production.

RK - What is the key to Amar Ujala’s recent growth and expansion plans?

PU - Single point focus on growth. We all meet twice a month and a lot of interaction and communication programme with management takes place on a continuous basis. From last year we have increased copies of Amar Ujala by 1.5 lakh copies and so has the advertisement revenue gone up.

RK - What will be the role of technical team to sustain the price war which has broken out in the print media?

PU - We are in the process of cutting our corners. Our overall newsprint wastage in 2012-13was only 4.42% of our total production and this year we are looking at 4% given our semi auto mated process at Amar Ujala. Also we have saved huge sum on inks that too with out any ink saving software, then we have made huge saving on account of strict monitoring and maintaining the gsm of the newsprint.

RK - Will mergers and acquisitions make any impact of the printing facilities of the companies?

PU - I do not think so. If the purpose is to kill some brand then it would make an impact. Personally speaking it would be loss for us printing guys, with lesser opportunity for growth on personal level, joke apart, it would help to sustain.

RK - Waterless offset, will it be a viable process in India?

PU–Presently we have to maintain the balance of water and ink. In waterless offset, we will have to maintain the ink density only. It will be better anyway as one of the biggest variable is out of the process and in future we will opt for it. I am yet to study the technology in depth.

RK - What is the suitable speed of printing press for Indian market?

PU - For a small newspaper ideal speed is 35,000 copies an hour but for a big production house it depends on the number of copies. The biggest drawback of offset is number of variables to control like temperature, substrate, inks, water, manpower and combination of multiple technologies.

RK - What are your future plans? Any important project you are embarking on.

PU–The next project we are working on is to implement an integrated tower, auto reel stand and shaftless printing presses for our new plants and couple of new projects are there in the pipe line.