26 Print And Non-Print Mantras on 26 January, 2013

Ramu Ramanathan celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Constitiution Day on 26th January, with 26 observations about the first 26 days of 2013

30 Jan 2013 | By Ramu Ramanathan

1. My first lesson on 26 January, Samvidhan Din, was when a friend pointed me to a corner table in Mumbai's Wayside Inn stating that's where Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar sat down and penned more than half of the Indian Constitution in "long hand" on sheets of paper. The original Constitution of India is hand-written with beautiful calligraphy, each page beautified and decorated by artists from Shantiniketan including Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Nandalal Bose.

2. And this is what the Father of Indian Constitution said on the historic occasion: “I feel that the Constitution is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.”

3. The big news of the day was: three print firms were unable to produce the Aadhar cards. The Central Government has initiated the direct cash transfer to 20 districts in the new year; and yet, there is a backlog of four crore Aadhaar numbers to be generated by the Unique Identification Authority of India. And so, the UIDAI will give the tender to three companies for printing the Aadhaar documents (card) for distributing the numbers across India for the next two years.

This means: print and dispatch 92 crore documents by March 2014. It estimates printing at a rate of 12 lakh documents per day up to 2014 from 10 lakh. The amount of the earnest money deposit will be Rs 25 lakh with the tender fee of Rs 25,000.

4. BBC’s Hard Talk broadcast a 30 minute riveting interview with Ping Fu, the CEO of GeoMagic. This is a precursor to her amazing book titled, “Bend Not Break” (published by Penguin Books). In her interview, Fu spoke about her personal resilience in China and of business success in the USA. It is heart-breaking stuff; as to how she trudged through Mao’s Cultural Revolution, her family split, and how an eight-year old Ping raises and protects her four-year old sister.

Exiled from China in her early twenties, with no money and illiteracy in English, Ping manages to make it through with waitressing jobs and university in the USA, a focus on computer science education and unexpected encounters with innovators and entrepreneurs. From those combined experiences, Ping created an innovative and industry leading 3D software company, Geomagic, which delivers 3D imaging and design technologies to the world.

5. In her interview the indomitable Ping Fu said, "In our world of 3D digital data, the process of digitising the real world into digital is now coming back full circle. 3D printing is physical, created from 3D data, and in a form you can hold and touch. Physical is now becoming cool again."

6. Unsurprisingly, Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architecture is preparing to build the world’s first 3D-printed house, and expects to have it completed within 18 months. According to PTI report, Ruijssenaars has been collaborating with mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs to design the house as a one surface endless Möbius band. It will be the first 3D printed building in the world and the construction of the house will be finished by 2014. Ruijssenaars told 3ders.org that he plans to construct the house from 6x9 meter fragments using a massive 3D printer known as D-Shape.

7. A CEO of a German paper manufacturer visited our office. The group is a European market leader in graphic recycled papers and has been manufacturing recycled paper from 100% recovered paper for magazine publishing. What is the future of magazines in India, one of them asks? I tell the German guests to attend the two-day Indian Magazine Congress in Mumbai in February. The theme is: New Directions. New Opportunities.

8. As if on cue, a huge truck with Spenta Multimedia branding, passes us. I tell them, if you follow that truck and meet Maneck Davar, you would realise that the future of magazines looks good. Spenta is India's largest custom publisher with a portfolio of over 40 magazines.

9. Paper is the new sexy. One reason I love paper is because paper is unhackable.

10. Y C Deveshwar, the chairman of ITC, has been ranked the Seventh Best Performing CEO in the World in the global scorecard on "100 Best Performing CEOs in the World" published by the Harvard Business Review. But ITC’s world saw some ups and many more downs. It logged a stellar performance in the quarter ended December with 23% growth in net sales and 20.6% increase in net profit. But in the case of the paper business, the revenues grew in single-digits i.e. by 8.5%; the profits also remained flat. The bottomline was impacted by the steep rise in input prices, especially timber. However the revenues of the cigarette business grew by 13%.

11. We studied the balance sheets of TCPL and Orient; as well as Paper Products and Uflex. One thing seems clear for a packaging firm in India (folding carton or flexible packaging) to have high yields; a growth of 25% is a must. Anything less is unjustifiable and will impact the operating profitability.

12. This makes one wonder how and why large international companies with deep pockets are so over-awed by the market size of the Indian market that they invest (or want to invest). A case in point is, as Victor Mallet states in his cogently argued piece in The Financial Times, MeadWestvaco, the US packaging group is taking a solid bet on the inevitable growth of the consumer goods market in India by buying a local packaging company and announcing plans for a total of more than $180 million of investment over five years.

13. On cue, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) gives a green signal to Ikea's proposal. The original proposal involved an initial investment of $600 million (approximately Rs 4,300-cr) for 10 stores in India. This is out of its total plan of investing $1.5 billion. With all the tugs and pulls in the retail space, the best policy for the key players continues to be, "wait and watch"; even for the single brand foreign retail space.

14. This brings us back to Dr Ambedkar again, and he says: “Emerson has said that consistency is a virtue of an ass. No thinking human being can be tied down to a view once expressed in the name of consistency. More important than consistency is responsibility. A responsible person must learn to unlearn what he has learned. A responsible person must have the courage to rethink and change his thoughts. Of course, there must be good and sufficient reason for unlearning what he has learned and for recasting his thoughts. There can be no finality in rethinking.”

15. The future belongs to young entrepreneurs. The Paris-headquartered company, with global revenues of over $1 billion, entered India in 2011, by taking over Printbell. This was a firm that Nilesh Parwani founded in 2007. He did something that his industry peers in private equity found befuddling. He quit a posh job to move into a single-room office to start a business.

This meant for Rs 475, anybody — lawyer, doctor, or even a student — can log into Vistaprint's site, choose a design template and place an order for printing 500 good-quality business cards. And so, Printbell in Mumbai leveraged the internet to get volumes, and the costs of a high-quality printing job would be divided among customers. In 2007, there was hardly anyone in the market who was accepting online orders to print business communication. Now there are PrintStop, PrintLand, Print Bindaas and PrintVenue.

16. This is what Suraj Goel of Print Bindaas said when we met at the Xerox stall at Print Summit 2013 in Mumbai. "Students, young professionals and small businesses still need print – not all communications can be electronic.”

17. There was a choice between attending the Print Summit 2013 in Mumbai - and the Davos Summit. At Davos, the World Bank estimates of annual GDP growth (at market prices based on constant local currency) for the 34 members of the OECD and the 'Brics' – Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa were declared. China came out top in 2011 with 9.3% growth, with India at 6.9%. The US (1.7%) and UK (0.8%) were towards the bottom of the pack, while Greece was out on its own at the bottom with -7.1%.

18. A moment to rejoice for India? Not really. Because at Davos, the Global Risks report also highlighted inequality and widening income gaps. India scored 0.3 on the Gini co-efficient index which indicates an unequal economy. Dr Ambedkar says, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” By that quantum the print industry ranks poorly.

19. I mention this to a school friend as part of my school's sesquicentennial celebrations. He tells me his bank, IndusInd Bank is eyeing Rs 1000-cr credit card business by March 2014. I make some enquiries. At present the bank's credit card business is Rs 380-cr. In 2011, the bank had bought Deutsche bank's credit card business in 2011 for Rs 224-cr. Having said that, the credit card business was hurtled through a dodgy phase in the past four years when volumes shrank from 28 million cards to about 17 million cards a year ago. Today volumes are one the ascendancy; and volumes are 18.3 million cards. Probably this is what explains the presence of a few print players at Ibex, the banking trade show.

20. We spoke to a leading print firm and he told us, being in Sivakasi, he is in a bit of a unique position. “A lot of printers more often than not have to be all things to all people. Say you’re doing a calendar for a real estate company – you do the big runs on offset, but turn to digital within the same production workflow if they want a couple of copies of a particular house. Estimating can be tricky when a job is on that fine line between offset and digital, but then, it all comes down to your capacity. We plan to retain that balance between offset and digital and improve the systems that integrate the two,” he concluded.

21. The 75-year-old diary and calendar printing industry in Sivakasi has reported a 20-25% drop in its 2012 turnover, compared to the 2011 turnover of Rs 100-120 crore. The industry, which consists largely of medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), attributes the loss mainly to severe power shortages. We spoke to a few friends in Sivakasi and they say, some firms have stopped taking orders from October-end, since they cannot meet delivery schedules.

22. Print firms in Sivakasi, Lovely Offset and Bell Printers inform me that even today, the print centre of central Tamil Nadu employs about 50,000 people across 600-700 units. Besides notebooks, textbooks, novels and labels, a key business of these units is calendar printing. The Sivakasi print industry’s total annual revenues are Rs 1,500 crore, of which six to seven per cent comes from the seasonal business of diary and calendar printing that transpires place in November and December. The power shortage in Tamil Nadu was a big blow to the 30% of the total production of diaries in the country. Vasant Goel of Gopsons who has set up a plant in Sivakasi, says the situation is "grim" and their operations are behind schedule.

23. While stationery has seen a dip this year, what gladdened my heart was my favourite Amar Chitra Katha decided to launch back-to-school and stationery products under its children's magazine Tinkle. Vijay Sampath, CEO, ACK who always adds a disclaimer "that I'm not a print man" states, "With Tinkle expanding its presence in television, feature films and digital products, the clamour for Tinkle stationery products is growing every day."

24. Smart marketing can lead to a huge increase in profits for your business through more frequent patronage, add-ons and even increased prices. This can include: ensuring your clients receive constant communication and helpful advice so that you are top-of-mind; and scheduling follow-up calls and reminders when it is time for new printing work. Don’t forget to make the most of other low-cost and free marketing tactics such as social media, PR, networking and speaking opportunities. With many commercial print firms expected to face continued declines in sales over the next 12 months, now is the time to give your business a health check.

25. Indian Railways to introduce braille stickers inside the coaches. This initiative is likely to be announced in the Railway Budget of 2013-14. This means opportunity (and work) for print firms. A braille verification feature, which could also be applied to barcodes, is prevalent in packaging. And print professionals are conversant with the problems in packaging design that result in regulatory action or consumer complaints predominantly originate from errors with barcodes and text. A firm we visited renders Braille inscriptions in its die-cutting section but said that tooling costs were expensive using this method. Today, with Braille becoming a prerequisite, print firms will be seeking a cost-effective method, particularly on small- to medium-runs.

26. And the final - and 26th message on 26 January 2013 - is best stated by Dr Ambedkar, “Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.”