Books for all: Tamil Nadu’s Samacheer Kalvi and the textbook printing landscape

Sriraam Selvam takes an in-depth look surrounding the issues concerning education books

19 Aug 2020 | By Sriraam Selvam

For 52-year-old commercial printing major, Rathna Offset Printers (ROP) their recent addition of a pre-owned Heidelberg 578 mm web offset press will likely see them making a comeback to state textbook printing jobs. This re-entry will be in addition to their the private publishers they cater to pan-India. In August 2011, Tamil Nadu was of the earliest to implement a common syllabus, textbooks and examinations for Schools. Before that, schools in the state were following four boards – State board, matriculation, oriental board and Anglo-Indian board.

The state merged all these four boards into a standard curriculum board named Samachir Kalvi. To make books available at a subsidised cost but with print quality on par with private publishers, the state government took the support of TNPL. Plus the print tender had participants from the neighbouring states too, including some of India’s largest book printers. S

ome of the private publishers like Samba Publishers, Surya Publications, KCS Desikan, etc, were quicker to adapt to the changes in the syllabus. Also, they expanded outside the state by adopting textbooks on the CBSE syllabus. “There were many factors which were not in our favour, and the transportation reimbursement clause was one of them. Though the rate cards were attractive, factors like transportation made the math look bad,” explains Nakul Rajkumar, the third-generation entrepreneur and director of ROP.

While this had an impact on private publishers, it made it necessary for many textbook printers scale up. Printing is predominantly reel-fed, and the books are bound with wire and adhesives. The quantity of books printed by the Tamil Nadu textbooks corporation prints is on par with the top textbooks corporations in the country. 

What ails Chennai?
Chennai, unlike other state capitals, isn’t the leading hub for print-related activities and comes second to its “big book-printing brother” Sivakasi –one of the largest print hubs in India. However, thanks to the industrialisation and development in manufacturing activities seen by the state, helped set up printing factories. Multinational print giants like RRD and Shore to Shore selected the city to set up their unit resulting in a spurt of print activities. For bookbinding, the other segment that was equally important is exercise notebooks manufacturing Chennai once again, played second fiddle to another district – Madurai this time.

Multivista Global then set up a 125,000 sqft state-of-the-art book printing plant in 2007 at Kelambakkam in the outskirts of Chennai. The setup includes a raft of sheetfed presses from Heidelberg and Ryobi as well as an arsenal of bookbinding machines from Kolbus and Muller Martini. They were the first to offer vendor managed inventory services to publishers globally. Then there are book printers of repute like Rathna Offset Printers, Chennai Micro Printers who boast of a fleet of web and sheetfed machines plus adequate bindery and cater to Indian and global publishers.

The city has not seen much of an investment in print capacity in the recent past, except digital print. The exercise notebook industry also saw a lot of upheavals, due to free distribution of books by the Tamil Nadu state government plus the onslaught by players like ITC Classmate. “One source of anxiety in the recent past for our clients has been the frequent announcements from the government that only NCERT books will be allowed in schools. Though this possibility has been in the news for a while, publishers hesitate to invest in stock in anticipation of a restriction be enforced out of the blue,” explains Rajkumar. “This is one production challenge we often encounter. In the past, some of the bigger publishers would print and build their inventory through the year.

An aversion to holding stock, an overcrowded space with several new publishers emerging and the associated price pressures have resulted in everyone producing their books as late as possible. In the end, the situation makes it challenging for us to service multiple clients since they all come to us with the same deadlines,” he adds. P Sajith of Impel-Welbound says, “For us, Chennai has been a reliable market for many years.” He adds, “The activities have been a bit subdued for the past few years due to the challenges in the marketplace.” Impel-Welbound, after separating from the Kerala-based manufacturing partners, invested in Chennai with after-sales support as a long term plan to support the ageing machines – as the customers could not invest in newer ones due to the demand situations.

As distributor partners for Henkel, Impel-Welbound addresses most of the requirement of hotmelt adhesives and related services in the city. The demand for book printing is growing, and quality requirements are changing. This has resulted in a reaffirmation of faith in the bookbinding business, in the recent past. 

Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha
The Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha was established in 1918 by Mahatma Gandhi with the sole aim of propagating Hindi in southern states. The first Pracharak was none other than Devadas Gandhi, son of Gandhi. They have a book publishing division which is responsible for printing syllabus books prescribed for Lower and Higher Examinations of Dakshin. They also publish books on southern culture, literature, arts and dictionaries (English, Tamil to Hindi and vice versa). Swabodhini is printed by this department which is Hindi-English, Hindi-Telugu, Hindi-Tamil, Hindi-Kannada and Hindi-Malayalam are famous with Pracharaks and public. They also set the syllabus for Hindi in Tamil Nadu State board.

Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. They have an in-house book printing division in Chennai city, in an area covering 10,000-sq ft. As the requirements for books published by them are growing, they decided to invest in an additional perfect binder. G Selvarajan, secretary, book sales, finds the new features on the WB@2500, introduced by Impel-Welbound, very useful. “The productivity is 25% more than any six clamp binder, and that comes with the reliability of design and components – which ensures the quality of binding. Clubbed with their prompt after-sales service that comes from Impel-Welbound, we are glad that we went in for the right binding machine.”

Ikon Print Solutions
Ikon Print Solutions is a leading commercial printer which provides the complete print service solutions to leading Indian and MNC corporates. The customer list includes the who’s who among Tamil Nadu based corporates like Fenner, Cumi, Airtel, TI India, Coromandel and so on. They upgraded their bookbinding facility from a single clamp binder to the WB@2500 from Impel-Welbound. “We are seeing an increase in printed book demands from our corporates as well as customers in the government sector.

As our operations are delegated to responsible team-members, it was important to have information available regularly – be it related to production or consumption of resources. The WB@2500, manufactured in Bangalore had all the right features – be it productivity, optimisation of energy consumption, MIS, and last but not the least – service engineers based in Chennai,” says Mehar Ram Jeebu, the manager of printing with Ikon.

Sai Ram Offset Printers
Sai Ram Offset Printers falls into the list of successful printing presses run by women in print. They are empanelled for printing the state government textbooks, and besides, they look at other print services, including Answer books and magazines. They also cater to private academic publishers, including coaching classes.

“Our speciality is delivering books consistently – meeting the delivery schedules, quality and cost aspirations of the customer. We work with them in all aspects of planning, and that has given us a steady and loyal list of customers,” says AS Kumudha the lady behind this successful book printing press. “We were initially planning to go for a pre-owned, imported machine to meet our requirement of bookbinding.

But then Shankar Iyer from Impel-Welbound educated us on the advantages of this new model WB@2500, which will help us meet our targets on quality and productivity." 

The Impel-Welbound perspective
Suresh Nair, CTO and Director of Impel- Welbound group, provides an insight into the Chennai market, “The lack of business opportunities in the print segment in the past had made many manufacturerssuppliers of printing equipment, move their service centres out of the city. The printers have to cope with freelancers, who despite being technically competent, do not provide the same degree of commitment which is provided by manufacturers.” He adds, “Service is the most important factor in our solutions.

We are looking at extending the Welbound Technical Services to the equipment supplied in Chennai by European postpress equipment manufacturers.” Shakar Iyer, the Impel-Welbound Area manager for Tamil Nadu, says things are better now. “The business of book printing in Chennai is picking up. And the customers want long-lasting and reliable solutions, which is adequately backed up by services. He explains, “The WB@2500 manufactured in the Bengaluru factory stands out from the earlier six-clamp machines available in the market.”

When asked to explain how, he says, “The new design of cover nipping station ensures that the books are pressed better, at the same time reducing any maintenance requirement. The digital temperature control ensures that the adhesive temperature is maintained exactly at the optimal level. The glue tank design has been modified to ensure that the heat is distributed uniformly, preventing any overheating or loss of energy. Above all, the productivity of the unit is up by 15%, and the information sent out by the machine on daily production is a great benefit.

The customers who purchased the machines in Chennai and Sivakasi are happy with the decision they made.” According to Suresh Nair, the bookbinding market in Tamil Nadu will generate a lot of interest in the coming days. There is a lot more work available, but that needs to be addressed with higher levels of efficiency. Having the right machine, productivity, smooth workflow, trained operators, after-sales support – all these will make a difference in how the book printers of Chennai address this demand. 

2011: TN introduces Samacheer Kalvi Common syllabus and textbooks for four boards of education. Several top pan-India and global publishers work produced in Chennai – MultiVista, Rathna Offset, Chennai Micro Print to name a few