Education ushers a change in Chennai

Sriraam Selvam takes a good hard look at the recent reforms in the educational system in Tamil Nadu – and whether the change in syllabus has impacted the book production industry in Chennai

18 Jul 2012 | By Sriraam Selvam

Tamil Nadu is one of India’s more progressive states with a population of more than 70 million and an above-average national literacy rate of 75%.

Interestingly, it has been a hub of print since 300 years. In 1706, a Dutch missionary, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, came to Tarangambadi to found the first formal Protestant mission in Asia; and that was when book printing in India started again. In 1712-13, a printing press arrived, and the first publication from the Tranquebar press rolled out. Ziegenbalg, who combined missionary zeal with shrewdness, insisted that they had to print in Tamil as well, and the first Tamil publication from the press came out towards the end of 1713, followed by a printing of the New Testament in 1715.
The reason why printing and publishing spread to the rest of India after 1715, but not in the time of the Portuguese was simple: Ziegenbalg and his fellow missionaries believed that they needed to share the “new” technologies in order to spread the good word. In the process, they ensured that the printed word would spread to other parts of India–Bombay, Bengal, Madras.

The Indian publishing industry may have begun–some would say fittingly–with an act of near-piracy in Goa, but it was in Tranquebar, with the sharing of technology, that the roots were laid.
Tamil Nadu has traversed a considerable distance from those days in Tranquebar. The state publishes everything – words, books, ideas.
We do need some more education
Today, more than 55,000 schools in Tamil Nadu impart education to more than 14 million students, from the first standard to the twelfth standard.
Most Indian states have a two-syllabus school education system. This means a student can choose from the (a) National (CBSE/ICSE) or (b) the state curriculum.
Tamil Nadu is a rare exception with four systems for school education. This includes the matriculation board and Anglo Indian system, in addition to the other two.  More than a quarter of the schools follow the matriculation system. Unlike the state board schools (which prescribe textbooks printed by the state government textbook corporation), the students of matriculation system subscribe to textbooks from private publishers.
The uniform school education system introduced in 2009 by the Tamil Nadu government, christened as Samaseer Kalvi or equitable education, is expected to change this. From the next academic year, there will be one unified state syllabus applicable in the state, in addition to the central syllabus. This means, the state will print the textbooks – and the private publishers will have to produce guides and test papers. Only time will tell, the trickle-down effect of these events on the quantum of books which will be printed in the state.

Rise in book production
According to Chennai-based book printer, Sankar Printers, this policy decision will increase the number of books printed. There will be a pressure on productivity as a huge number of books will be required in a short interval, says N Krishna of Sankar Printers.

Karthikeyan & Co is a noted publisher of Tamil guides which complement government textbooks. The group sees the demand for books rising due to the policy modification which combines the syllabus. The point is, printers and publishers in Tamil Nadu see their perfect binders being made to put in “hard work” during this season.

The economic slowdown in 2008-09 affected commercial printers in Chennai. The city is a headquarter to leading corporate houses in South India. The cuts in budget, necessitated by the slowdown cut into the print volumes, says M S Nagarajan of Amara Press, a leading commercial printer. 2010 is expected to script a fresh story and already this family of printers is witnessing a new generation taking charge. They feel, post-press holds the key; and will play a crucial role in acquiring and retaining customers.

Chennai: At a glance
R Jayaraman, the chairman and managing director of Multivista Global, has seen a boost in book print exports in the current year. Like some of the leading book printer-exporters in the country, he underscores the importance of catering to domestic publishers in their portfolio, in addition to exports. However, he is perturbed  that the print industry is not understanding the ‘cost of their services’.

In addition, Multivista boasts of a complete finishing system equipped with Polar cutting machines, a host of Stahl folding machines, Kolbus online soft cover line, Muller Martini sewing machine, Muller Martini automatic gathering and pinning and a three-knife trimming machine, shrink wrapping machines and other supporting equipment.

Chennai Micro Printers (CMP) are leaders in publishing, book printing and packaging. They are pleased with the growth clocked during the last couple of years. Ramu of CMP says : “The growth has been uniform across the verticals”.

Ramesh and Ramu, printing technologists worked in a number of organisations including Orient Longman before biting the entrepreneurial bug. “As a first generation firm we believe that unless we offer the best to the clients, survival in the industry becomes tough,” explains Ramesh.

The unit includes: a fleet of Heidelbergs. Other kit includes Orient’s single colour 20-inch and two colour 22 ¾-inch web offset and Proteck UV coater. The post-press kit has a Muller Martini, Stahl folder and a Welbound six-clamp binding machine, a Pickwel gatherer and three-knife trimmer.

The modification in syllabus will not impact the volume of books produced by Macmillan Publishers India’s at its book printing facility in Chennai. The multinational publisher has always invested (and protected) its long term interests in the Indian school education. Macmillan India has 2,500 titles in its list and has played a significant role in the growth and success of Indian publishing. The company has a solid relationship with 15,000 schools all over India. These schools are catered through 22 offices and showrooms.

The printing facility at Chennai is managed by S M Yogan, who has many years of experience in international print and packaging companies. The Chennai unit prints more than 13 million books per annum.

Binding trends for educational books
Subramaniam Srinivasan, popularly known as S S Vasan  was a film producer-writer-director-journalist and above all, an entrepreneur. He purchased a humour magazine in 1928 for Rs 200. He converted the magazine into a weekly and worked his magic. Now it is one of the all time favourites in South India – Ananda Vikatan.

The Vikatan group has interests in media and entertainment and has produced A-grade movies and TV serials. Aval Vikatan, the women’s magazine is the largest circulated in its category in Tamil – and its Diwali special edition is perfect bound. “The number of copies are huge. And so, despite having an in-house bindery equipped with Welbound’s kit, we have to outsource our additional requirement to commercial binders like Durga Binding,” says R Sridhar (commercial manager) of Vikatan group.

Durga Binding uses TM 299 HMA from Henkel to publish the double gatefold magazine – Aval Vikatan, on the WB 2000. “This Diwali and New Year has brought joy to the book binding industry, thanks to thicker books and larger runs as a result of more advertisements”.  This is endorsed by Abdul Jabbar of Nellai Binders, a trade binder.

There are more than 50 trade binders, small and big in this location, known as Royapetah. About 30 binders have modern methods of binding, including perfect binding.

Medium-level boom in notebook production
Chennai boasts of a vibrant small-scale exercise notebook manufacturing segment that supplies directly to schools. Some convert for ITC, Ballarpur Industries and TNPL. There is Rosary Notebooks, one of the vendors for TNPL exercise notebooks, plus Vandana Enterprises, Paris Paper Mart, Vatican Paper Mart, Raja Binding and Ashwani Trading. They produce exercise notebooks.

Amit Gupta of  Vandana Enterprises says: “ The exercise notebook season is a short one. We need to deal with a number of variables including paper prices. We cannot plan production before the deliveries. This leads to pressure on production and high speed binding equipment is a must”.

The increasing non-availability of skilled labour is a major concern for this segment. This is one of the reasons, why these firms are upgrading their plants. Chennai boasts of more than 200 installations of Welbound binders. Close to a hundred of this are WB 2000s, which indicates that the industry is getting technologically savvy. In the next twelve months, we expect greater traction in PUR binders (in spite of higher costs of raw materials) plus full-fledged automated lines. After all, the foundation is solid.

Impact of one unified state syllabus on textbooks