Hand-in-hand in the print-publishing wonderland

On the sidelines of PrintPack 2015, 40 business heads from the book printer and publisher community met in the swanky boardroom of the India Expo Centre and Mart in Greater Noida. The agenda was to move a step ahead in the journey that was mapped at the first roundtable at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on 16 May 2014; the journey to understand the impediments and reinforce the printed book publishing value chain. Rushikesh Aravkar reports

23 Mar 2015 | By PrintWeek India

The roundtable, organised by PrintWeek India, in partnership with Henkel Adhesives and Welbound Worldwide, was chaired by publishing consultant-Subhasis Ganguli.
During the discussion, one thing was clear: the dialogue has started. Though limited by the paucity of time, the 90-minute healthy deliberation made a way for the pain points of both the sides to surface.
Today book publishing is standing at a crossroad with the introduction of digital technology, eBooks and virtual book stores; the model is changing. However, volumes for printed books in India are still on the rise. All the stakeholders agreed to this, while raising the need of efficiency improvement in book production.

Several focus areas were addressed during the meet including demand forecast and paper projections, eliminating the bottlenecks in post-press, consolidation of the number of vendors, piracy, best practices and standardisation of paper, book sizes, processes and workflow.

The lost opportunity
Among all this, the central theme of the discussion was how to minimise turnaround times (TAT) and prevent the loss of opportunity. To which, the print CEOs CJ Jassawalla of Thomson Press, Amila Singhvi of IPP, Bhuvnesh Sheth of Replika Press and Kunal Vohra of Repro India among others sought clear forecast from publishers.
Jassawalla of Thomson Press pointed out that some of the publishers are very proactive in demand forecasting and booking capacity, while some others don’t see it at all. “I think there is extreme volatility in this space,” added Jassawalla.
Representing the education segment, Collins India’s managing director, NS Krishna said, “We can predict certain market share and have a forecast ready at the beginning of the year unlike trade books. In the education segment, sometimes, the forecast can go wrong in case of sudden sales due to new school adoptions. That is the crucial time when we need to turnaround books very quickly. If not, it is a lost opportunity.”
Concurring with Krishna’s opinion, Nandan Kumar Jha of Penguin Random House, said, “We are seeing more than 100% growth in the eBook sales but the numbers are still in single digits. The lost opportunity is that if we do not deliver books in time, people will buy eBooks. We have experienced this in the case of books that are nominated for or have won international acclaims. Even though it’s just 5% of the business, if we don’t cash on by quickly turning around the books, then that is an opportunity lost.”
On the projections’ front, Repro has been able to work out an understanding with its key publishers. Vohra said, “We ask for projections on a monthly, six-monthly and yearly basis from all our publishers. This helps us in planning. Such timely projections with standardisation of paper and book sizes help a lot. With Scholastic, we have standardised two variants of sizes, and it has been working very well.”
The major projection issues, as Ajay Joshi of Penguin Random House, pointed out, occur in case of reprints. “As publishers, we are dependent on authors and in the case of trade books, we cannot predict the consistency in performance of an author in terms of the book sales year-on-year or book to book. So, projections of a new book can be managed and is definitely communicated to the printers. However, the bottleneck lies in case of reprints, which is the major share of the total business.”

When it comes to reprinting, especially for academic books, the print runs are lower than in the first runs so the cost plays a crucial role. “It is impossible to increase the price of a book in the middle of the year. In such a case, we expect a better price per book (PPB) from the print partners,” said Krishna.
All the top publishers have systems in place for projections. All the panellists, however, agreed that these are not pretty accurate and there is scope for improvement in these systems. And quick turnaround time and cost remain critical factors.
Consolidation is inevitable
It was evident during the meet that both printers and publishers are realising the benefits of working with a limited number of partners.
From a global perspective, Henkel’s Corbett Wallace made a close observation of the Indian book printing and publishing market. “One of the big concerns about the Indian market is, there are so many players that there is no way for everyone to survive, there will be consolidation. Publishers will need one printer who will give books in different parts of the country. The market will force it to happen. It’s going to be those who take proactive risks who will survive.”
For publishers, consolidation means climbing up on the printer’s priority list and drawing better service. As Joshi of Penguin Random House put it, “When you consolidate from 20 printers to five printers, you are increasing the printer’s share in your business by 15%, and thus you become one of his key customers.”
At the book printers’ end, Amila Singhvi of International Print O Pac and Bhuvnesh Sheth of Replika Press confirmed that they can comfortably work with fewer publishers.
This year IPP printed for three publishers in contrast to 22 publishers in the previous year. Singhvi said, “We are also happy working for few publishers, if they commit production to our capacities. The title doesn’t matter if our capacities are kept busy all through the season. Moreover, if there is standardisation for paper, we can even stock the paper.”
Though publishers are continuously consolidating their print vendors’ list, one of their expectations from the print partner is to have a multi-location set-up in order to reduce the lead times further.
Explaining this position, Sunil Kumar of Elsevier Science, said, “We took a conscious call to bring down the print partners list to five. The bottleneck with this is the capacity of the printers. More challenging is to have the same book printed at different locations from this reduced vendors’ list.”
Kumar further said, “Going forward, we expect printers to be multi-locational. I agree; it’s a big investment. However, it will enable publishers to give clearer projections, not just of the print quantity but the location at which they need the delivery.”
Production bottlenecks
The bottleneck in print production is the biggest nuisance in the value chain. Though the printing capacities are higher, it’s the conversion of printed sheets wherein lies the rub. A lot of time is being consumed in binding, packaging, and transportation. The publishers unanimously agreed that it is the sewing department which is the rate determining step in the book supply chain. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the lack of end-to-end workflow.

One of the solutions to de-bottleneck the sewing department that came up was adopting PUR binding. Replika has invested in PUR technology. Putting forth his experience with PUR, Sheth said, “Costing with PUR is expensive when compared with hotmelt plus sewing. Most of the publishers overseas say no to PUR in order to mitigate the risk of the pages being loosely bound.”
In reply to Sheth’s remarks, Wallace said, “PUR is used across the world for binding school books as well as trade books. Is there an extra cost to it? Yes, on price basis but if you consider the total supply cost; it is by far the cheapest.”
Repro has been quite successful with PUR, as Vohra highlighted, “We have been talking about PUR for a long time. It has worked very well for us in the African market. I would request publishers to adopt this technology as it will help print firms to reduce the turnaround times considerably.”  
Speaking about the turnaround time, Wallace added, “If the turnaround time is most important, then there might be a bit more cost attached to it. However, you pay an extra cost when you don’t get a quicker turnaround in form of lost opportunity.”

The common sentiment that resonated throughout the discussion was the need to have good systems in place to de-bottleneck these issues. CJ Jassawalla of Thomson Press explained the situation on the shopfloor, “There is one problem. Printers like us who deal with school textbooks, trade books, commercial jobs and are a one-stop shop for most print requirements, face a special problem in capacities. So the bottleneck will keep cropping up and shifting from printing to sewing to foiling to any other department due to diversity of the nature of jobs that we handle. This is an internal problem and needs proper systems in place to resolve the issue.”
“Where publishers can help is,” said Jassawalla, “if they consider publishing pre-press and printing as a synergistic process. If the time buffer in designing and conceiving the book is reduced, the overall project will benefit.”
The print CEOs reached a consensus that most of the issues can be resolved if printers are brought in as partners in such a way that publishing and printing be considered as one project.
Pre-press: choke point
The roundtable discussion by far covered the concerns of the creamy layer of publishing. The big challenge, which Kunal Vohra of Repro addressed, was the lack of pre-press expertise with the smaller publishers.
“In terms of pre-press organisation, I see this as a major bottleneck in terms of complete execution of a job. Often I see it’s not the production issue. A lot of time is spent between releasing a job sheet and getting that job into production.”
In order to counter this effectively, Repro has made workflow tweaks and technology investments.
Vohra identified three initiatives of Repro that address these issues. “One, we have helped regional publishers with their content in terms of file conversion; we convert those into standardised size. Two, we have built a digital content repository where we store all the files for our publishers. As soon as our publisher is set to place the order, we are prepared with print ready and approved files. Three, in terms of approval in case of new files, we are working on installing Eizo monitors at publishers’ end. This helps with PDF approvals and for colour runs. All this, helps us in reducing the lead times.”
P Sajith, marketing director, Welbound Worldwide, said, “The second roundtable is an initiative to provide a common platform to book printers and publishers to discuss their pain points, views and future plans. This is because we found that most of the time, both the lobbies blame each other for the uncommonness of the business. We feel since we do not understand each others’ problems, we do not stand together to fight it out. This makes the future of business seem difficult.” 
The next and crucial step in this journey is the formation of a Book Forum. The organising team of Welbound’s P Sajith and publishing consultant Subhasis Ganguli are in the process of formation of a steering committee which will govern the activities of the Book Forum and keep the dialogue fizzing along.
Best Practices | Thomson Press
“We are working on two things: touch time and lead time. Touch time is the time taken to move a job from one end to the other end, when the factory is totally idle. In our industry, touch time to lead time is a whooping 1:10. For 90% of the time, the material in the WIP is lying idle. Our objective is to reduce touch time to lead time and by doing so, we are minimising the turnaround time. That is one of the principles we have been working on. Another issue in large organisations is the conflicting goals between different departments. The purchase official is looking at lowest costs for everything, not realising that the lowest cost can actually result in huge loss and delays on the shopfloor. The quality official is merely looking at rejecting whatever is not good. The production team is only concerned with the speed of production. All of this is against organisation good but for personal good. We have gone in for the concept of global objective, which subordinates all other objectives of various departments. It again involves the change of mindsets. The thought process has to be you and me versus the problem and not you versus me. We converted the very culture at Thomson from what we were to a one single minded attempt to a goal and relentlessly work towards it. We have got software to back and sustain these processes and practice. It has taken three to four years for different departments, and people to come and realise this. Planning is priceless and plans are useless,” said Jassawalla.