How Bindwel is adding value to books and the book publishing industry - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Pallippuram Sajith, managing director of Bindwel Technologies discusses how the role of book printers and publishers is changing. Among other things, building speed to market should be a priority, and meeting challenges like quick turnarounds, and short- and very short-run production with appropriate technologies, says Sajith. Read more

18 Jun 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

What is transpiring in the printed books space – from the first wave of Covid-19 to now?
Books are back with a bang globally and will see the best growth in the coming days, as we saw during the early part of the millennium's first decade. For education, whether classroom or online, there is no better bet.

And how is Bindwel’s business been in fiscal 2022-23?
It’s been our best year in the 30 years of our existence. Exports rose to 25% of overall sales in the last year, and we expect them to contribute the same as our South Asian sales by 2025. 

Your latest ‘must-have’ kit in the binding segment that is garnering attention and why?
We launched two machines at Pamex 2023 – the Trimit 50C and BW@2500 Millennium. The Trimit 50C is Bindwel’s fastest inline trimmer. It can have both inline and offline options and is ideal as a part of the Bindline or any other high-speed perfect binding line. It is also ideal for those who use trimmers for thread-sewn book blocks, which are cased-in later.

On the other hand, BW@2500 Millennium is a kit that will set standards for medium-speed adhesive binding in the future. This kit is an outcome of our three-decade experience in the industry –servicing a varied group of customers with different requirements, across India, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. This model offers the best-in-class ergonomics of operation, turnaround times, energy efficiency, upgradeability, and management information, all of which will lead to the best quality book produced most cost-effectively.

Of course, these two pieces of equipment are in addition to our star performer in the past two years, the Bindwel Bindline Inline binding solution.

You also launched two more products (including Sigloch re-launch) at the Bengaluru factory on 10-11 June 2023?
We are also launching the SigLoch series of machines for post printing. These will address the digital print segment mainly.  

Three Bindwel installations + book-binding lines commissioned in Morocco and Angola and Nairobi. A lot is happening...

Yes, in May-June, our team has been busy installing Bindlines of varying configurations across Africa. In Morocco, Angola and Kenya. We aready play a leading role in production of textbooks for the African continent, either as key post press suppliers to Indian book print exporters or by partnering leading book printers in West, East and North Africa. 

You reported an excellent Interpack 2023 show. Looking forward to Drupa?
Yes, we will have a significant presence at Drupa 2024. We plan to introduce path-breaking products and concepts during this major print event. As you are aware, the erstwhile CEO of Kolbus Kai Buentemeyer is a director on our board now. He also was the chairman of the powerful body VDMA for fifteen years. His vision to bring products and solutions that help a very large, young and knowledge-hungry population of Asia and Africa affordable books, is completely aligned with our thoughts for the future. You will get to see our presentations in Drupa, reflecting this vision.

Digital printing brought in an era of print-on-demand (POD), and now one hears of book-on-demand....
Book-on-demand refers to a model of publishing where a book or books are printed only when ordered rather than printed in large quantities and stored in warehouses. This model is also known as print-on-demand (POD) publishing.

As this model is still evolving globally and since it is in its infancy in India, people venturing into books-on-demand need to understand the business models and invest prudently. The hardware and software come only after understanding what the market demands are.

Understand the business models and invest prudently. What would that be in a country like India?
India is a country of multiple languages, millions of stories and a multitude of cultures – and hence the biggest market for books on demand. There is a need to create a community, an ecosystem to bring in all the stakeholders to discuss and remove the roadblocks. For example – all the educational books made in India are close to A4 size; if we can remove the discrepancies of millimetres of variations between these books made by different agencies– then the cost of most of the equipment used for producing them can come down by half.

It’s time to understand that personalisation can be good for content but wasteful on formats (hence not sustainable).

Do we have any models?
Yes. Self-publishing, where the authors can use print-on-demand (POD) services to print their books as needed. The author retains full control over the content, cover design, and pricing. For example: Cinnamon Teal. Then there’s a Print-on-Demand service where publishers print, and ship books as orders come in from eCommerce websites. For example, Ingram content group – Repro India.

Hybrid publishing is where conventional publishers combine elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing. They typically offer editorial and marketing support and use POD to print books as needed. In most cases, authors pay for this. Partridge Self-Publishing of Penguin, is an example here. And the last model I know of is – custom publishing, which allows individuals and businesses to create custom books and other print products. Customers can choose from a variety of templates or upload their content. The service handles printing and shipping—for example, Shutterfly.

As such, all the above models will need machines of differing configurations –be it press or post-press, and, more importantly, a workflow that makes the transactions seamless for the customer.

Is this model only for big book publishers?
No. Photocopy, short-run digital print service bureaux get into books-on-demand quicker than conventional book printers. This will be a great opportunity loss for those book printers who understand making a book and already have links to publishing.

They’d need book-binding solutions.

The adhesive binding solutions are available for books-on-demand are already evolved and ready for use. In India, both Bindwel and Horizon of Japan, have the solutions, whether single-book or short-run.

Bindwel also has hybrid models that can be used for medium-run inline book production as well as short-run book-binding. This will help the commercial book printer use the same post-press for medium- and short-run book production.

The evolution of hardcover books on demand is a work in progress. Short-run thread sewing, book block making, hardcover machines and casing-in are either still evolving or prohibitively expensive.

Let’s change track. One publisher has said that run lengths have shrunk, and capacities to have multi-product portfolios with quick changes are desired. Lower inventories will become the norm. Do these sentiments reflect in your interaction with the printers and publishers? Does it reflect in your equipment sales numbers?

This is very true – with respect to trade books, higher education, and academic and test prep books. Our customers will have to offer quick turnarounds, short- and very short-run production and so on. It is also true that the runs for K12 – which accounts for the maximum number of books produced in India, remain medium-to-large. We have completely absorbed these challenges as opportunities and built machines that support speeds of 500 to 5,000 books per hour as well as runs of one to one hundred thousand.

Also, technologically, have you been required to make any changes to your equipment to suit the changing book market demands?
Continuing from what I said in response to your question above, these requirements will challenge all resources and capabilities. One, machines need to be workhorses, yet occupy minimal space and consume less energy. Two, these machines will need to help with quick turnarounds. Changeover times will need to be sub-minute, and yet be easy to operate and maintain. Three, the machines will need to be connected or be inline; but may not be in one go. And four, it will need remote access, provide MIS, and be easy on one’s pocket.

At Bindwel, we have spent the last three years developing and perfecting book-binding solutions that meet all the above requirements.

There’s a view that the Indian CEOs focus on compliance more than they do on the business aspect, plus micro-manage. Any learnings from CEOs in other parts of the world? Do they also micro-manage their business as much as Indian print and packaging CEOs do?
CEOs in the brick-and-mortar space or service industries have much fewer challenges to address compared to some of the compliance requirements of the new age businesses – like those associated with the internet and artificial intelligence (AI). We need to follow the written law of the land and with good consultants and a team to back up. This is not something a CEO should lose sleep over.

Has the book segment of the print-packaging industry seen some of the challenges mostly seen in the packaging segment, like wafer-thin margins, and low-profit jobs forcing them to keep their machines running to sustain themselves?
Having seen and understood some other businesses as an entrepreneur, the book printing business has not seen many unexpected challenges. The partnerships or relationships between publishers and book printers are much stronger and symbiotic compared to many other industries (including brands and packaging print suppliers).

The number of levels in a factory almost always directly correlates to more bottlenecks. One simple parameter everyone should follow in their factory that can benefit our audience?
Space is and has been a challenge in countries like India. Unless you go too far off places, we cannot get the large areas needed to have a one-level plant that will help solve this issue. This also calls for redesigning machines and workflows to utilise the space optimally.

Recently few print companies informed us that there’s a spike in the cost of spares. An upward revision of service rates followed this. It’s become a cause for concern. How would you explain these hikes as a paper-converting equipment supplier?
This does not apply to us, as service is an extension of machine sales and vice versa. We have repeat buyers because our parts and services are meant to sustain our mutual business. Unlike many European majors, spare parts sales are a minuscule percentage of our overall sales, as we consider them as an extension of our services.

No discussion ends without talking about sustainability. While much is being spoken about sustainability concerning packaging, not much is spoken about the commercial printing segment. As a post-press and finishing equipment manufacturer, what are your thoughts on sustainability?
Unfortunately, sustainability initiatives have remained more at the discussion level than in action. In the short- to medium-term, those companies whose sustainable projects bring in profit will continue to take the initiative.

“Reduce” could work better than “recycle” or “replace”. Let us talk about our print industry. There is a lot of over-consumption of material in print, be it paper, consumables, packing material and energy.

How does the technologies and manufacturing you deploy come closer to meeting sustainability goals such as no waste, reuse and such?
In addition to making energy efficient and conserving machines, we help customers track consumption be it energy or consumables. We also make packaging machines that can reduce the consumption of single-use plastics.

And finally, the market is changing. Commercial print runs have declined, but it still offers better margins. The other good news on the packaging front is that nothing will replace packaging, as far as we know. But, with change inevitably come challenges. How should the print and packaging industry prepare itself for the rest of 2023 and the foreseeable future?
Growth is like breathing. One cannot be complacent about the last year’s performance which would have been good on the back of two washed-out years. So find avenues of growth. Stay focused. While you can look at adjacent growth areas, you cannot take your attention off your core area and the opportunities within that space. And lastly, be a good partner – to your customers, suppliers and team members. Know their requirements, seek their suggestions, and keep an open mind.

Rapid-Fire Qs

  • How do you prefer to start your day? By snoozing the alarm
  • How do you cope when things get hard? Switch on the Electronic Tanpura
  • What's the strangest thing in your refrigerator? An unopened box of Ferrero Rocher, my most favourite chocolate - which I am not supposed to eat
  • What is on your bucket list? Do not want to go to space or land on the moon, and most other places are not difficult to travel to. Maybe a dream come true is to take the two verticals that my colleagues and I have built with the help of our customers and suppliers – bookbinding and end-of-line packaging global
  • What is your favourite memory? Professionally – In 1997, when an elderly bookbinder from East Delhi who happened to have bought our binding machine a few months ago met me at a publisher’s office – held my hand in his and said, “You guys did not give us a machine but gave us a chair to sit in front of the publisher.” Personally, there are many.
  • Which is the book that you keep re-reading? Some of the books of Henning Mankel and works of Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer
  • A movie or show do you keep rewatching? The God Father series
  • What frustrates you? Traffic Jams
  • What would you do if you had a whole day to do anything you wanted? Whatever I am doing now
  • What would it be if you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life? Dosa