How the virus disrupted the print march - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Sunil Jain is the president-elect at Delhi Printer’s Association. He talks about the concrete progress in book publishing plus the small steps the association has been taking to keep print spirits high.

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06 Jun 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

Kudos and congratulations on being elected president of the Delhi Printer’s Association (DPA). What was the first thing you did when you got the news?
I thanked my executive committee members for considering me as a candidate to lead the association for the second time and that too during this pandemic.

What was the first thing on your agenda? 
My first agenda is to move the association towards digital. We are trying to work with World Print Hub, the one developed by MMS, to create a digital platform for our members.

In this sense, what is your plan for the next 12 months?
We would be doing some small yet focussed discussions on different aspects related to knowledge, safety and costings in different print hubs around Delhi.

Has the membership been dwindling in recent years…
Yes, we will also try to increase the membership strength.

Tough time to be a president with the second wave in Delhi and the deaths and the medical emergency…
All my colleagues at DPA are associated with one or more socio-religious trusts working in various areas of providing free ration and a cooked meal for the needy. Also, they have been arranging for oxygen cylinder and concentrator; ambulance, medicine, doctor’s consultation, finding plasma candidates and even helping in arranging the last rites.

Has DPA organised any support for beleaguered print families?
The members and the trusts they are associated with have provided the beleaguered print families with a much broader help source than what DPA could provide on its own with the office under lockdown and the regulations imposed by government authorities.

Print was required by the Delhi government for medical labels and hospital info guides on an urgent basis.
Most of the hospital info guides were on the digital platform so that didn’t convert to business. It was the increasing demand for medical labels that helped the label printers.

Packaging converters and labels firms have held their head high. What is the data feedback from your members?
Both these segments have been maintaining an upward trend as far as volumes are concerned but the staggering rise in the cost of paper, boards and other raw materials have impacted their profits to a great extent. Most of the big players are working on annual contracts. They can’t or are unable to negotiate prices in the middle of their term.

When the PrintWeek team had met you 3-4 years ago in Nagpur during an AIFMP meet, you had mentioned how the commercial printers have been facing stress. How badly impacted are these firms by the Covid-19 situation?
The commercial printers have been impacted the most as the segment that they catered to comes at the bottom of the priority list of companies and corporates. Any company would first spend money on getting up on its feet, paying rents, salaries, procure raw materials, start production and then eventually move on to the last aspect of marketing to achieve sales. The role of a commercial printer comes into the picture only for the last bit of marketing.

Many firms are dependent on jobs related to books, promotion material, magazines, brochures and stationery. In your view what happens to these segments now?
These segments have also had a considerable downward share. However, the old players, as well as new, have caught up by coming up with a new and better variant of board games, interactive books, puzzles and toys. They are using social media for marketing and eCommerce for sales thereby eliminating retailers to achieve better returns.

The order by the central government crippled the commercial printers when they directed all states to restrict or avoid printing of promotional articles like calendars, diaries, greeting cards etc. What is DPA's view about this?
We along with other affiliates at All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP) wrote to the central government authorities against it; specifying that a large number of printers and their livelihood depending on them. But nothing has happened.

Total silence from the government?

Last year, many commercial printers in Delhi NCR were running at 20-30% capacity utilisation.
Quite true. The situation was improving and the units were in a comfortable zone in the last quarter of 2020-2021.

What is the situation now?
The second wave of pandemic dragged them backwards to last year’s position. We were hoping for some relief from the central government in the form of subsidies or relaxation in fixed charges of electricity. But no such thing happened.

Did run lengths plummet, too?
The print runs are definitely going down.

Will this mean more and more digital print solutions?
Well, any print run upwards of 200 goes towards offset. So, the pressure of cost of ownership, FSMA (Full Service Maintenance Agreement) charges and a short technology life span of five years deter the printers to move towards digital print. However, personalisation, enhancements and quality are forcing printers towards digital printing.

Even the nationalised banks have started to reduce the printed stationery required for their branches since most of the printed stationeries is shifting to online systems. Is the DPA - and indeed the AIFMP - planning a pro print campaign?
The AIFMP is working on a project called – Print is Essential. This is being presented by the Bombay Master Printers’ Association (BMPA). The research is in the initial stages, some funds have also been sanctioned but the campaign requires a good amount of funding and working together of a number of stakeholders.

There is huge uncertainty about the cost of raw material used by the printing industry.  How are you coping?
The situation is quite alarming with the rising costs of raw materials. My suggestion to printers is to forget about a fixed-rate long time annual supply contract and keep an expiry date for quotations. The printers should try to forge a long time fixed-rate annual supply contracts with the suppliers and maintain a substantial inventory of raw material to avoid disruptions due to rate increase.

Do you think well-equipped presses will have an edge over outdated presses and manual post-press?
No, not necessarily. The aggregators present in the market can always work with independent small processors, block makers, embossers and binders and can come up with jobs at a better quality and competitively priced.

Any major changes in the wedding photo album market plus festival promotion in the Delhi NCR territory that you foresee…
No, I can’t predict any changes in the photo album market since the grand Indian weddings have become small and intimate with people preferring to have a digital footprint in that case. The next festival to come up would be Diwali and right now it is too early to talk about it.

Many firms in India were investing in technology - basically reducing dependence on people availability on their printing shopfloor. Is this trend to automate the shopfloor, dominant among DPA members, too?
Within DPA we have a wide spectrum of printers; most of them small and medium. Many of these printers have kept pace with the technological advancements by opting for new and advanced finishing equipment thereby reducing extensive dependence on labour. The investments in workflows have also been adopted, but only by a few big players.

India is a country with the maximum youth dividend.

As an industry have we failed to send out the proper messaging to this demographic group?
People at the helm of affairs in associations, big print houses and print professionals should go out there and interact with the students of printing technology, share their vision with them so that new entrepreneurs come into this field. Once, I got to watch the presentation being made by a renowned professor to a gathering of printers from all over India. It was terrible if you look at it from a students perspective.

That is indeed surprising…
Anyone who would have heard that mixture of irrelevant blogs related to printing wouldn’t have entrusted their ward for studying even middle school under him, leave alone printing technology. Most of the teachers teaching at the institutes have no idea about the current scenario in the field of the latest print technology. The only teacher worthy enough of teaching print technology is Dr Rajendra Kumar Anayath.

Moving away from Delhi, what trends are you picking up from fellow printers in the NCR region?
… Everyone is trying to invest in packaging.

One lesson you have learnt from the past 14 months?
That life is shorter than it seems. So, might as well enjoy it.

As president of the DPA what is your message to the fraternity for 2021?
Be passionate about print and aim for working together for the betterment of print fraternity. I am ready to share my knowledge and would try to be of help in this journey of print.

Sunil Jain - At a glance

How do you unwind?
Meeting my friends.

One activity you love?
Enlarging my circle of friends and bringing together the printing fraternity.

Favourite films?
I like every film I see. In Hindi, it would be Jab We Met, Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. In English, it would be all James Bond movies. I especially love the movies which show printing presses like The Post (English) and Bareilly Ki Barfi (Hindi).

Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
Preferably, somewhere in the hills: Narkanda, Sangla, Baspa Valley up to Chitkul – the last motor-able village on Indo Tibet Border supposedly with the cleanest air.

Favourite snack?
Aloo tikki, if it’s vegetarian and seekh kebab in non-vegetarian.

Favourite book?
The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Your adda in Delhi?
New Friends Club where a group of my friends from the print fraternity have been meeting at least once a month for the more than past 20 years.

One thing about the Delhi print industry no one knows?
We are united in spite of all the limitations enforced in the name of stringent regulations after being classified as a polluting industry. The so-called pollution of generating (HW) hazardous wastes with the latest technology machines, environment-friendly inks and chemical washes is less than the waste generated after a round of painting at home or office.

One print job you love?
Printed signage wrapped on the liquid oxygen tank at AIIMS trauma centre in New Delhi in January 2008 so as to withstand the freezing temperature round the clock for Uttam Air Products.

One print factory in Delhi NCR which you want to visit?
Any Graphics – Noida.

Your print hero?
Rajesh Bhargava who is my guru and a print technologist from Allahabad who started his career as a print executive with Clarion Advertising and went on to become the vice president at Contract Advertising, Hindustan Thomson Associates, J Walter Thomson, Weiden and Kennedy; and Dentsu.

One phrase, you utter at least once a day?
Let us learn something new today. It puts me on a learning curve so that I can help my friends and colleagues.


Title: The book publishing market – today and tomorrow

The publishers have had a bad season last year and were quite upbeat with the production for this year before the second wave had begun. It led to the overnight cancellation of print orders. Now the publishers have been forced to play the waiting game.

My personal belief is that publishers/ schools/ institutions should be ready with the books and assignments as people do not want their kids to be studying from an electronic screen all the time. Moreover, not everybody has a basic toner printer at home to take out prints from PDF files of school books or assignments. Not to overlook the fact that a printed book is less expensive and more comfortable in handling than a bunch of photocopy or prints. 

Delhi is the centre of the publishing hub, and I have a good personal equation with all the key stakeholders in the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP), the Association of Publishers in India (API) and the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers Association (FPBA). As an office-bearer of DPA, I have made efforts to keep high the engagement between various bodies representing publishers and printers.

I judged the award entries for the 40th Awards for Excellence in Book Production organised by the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP). The other judges were from National Book Trust India (NBT); The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC). Our discussion points included hotly debated issues like GST, levy of import duties on books, the inclusion of books in the list of essentials and various other points.

And although the individual interests had differed; everybody tried to find solutions that would work in the larger interests of both publishers and printers.

Coincidentally, my brother Neeraj Jain who heads Scholastic in India is also serving as president of the Association of Publishers in India. Hence we get to share a lot of perspectives from both sides of this extended family of publishers and printers.


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