A misison to keep book print, alive and kicking

Rajnish Shirsat, CEO of R&S Enterprises, shares his book print learnings. How his three year old company has evolved and why he is impressed with traction in book print.

08 Sep 2015 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Our belief that printing companies in India needs to evolve has been re-enforced.
Even today readers prefer print to electronic media when reading books, news, magazine content, complicated information and bills.
As per a recent study by Two Sides, the number of people that agreed or strongly agreed that they could retain or use information better when they read on paper stayed similarly high across the age spectrum. A total of 91% of those aged 65 or over agreed, while 82% of those aged 18-24 also did so. People who least agreed that print was the easiest medium through which to understand or retain information were aged 35-44, at 78%.
While on-screen reading occupies an increasing amount of consumer time, people's preferences are still for a physical reading experience which they believe it to be a 'safe' medium which is more informative, less distracting and less harmful to their health.
And so, in a way, the debate whether print will survive or rather the impact of digital is put to rest.
Under our print consulting arm at R&S Enterprises, we have successfully groomed enterprising print companies to not only get a direction, right business focus but most importantly to course-correct and export with the right perspective. For starts, Indian companies need to get to grips with marketing analytics.
A few pointers every printing company needs to know since all have more or less access to same technology and machines are:
• Research and market study – doing a thorough PEST analysis works wonders. With easy access to information electronically, an insight into the political, economical, social and technological side helps tremendously. Traditionally, India has been exporting to US, EU, UK and Africa but I feel there are other pockets around the world where Indian book print firms can export. The PEST analysis makes this important due to a variety of factors. This can affect trade in the recent past then the conventional reasons. Volatility in foreign exchange, government regulations within the country for imports, access to paper, trade barriers etc. Are equally important.
• Work to your strengths … learn to say NO. When I see fantastic books, quality stands out. Some of the printers we work with give us fantastic results, but that comes from them being so proud of what they do. In fact one of the biggest problems in our industry is, publishers are to blame for price reduction. I have never once asked a printer to lower their prices. We may not accept the first price, but that does not mean we pitch any printer against the other and ask them to beat the current prices we pay – once that starts happening, is a race to the bottom of the dungheap.
• Have a process-oriented flow from estimation to delivery – no compromise, no surprises and no breaking the rules. The thumb rule for a publisher in India or overseas is: Finding a really good supplier that delivers month after month and has a high level of attention to detail on printing and binding. There just doesn’t seem to be the care that there used to be. For many printers, it has become about printing the jobs through and raising the invoice.
• Focus on the throughput (the rate at which something can be produced) and not just the output. It’s a challenging market environment. But also timescales: if the customer’s customer turns around and says ‘we need something’, you’ve got to burn the midnight oil and make it happen.
• Quality to be followed in all aspects which reflects in business retention, repeat business, the SOPs set, right up to the last mile of reaching the customer doorstep, particularly in case of Exports where consignments are exposed to strikes at Ports, infrastructural and transport challenges etc. remember: A book has permanence. Gandhi's autobiography My Experiments With Truth in the library shelf tells you everything you need to know. It’s the perfect manifesto for print. But it has to be produced, superbly.
• And finally, customer service is a key differentiator in terms of prompt communication, responses and ensuring every stone is unturned to satisfy your customer. Please remember: the print buyer has changed. It’s been a challenge trying to understand and communicate the reduction in the supply chain. Print buyers are so used to booking things at the last minute and changing paginations. None of the personnel in sales are old enough to remember the times when you had to book things in advance! Are you ready for this change? The crux to good business is, client services; if you get looked after properly, you feel well managed, and the print buyer knows the printer will go an extra mile for you whenever they can. That owns a lot of brownie points.
• Certifications are important if an Indian printer needs to progress in the international book markets These are: ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001, Disney, FSC, PEFC and ISO 27001. That way, one can cope and optimise the customer’s data. Fundamentally, a good ERP and workflow in production is a starting point. At R&S Enterprises, after the initial diagnostic study, we have groomed its panel of printers to progress in this way.
The print management services at RS Enterprises have benefited print buyers from India and abroad in terms of outsourcing their book printing requirements. We anchor publishers who have appointed us on contractual basis. Suiting the best fit, our panel of printers whom we handhold from sourcing of the correct material, pass stringent quality and social audits such as SA8000, Disney etc. we contract manufacture the print requirements and take responsibility for the final dispatches.
Today, a lot of third parties in Europe or Africa are procuring from India. Under such a circumstance, it’s made it hard to get quality service from suppliers because of prices being pushed down so much. If you’re not dealing with a trained print buyer, then you may need direct access to marketing. Today, many publishers prefer to print in India. But you need to know the rules and bye-laws, and above all, the importance of time and the key deliverables required in the international markets which R&S Enterprises has mastered over two decades of experience.
A printer should realise that sometimes their work is dependent on international postage rates, or their job being stuck on a lorry at the Mumbai port.
The above methods have brought us close to myriad types of printing firms. It has enabled us get the opportunity to assess the available talent and bridge the gap. Our talent acquisition arm extends to print, publishing, media and related companies which we understand to the core. Our step is to groom talent at zero level. Currently, we are in talks with printing colleges and institutes, so that we can train students to take on the world of print in areas of marketing, sales and customer service.
I believe, print is a fantastic industry. I am amazed at how accommodating printers are. They will bend over backwards to provide a solution and get a print job produced, yesterday.
It is our mission to keep print, alive and kicking, since there’s a lot of marketing pressure for everything to be online. The pace of change keeps accelerating and with smaller teams, every book print firm has to do more. Today, constant innovation – everyone wants a unique book solution that’s more beautiful, delivered faster and produced better.