Replika 3.0: Celebrating the Book

Replika can deliver a book of 4,000 pages, four-colour, and four hardback volumes in less than ten days.

23 Mar 2016 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Book-printing powerhouse Replika Press organised a grand Open House, called ‘Revisiting the Book of Life’ on 22 February 2016, which saw a gathering of the who’s who of the publishing fraternity, both from India and abroad.
A panel discussion, organised as part of the event, saw panellists reaffirm the faith in the future of printed books. The panel also discussed the Indian book-printing market and Replika’s place in it.
The panellists were Stephen Esson, group publishing operations director, Penguin Random House UK; Louise Cameron, group production director, Bloomsbury Publishing; Mike Levaggil, group production director, HarperCollins Publishers; JP Vij, chairman and managing director, Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers; and Rajiv Beri, managing director, Bloomsbury Publishing India. The panel was moderated by Ramu Ramanathan, editor, PrintWeek India
The moderator also had questions for Neil Bradford, divisional production manager, Penguin Random House UK and Dr LB Singhal, development commissioner, North Special Economic Zone, Noida.
The following is the edited transcript of the discussion.    

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Good evening. My background is print. I must confess, I understand very little about publishing. Therefore, for me, it is a rare honour and privilege to interact with industry experts.

We lost three legends in the last few days – ONV Kurup, Harper Lee and the legendary Umberto Eco, who was expected to win a Nobel Prize probably every year. Thanks to Replika, their memory lives on. We cherish their work. We revel in the joy their books have provided us, and their immortal words would live on for the next 600 years through their books.

The one thing I am excited about today is Replika’s new factory in Kundli. As some of you could not make it to the plant visit in the morning due to the agitation in Haryana, I thought I would share my impressions with you. The plant is an absolutely joy for people like us, who, for the last 15-20 years, have grappled with the industry standards. We have sought and fought how the industry should up its ante, in terms of providing quality, and improving turnaround time. What we saw today. Capability of 200 million impressions is fabulous. The plant has two online lines for soft covers, one for hard covers. The meticulousness with which Team Replika has poured time and energy into the whole operation, from a single book to 10 copies, to 100 to 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 copies, and the ability to produce this in a short turnaround time is breath-taking.

There is one other reason I am delighted to be here. As PrintWeek India, we host the PrintWeek India Awards. Every year, we evaluate the performance of print firm in terms of print capabilities as well as the financial abilities. An independent auditor vets the data. We have been hosting the Awards since 2009, and for the past five years, Replika has won the Post-Press Company of the Year Awards hands down. There is almost no competition. Year-on-year, we have seen Replika leapfrogging with technology. We had ranked them around B then B+ and now they are peaking at A. Next is A+. This is a marked progress.

There is still a long way to go, but it has been a wonderful journey for Replika so far, and it is certainly a matter of pride for all Indians that we have a company like this, a genuine book factory, producing books which all of us love and cherish.

As we begin the discussions, my first question is to Stephen Esson.

Stephen, you obviously have partnerships with lots of book firms from across the globe. You have interacted with them, visited them and evaluated them. How would you assess the Replika factory, especially in terms of its preparedness to cope with expectations from the international markets?

Stephen Esson (SE): It is an extraordinarily impressive facility, extremely well-designed, intelligently making space for additional developments in the future. However, aside from the physical structure of the factory, what impress me are the ambition and the vision which made it all possible. Replika has already proved itself to be successful in both domestic and international markets. I think, with the new factory, with the experience they have and critically, with that vision and ambition, the company is eminently poised to support, and will continue to support international publishers.

RR: Next, my question is to Louise Cameron. Bloomsbury has been working with Replika for quite some time now. What has been the nature of this relationship?

Louise Cameron (LC): I have been working with Replika for a very long time. In fact, I have taken Replika with me, and they have come with me across three different companies. What I admire more about the company is the right mix of price, delivery and service. Replika has never let me down, and the fact that I have taken them from company to company is a proof.

RR: Rajiv, the Nielsen India Book Market Report 2015 was published in October 2015. There are some interesting data, like more than 20% CAGR growth in 2012-15. I remember, in the good ol’ Macmillan days, you had said, the market was said to be worth Rs 14,000 crore. Now, the assessment is that it is worth Rs 26,000 crore, of which 70% is education. There are others who are challenging the numbers, saying that the market is worth Rs 33,000 crore and 95% of it is education. Can you throw some light on this number crunching?
Rajiv Beri (RB):
I have been in the publishing trade for a long time, and we have always struggled with the market size. I mean no disrespect to the Nielsen Report – they are excellent in their work, they have a system in place – but I think the numbers are on the higher side. 

For example, if you look at the K12 numbers, the report said, in 2013-14, it had 250 million enrolments. We are all aware that out of this 250 million, 90% is government schools. The textbooks in these schools are highly subsidised. If you consider this logically, in government schools, the textbook cost per student would be around Rs 500 annually. This makes the size of the market Rs 12,000-odd crore. Then if you consider only English language texts, it would be possibly half, Rs 6,000-7,000 crore.

I think the report needs some clarity. If publishers and investors are going to plan their move based on the report, I think, it is a good idea to probe a little deeper.

RR: What about drive for “official” industry status?
RB: There have been so many representations to the government for making publishing a recognised industry. This hasn’t happen. Thus, it is difficult for companies to seek loans from banks, etc. However, if we talk about publishing becoming more organised, more systematic, involving processes and professional staff , there have been huge improvements in the last decade.

RR: Vij sir, you made an interesting comment in the Replika film, saying that in the last 10 years, the shape, the structure and the actual functionality of the book has evolved. To a large extent, this is also because of your partnership with Replika. Can you shed some lights on this?
JP Vij (JPV): We joined hands with Replika almost a decade ago. What is admirable is that (Bhuvnesh) Seth understood the needs of the customers – quality and time-bound delivery. And he changed everything according to the needs of the customers. I think it is the key to Replika’s success. It can deliver a book of 4,000 pages, four-colour, and four volumes in hardback, in 10-15 days, which would be impossible for any other printer. This may be because of its infrastructure. On the top of it, Mr Seth has assembled a great team to work with him.

RR: As a customer how do you assess the quality?
JPV: Some 10 years ago, we rejected some books Replika printed, because the quality was not up to the mark. It was a huge loss, but Mr Seth happily accepted it. There is no looking back since. Replika has been doing fabulous jobs, book after book. If you order a book of 1,000 pages, in hardback, I can guarantee that Replika will deliver it in five-six days.

It has been a great partnership with us. We enjoy working with Replika. Almost 40-50% of our business is now diverted to Replika just because of the quality, which you rarely find in other printers.

RR: Mike, you are an evangelist for digital print. You have spoken at international book forums that with digital, there is a possibility of enhanced cash flow. Can you explain this? Does this mean a new business model which uses digital print differently than offset?
Mike Levaggi (ML): Offset and digital are not certainly separate things. It is a continuum. As most publishers would agree, they are facing an ever-increasing challenge of balancing the availability of inventory. There is a need for short volumes, which creates significant problems for offset, especially if you want to go really short.

Digital, particularly inkjet, is already playing a big part in the trade model. It is starting to make an impact on books, and slowly, the need for short-run capability will grow. I don’t think it can replace offset. It can be a continuum. It can be a right solution depending on the need for your business.

RR: What is the digital print feedback from HarperCollins?
ML: Currently at HarperCollins, we are using half of these capabilities. We want to get into a stage where we really don’t draw the line and say this has to be this or that. At the moment, in UK, the inkjet model is growing at probably 20% per annum.

RR: In the second round, let’s begin with the C-word, China. Stephen, in terms of evaluating strengths of India and China, if we were to look at the highs and lows, how would they compare as book producing nations?
SE: It’s a good question, and the one that I have been asked on number of occasions. Interestingly, I have been asked this question in India by Indian printers. No one in China has asked me this question. Now, you can draw your own conclusions.

The size and the very aggressive government drive have given rise to more large and export-oriented printers in China. The environment in China is supportive of printers. The government rules and regulations are much easier. Unlike India, there are very few bureaucratic hassles in customs clearance and so on.

A number of new paper mills have opened in China in the recent years. Thus, the local printers not only have good paper on hand, these mills give them the flexibility to procure more paper as and when they need it. Since they do not import the paper, it also comes cheap. China also has a large workforce which is willing to move looking for work.

However, it is not all smooth sailing. In the printing industry, especially in North of China, pollution is a major concern. Though labour is available, it comes at a cost. Recently, the government introduced new labour taxes. So, right now, there is a significant cost pressure in China.

What would happen if cost continues to rise in the Chinese market? We are actively looking out for an alternative. Is India an option? Of course it is. Right now, the thing about China is, the infrastructure is a critical differentiator.

RR: Vij sir, you export your books. How do Indian printers help publishers as print partners, as a technology company? Are there restrictions for Indian publishers in reaching out?
JPV: There is no major difference between books published in India and abroad. That’s why more and more foreign publishers are coming to India. I see leads going up every day.

If you compare India and China, I think we are producing far better quality. I have seen some medical books printed in China. As you know, medical books are judged by the quality of the photographs, images of X-rays and MRIs. I found our quality to be definitely better. Thus, export opportunity is tremendous, as far as Indian printing is concerned.

RR: Going a little off-track, a majority of us are concerned about the future of printed books. What is current rate of digitisation of content and how successful has it been?
RB: A major portion of digitisation is the eBook. Now, publishers have decided that eBook needs to get simultaneous publication with the print book. They are available on eBook platforms and are selling as per demand.

All of us know about the other avenues of digitisation. This varies from market to market and segment to segment. If you look at STM journals, there is massive digitisation. Same is the case with medical books.

In India, I think, eBooks are 5% of the total sale. In the US, the number is 22%, and in the UK, its 29%.

Thus, the future of printed book is quite safe in India. At the most, in the next 5-10 years, eBook market share could be 15%-20%.. This would, of course, vary in different segments. Trade eBooks would grow faster. In the education sector, I don’t see much growth in the next five years or so.

JPV: India is a print-book market. As Rajiv rightly said, print will dominate in the next 10 years. Just to reiterate, many of our textbooks are available for free download. Yet, we see students going for expensive print editions instead of availing the facility.

RR: Mike, would you want your print partner to be a part in the creation of eBook, since they understand books?
ML: It’s an option. Nowadays, publishers work on the print version and the digital version at the same time. So, the work is done before the copy reaches the printer. It is all about making content available at the same time.

LC: I see the eBook not as a threat but as an opportunity, a healthy trend. I think it depends on the product and I think this is something we should carry on doing. The print community should not unnecessarily worry about eBook. They should carry on doing what they do the best – producing quality print products. In the meanwhile, we are making available the content whatever way the market demands.

RR: Stephen, would you like to add?
SE: There is not much to add. In Penguin Random House, eBook sale is 20%, and we don’t expect to see a rise in the number. Practically all of this 20% is in black and white. In all, the message is the printed book is alive and well.

LC: However, over the years, print runs of books have come down drastically. The numbers vary depending on publishers and segments, but generally, we can say that it has come down to almost half.

SE:I have flown into Delhi from Australia. To give you a statistics about average print runs of major printers in Australia, in 2009, 4,200 printers produced 29 million units of black and white books. Now, 9,600 printers produce 23.5 million units of books. This is a significant loss.

RR: Now, I want to ask Neil Bradford who is seated in the audience about the issues of confidentiality and privacy, the fact that you produce here and distributing elsewhere. How much of this plays a part in your relationship with Replika? How does the process work?
Neil Bradford (NB): A partnership has to be based on the same foundation, and trust is critical to that. The story we witnessed here today, the rise of Replika from the Partition, it is something we find impossible to understand in the West. We don’t appreciate the tragedy. And, to come out of it and to create an organisation like Replika, I think, is extraordinary.

There are two things I particularly wanted to point out. We saw a picture of the factory in 1978. And today, Replika is an organisation which has really risen to the challenges and ambition of producing books in the modern world. The other aspect is Bhuvnesh (Seth), who leads this ambition and has a belief and understanding of the way he wants this company to grow. This has remained the same. He has been instrumental in the nature of our relationship. I am not sure I answered your question, but it all comes down to personality and relationship. Our relationship with Replika has been mutually beneficial for both organisations. Looking at Replika today, I think, the factory makes a statement. This is now an organisation that can graduate to the world stage. That’s what I personally would like to see it achieve. 

RR: Is there one thing you want Replika to do, to change?
NB: One of the things I want Replika to do is to invest in digital technology. But the balance has to be right. Fundamentally, I don’t care how the books are produced as long as the price is right and the situation is the same over a period of time. This is a massive investment. I want this investment to be correct and sooner or later, it would be unavoidable. Export is fine, but distribution across India, which is immense, is beyond your control. The infrastructure has to be improved for you (Replika) to succeed. There are number of ways to achieve this. But the ideal way is to collaborate with the government. If you are building a business in the 21st century, the infrastructure has to improve. 

RR: Dr Singhal, you just heard from the largest book publishers in the world and India. Publishing books is a high-risk business. Are there any words of reassurance from your side?
LB Singhal: Over the past few years, I have seen Replika and other printers doing very well. All these firms operate under the government’s 100% Export Oriented Unit scheme. Under the scheme, the units have duty free access to goods and raw material. I have found that these units, specifically Replika, keep their export commitments within the prescribed timeframe. The government benefits continue to be there.

RR: As a last comment, while preparing for this panel, I came across the story by RK Narayan in his 1967 novel, The Vendor of Sweets, comes across an invention about which he writes, “You can work on it like a typewriter. You make up your mind about the number of characters. It works on a transistor and ordinary valves. Absolutely foolproof. Ultimately we are going to add a little fixture, by which any existing story could be split up into components and analysed; the next model will incorporate it.

RK Narayan had a prophecy for the future of the book, I would like to ask the panel about their views on the future of books.

RB: I would say the future is content. A publisher’s responsibility is to create the best content. Not just that, the publisher must also have the due knowledge what the market needs. If a publisher is able to create the best content, then whatever the form it may be, the future is secure.

JPV: Whatever may be the future, I cannot live without book. For me, book is forever.

ML: The future of the book is fantastic. We bring something to the world which is valued and treasured.

LC: We may need to expand the horizon a bit to think what defines a book. For example, if you can produce a beautiful coffee table book, that itself is a thing of beauty. I think we are in a safe space. People’s appetite for beautiful things has not completely gone.

SE: There are challenges too, with the book increasingly having to compete as an entertainment source with social media, among others. Again online retailers are changing how the public buys and reads books. The disappearance of the retail bookstore poses a real danger, because, without it, we are not aware of the range of products and titles, and we would miss out on the very important richness of niche publishing. The future is bright, of course, but not without challenges.

About Replika Press

Replika’s expansion includes a new factory near its existing plant in Sonepat, with a floor space of more than 4,80,000 sq/ft. The new facility has separate space for hardcover and soft cover books. In addition, the company has invested in a Heidelberg CD 74 and Heidelberg 2/2 or 4/0 three months ago, as well as a Ryobi and a Canon Oce.

Recently, Replika Press was bestowed a Special Export Award by Capexil for its achievements in export of books at a ceremony held on 28 January 2016 in New Delhi. The company grabbed the award on the strength of its reported exports of highest value, Rs 7580.89 lakh, with exports in countries like Tanzania, Kuwait, Nigeria, Ghana, Oman and Singapore, among others.are deputed in all six warehouses.