The 2021 Power 100: A time to celebrate India’s super printers - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

It’s been a tough year. There were challenges faced by print companies at its workplaces – managing people, material, equipment and finances, which became the new front in the battle to survive. These are leaders of the print industry who provided a ‘clear-eyed hope’.

The 2021 Power 100 comes a year into the pandemic. It will be a show of print’s power – of those individuals who faced challenges and triumphed

18 Apr 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

“In most cases this has become a good excuse for profiteering,” commented one book print firm CEO in Sivakasi while a print boss in Gujarat said the situation had resulted in “probably one of the most difficult periods I’ve known in the past two decades. We’ve seen increases before but nothing like this – it’s not just paper, it’s everything.”

The BILT Art Paper (130gsm) rate per kilogram is Rs.96.5/- + GST + transport (approx. Rs. 110 inclusive all). Two suppliers who PrintWeek spoke to said, "It is a major crisis. The mill has 25 days of coal in stock to run the machine." The mill machine depends on the supply of coal. .

Paper mills across India have stopped taking new orders. As a result, there is "an acute shortage of paper in the market."

PrintWeek contacted many suppliers but neither were they willing to comment nor share the cost.

A paper industry expert said,"I am sorry to say that for ages, my allegation against the paper industry in India has been this. That whenever the industry got an opportunity to raise prices, they would go over the top and do so. The paper industry did this without a care in the world. They forgot that only a few months ago they were lobbying with the government agencies seeking anti dumping duty on Chinese paper imports." Another paper industry speculator said, "For the paper industry, the print and packaging industries hardly matter."

Meanwhile print buyers had already been warned about paper availability issues, with some mills effectively sold out until the end of the year. This has been a huge spoilsport for what was expected to be a profitable festival season.

A print buyer said, "Today, every paise is being passed onto the customers. Therefore these customers are switching over to the digital media. You are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Then you complain that the world is moving to digital."

A print association head in Mumbai said to PrintWeek, "It is a bloodbath on the streets. Even the best in the commercial space are going to taste the dust. The next 3-4 months are going to wipe a lot of us off."

PrintWeek market survey in the post-Covid world had suggested "one out of five commercial print establishments will shut down shutters." But a commercial print boss said, "It will be two of five. And the next 20% will be highly leveraged. Only 40% of the healthy ones will survive in the commercial space."

Also read: 
Clerical goof up causes more pain for print
Has print-land been checkmated by rising costs? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
Coal shortage shutdown five paper mills in Vapi
Paper prices keep going up

The search for the 100 most influential individuals in the print industry has begun. The third edition of the PrintWeek Power 100 is now live.

In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to skip the Power 100 of 2020. 

However, despite the extraordinary times, we saw the Print CEOs are cautiously optimistic about 2021. The Power 100 of 2021 is therefore a great opportunity for the printing fraternity to show its appreciation to the individuals who have contributed to the growth of the printing industry in India.

“India’s print CEOs are the most optimistic people” is the sense we get during our conversations.

That’s the opinion of Charmiane Alexander, who manages PrintWeek’s online and social media activities. Her point of view is certainly justified. Alexander puts up numerous polls every month, month after month, questioning the state of the print industry, and its outlook going forward.

What are the results? 78.6% of respondents say that packaging manufacturing and print services are the two potential segments where the industry can expand considerably - both onshore and offshore; 66.7% sees print and packaging see the Indian retail industry, which is valued at Rs 76.8 lakh crore (USD 1.1 trillion), as a golden opportunity; and 96% of respondents believe that India’s eCommerce business will reach Rs 8 lakh crore (USD 99 billion) by 2024, will give a big for the containerboard and the brown box industry.

These are but few of the optimistic notes.

And the second wave of Covid-19 notwithstanding, there’s a reason for all this optimism. “From zero (in April 2020) to hero. Mega March 2021 sales figures end fiscal year on an unbelievable high. Who would have imagined sales would bounce back so strongly?” tweeted Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India.

During the last 12 months, many print entrepreneurs have shared useful insights and advices, which we have reported. We share 10 of our favourite takeaways:

Saket Kanoria of TCPL: The government should look at a whole range of tax proposals to improve the spending power of the people, and their long term prospects. The tax rates in India right now are very high - the GST and plethora of personal tax. Though the corporate taxes were reduced last year, the government should also look at other rules such as reduction of tax on dividends, tax on buyback, long term capital gains, and disinvestments, because it’s very important for the capital markets to get a big boost. Besides, we must make business truly easy to do if we want to bounce back from this serious event and attract investment - both domestic and foreign.

Narendra Paruchuri of Pragati Group: It is unfortunate that today printers are competing so fiercely that they all end up earning zero profits. Quotes for print jobs are ridiculously low and done without any calculations. All they want are print jobs at whatever prices just to keep them floating for some more time and in the process, they are postponing the inevitable.

L Ramanathan of Sree Vinayaga Screens: The technology has several dynamic behavioural quirks, and one can master it only with practice. It’s not just about printing; the eye-catching output of the product truly depends on the pre-press work done behind the scene. I always remember and thank pre-press guru Ashok Nerker, who taught me the basics.  

RD Bhatnagar, chief technology officer, DB Corp: Commercial presses need to focus on quality rather than quantity and in a very short print window. But, automation has provided equal opportunity to run operations with less dependence on manual processes and predictable consistency in quality.  Encon and safety should now become a part of everyone’s SOP. They are no longer optional.

Aaditya Kashyap of Marks Emballage: The one thing common among companies that have been successful in India is the relentless search for solutions that help increase consistent quality, reduce cost, and more importantly meet customer needs. We are a Baddi-based company, a new kid on the block, but the idea of how the successful companies have achieved what they have is not lost. Not only print CEOs, but also every successful CEO is talking about customer-centricity. Jack Ma, founder, Alibaba says, “Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers. The concept is not new, but the approach is new.” 

Ankul Nanavaty of Unik Printers: Most organisations do not have a formal print management platform, but they somehow manage to print. They have basic indenting modules, which only capture requests in very ineffective ways. They fail to acknowledge and appreciate the need for a well-rounded print management platform mostly for the lack of understanding of it. The current print systems, if investigated even in large organisations, will reveal high levels of manual intervention and dependency on people. In short, these organisations collate all the requirements that come in from branches, product-wise, assimilate them together, send out tenders to four vendors for quote, negotiate, and place the order. It’s manual, unstructured with no SOPs, inefficient as it leads to loss of productive time, and data-deficient as it offers no information to take progressive future decisions.

P Srinivas Rao of KL Hi-Tech Secure Print: KLHT has now been awarded the contract to print the PVC Aadhaar cards, which is currently underway. Continuous development is required for any business to grow. We will be investing in new equipment and projects to get well acquainted with the latest technologies, trends and business opportunities. Beyond that the sheer scale of a project – mapping 1.2-billion population, the ability to analyse the compliance was a key achievement. I would say, our hard work has paid off. We started from scratch and for KLHT, Aadhaar was the first project of its kind where we had to solve problems at various levels. It was a great learning experience for the entire organisation.

Saubhagyanidhi Seksaria of New Jack Printing Press: The growth trajectory vis-a-vis commercial printing, has limited scope for growth. The idea of the joint venture was to club our resources and mitigate the risk. Being together gives us better leverage to set up a successful packaging company.

Deep Shah of Akruti Enterprises: Our industry is heading towards a steep price war. The price war exists because everyone wants to duplicate another printer's process while slashing their own creativity. Nobody talks about inspiration. Nobody wants to create something that is beyond their own P&L framework. Either the printer is copying each other's ideas or just overpowering the rest with just another mediocre-quality product.

Birju Talati of Metro Printers: We have diversified into different verticals with a team that manages each of these verticals. If one of the vertical is not performing, the others help to achieve the set targets. With the kind of setup that we have, we can cater to a variety of jobs from customers and deliver those in time, which is an essential requirement these days.

What we want is for the Power 100 to reflect things such as an individual’s character, their motivation, their standing, their ambition and this year we’ve added extra weighting to their inspirational value. 

2020 was an extraordinary year, and there is no harm in reminding ourselves of the resilience and innovation our industry has shown in the past 12 months and throughout its history.

Share the Power 100 among your peers and make your vote count. Celebrate the power of print.

Voting closes on 24 April 2021.

Visit the following link to cast your vote:

(Note: Manufacturers, dealers and suppliers are NOT nominated in the list)