Vishwanath Shetty: Mumbai’s print hubs running out of steam

Vishwanath Shetty of The PrintWorks and a senior member of the BMPA - talks about the blow to print volumes and how Shah & Nahar and A to Z Industrial Estate may not be able to survive the Covid-19 setback

07 Dec 2020 | By PrintWeek Team

Shetty: It will take time to go back to earlier levels since people have got used to online shopping out of sheer necessity

You are a keen student of the city of Mumbai, how is the situation in the print hubs of Lower Parel, Mumbai?
Most units are facing an issue of shortage of staff. Owing to which the finishing aspects dependent on manual intervention due to lack of automation or which are outsourced like lamination, aqua coating and UV coating are in a bad shape.

Has it led to any closure of units?
Around two lamination units have shut. More than half of the machines in the whole industrial estate are idle. Work is at around 30% according to most of my neighbours.

Signs of trouble in the print hub…
Printers on rented premises are more in trouble. They are in a dilemma. They don’t have any work to cater to. And with the huge machines, they can't even vacate.

So now?
In some cases the owners have reduced the rent to help cushion the blow. But some have remained adamant. It has led to survival being difficult. All machine owners in rented premises are the most vulnerable and helpless right now.

Idle machinery, vulnerability and closures: all of these bear consequences to trigger a chain reaction…
It is already visible. Six months of no work and then now the work not being sufficient has badly skewed the earnings ratio. This in turn means that the vendor payments will suffer badly. Salaries of employees comprise of 25 to 40% of the turnover. With this revenue in danger the owners cannot afford the salaries leading to job losses. Even the break-even point is a distant possibility.

No hope at all, at least for the time being?
Those with many pharmaceutical clients may be in a slightly better position. The enquiries for pharmacy detailing aids have just begun either with the hope that the clinics and dispensaries will open and medical representatives will be entertained. Otherwise, no.

What is the change in the commercial print market that we should anticipate in the post Covid-19 era?
It will take time to go back to earlier levels. More people have got used to online shopping out of sheer necessity. This negates the demand for point-of-purchase displays. One aspect of the print jobs that cannot be done remotely due to lack of technical set-up is designing. So it will take time to catch up.

What effect will work-from-home policies of large corporations have on the print volumes?
The frequency of getting material printed has gone down drastically for large corporations. Hence the print volumes are going down. Like; the annual reports which have not been printed at all or are at merely 25% of the earlier volumes.

Colour vs mono. Will this equation change in the post Covid-19 era?
Choosing mono over colour, even if for saving the costs is going to be difficult. I don’t think the stimulus and the aesthetics arising out of a colour print will ever get compromised.

Any major change especially in the wedding photo album market that you foresee?
Wedding albums have been reduced to 20% as the government rule doesn’t permit more than 50 to 100 people to gather. This print segment was already reeling under the effect of widespread use of smartphones which had led to a decrease in wedding albums.

Will firms invest to do away with dependence on people availability in their printing shopfloor? For example, investments in workflows and finishing equipment?
It is highly unlikely to happen. In the year of diminishing demands heavy automation is not going to be compatible both in terms of quantum demand as well as the investment.

Any other print collateral you think which has suffered?
Newsletters and event oriented works related to workshops, press meets, dealer meets, conferences and training are things of the past now. This work was happening at many printing hubs within Mumbai. It has been a great loss.

Yes, Just yesterday there was the news that the newspaper Mumbai Mirror is shutting down. This is tragic news for journalism in the city. Imagine, if a Times Group publication, with its financial reservoir and marketing clout is in such a situation, what must be happening to the other not-so mainstream publications. It doesn’t augur well for print.