Will digital print transform publishing for the better? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

In August 2020, PrintWeek conducted an exclusive survey among Indian publishers to get a lowdown on how publishers are doing during the pandemic and their game-plan for the future. 37 responses were received via email and 29 via telephone interviews.

The survey was designed and conducted by publishing expert Subhasis Ganguli. Read on...

18 Oct 2020 | By Noel D'Cunha

Whether we accept it or not, Covid-19 has definitely changed things. There are talks about ‘new normal’ in some circles, yet, at the core still reluctant to change. True, change is painful, but it’s time industry leaders made up their minds to change for the betterment of the entire ecosystem.

Keeping this in mind, PrintWeek conducted a survey to capture the mood in the publishing sector. Overall, the result is a bit confusing and in the region of either or may be. It seems publishers would like to wait and watch a bit more rather than taking any proactive and game-changing decision. Most of the questions were in circulation for years now, but we are yet to find a clear direction to understand what will happen next.

There are a couple of changes as well. Most of the publishers would like to change their workflow to sale and procure rather than procure and sale. This could change the total supply chain flow and procurement process. Digital could get a further boost and turnaround time (TAT) needs to come down drastically. That can only be achieved if publishers and printers work as partners and there is no shortage of raw materials in the market.

So, advanced planning and projection play a major role here. In the absence of near accurate projections from publishers, paper cannot be procured and stored by the printers and this will affect the efficacy of the chain.

Cost too plays a major factor here. While more than 50% of publishers prefer to print exact quantities as per order received and to reduce the load on stock, they are not sure what could be the best option keeping the cost in mind. This might be important now for digital technology providers to start coordinating with publishers, understand their pain areas and break-even points and reconsider the cost of print. Inkjet could play a major role in this transformation.

But here, publishers, printers and technology providers need to work as partners on the same platform. For example, while paper is the highest input cost tag for offset printing, it is the ink in case of digital printing. So, it is important to plan ink reduction for improvement of cost efficiency. This could be done in many ways.

  1. Publishers could plan their books in such a way that the usage of solid colours, bleed colours and bands are restricted to minimal
  2. Printers could work with publishers to set the print profile and output efficiency on a particular paper and agree to a cost
  3. Technology providers offer technical support and test facility to the publishers to determine minimum ink consumption on pages
  4. Technology providers also could work on ink and find way to reduce logistics cost and a way to produce ink in India to avoid import duty and reduce cost further

While almost 40% of publishers think that they will be back in business in the same level of last year during the second half of this year, a majority of them are of the opinion that it will be lower than last year. It is heartening to see that more than 60% of publishers think the business will get normal within six to 12 months time, yet the majority are not sure about the condition post-Covid.

In finishing, only a small minority opted for PUR binding, which can offer sustainability, quality and quicker TAT at the same time. Most of them prefer to stay with their current workflow and show no intention to change.

Also, no clear plan emerged in the survey about reducing the use of single-use plastic in publishing. For now, it seems, we will keep on using plastic as usual as we are doing in our daily lives.

Virtual learning
About eLearning and virtual classes, most of the publishers are hopeful and would like to invest in that area. However, no long-term policy emerged from the survey. While the main challenge today is the quality of teaching and technical acquaintance of the teachers, one third of the publishers think it is none of their business to educate the teachers and bring them to the level where they could use the technology seamlessly.

If we are serious about the virtual learning process, and we think it is going to stay, we need to make good connections with the students, get their feedback, and consider their needs while planning new courses and update and upgrade teachers accordingly.

This can be possible with the help of Artificial Intelligence through the platform. Publishers need to start thinking as a technology company which provides good content in different formats. This content needs to be available anytime, anywhere.

Publishers need to keep in consideration of bandwidth challenges, technical advancements and updating, change in their approach and end-to-end encryption. This is a total change in the current mindset and needs to have long-term planning. Interim short-term jugaad could solve the current problem for a year or so, but that will not be sustainable.

The fact remains that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives. Whether we like it or not, we have to accept the new normal. Efficiency, cost, TAT, effectiveness and virtual learning with the aid of Artificial Intelligence will be the new reality. We need to adopt them quickly.

(Subhasis Ganguli has spent 30 years in the publishing with Oxford University Press (OUP) and Penguin – Pearson. At present he is a freelance-consultant to publishers and technology providers)