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Indian Printers Rally Collectively to Compete with China

A new pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair aims to showcase the ability of Indian printers to compete in the global marketplace.

By Ramu Ramanathan, group editor Haymarket India, editor of PrintWeek India

Indian Printers Collective Stand at Frankfurt

The India Printers Collective Stand at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair was conceived in November 2011, during a round-table conversation on the second day of the National Book Printer’s Conference (NBPC) in Kerala. The group was tasked with discussing book production in India and how to make it more effective. As P. Sajith of Welbound Worldwide and founding member of the NBPC group says, “India’s share in the world pie of book exports is miniscule, just 0.5%, and it needs to be considerable.”

Looking for reasons why, the printers learned from Thomas Abraham, managing director at Hachette India, that an in-house survey at French publishing giant indicated that a majority of production heads throughout the international company preferred printing in China over India. Sixty percent responded that Chinese infrastructure, resulting from decades of focused development, put China firmly ahead. The survey also noted that the Indian printers employ just one one-tenth of the sales force actually required. Cost was also a consideration. The survey said that that four-color printing in India was 15% more expensive than China, likely resulting from 30% higher paper prices in India. In addition, some Chinese companies incentivized error spotting, which cut down on defects and rejects.

Still, the news was not all bad. Monochrome black-and-white printing holds promise for the Indian printers, especially as the education market grows to include a majority of Indian population. And as the global economy improves, the export market will see better days. The take away: “Look at garnering first runs and short-runs of printing backlist titles. Monochrome is a huge opportunity if you can manage well. Straight monochrome is around 70%.”

The NBPC took this as a clarion call to step up and launch a new initiative that, in the words of Pramod Khera, director of Repro India, was “ambitious, attention-grabbing and unprecedented.” The blue-print and plan for the Book City and the Collective Stand — a showcase of Indian printing, first at the London Book Fair and now at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. The aim is to help Indian printers network with publishers primarily form North America and Europe, meet new clients, and demonstrate the ability “to better service our clients,” according to Rajesh Jayaraman, vice president-marketing, Multivista Global.

Indian Printing Turning a New Page

“The Indian print industry has undergone a revolutionary change and is poised to become one of the major producers and manufacturers of printed products to the world,” says Khera. The Indian Printers Collective Stand at Frankfurt is the first of its kind initiative to showcase to the world the strengths and potentials of this industry and offer publishers the best services in this competitive environment.”

Naturally, this includes strategic investments. As Gautham Pai of Manipal Technologies explains, “All book printing firms in India are optimizing space at their facilities. There’s automation and tighter processes. There is also scope to expand the current infrastructure or add new facilities elsewhere. Most firms are boosting their binding and post-press lines, to ensure a faster flow of soft cover and hard-case books.”

Pai outlines the Indian strategy: “The global publishing industry is different from what it is in India. Globally there is tremendous pressure on margins and that’s the reason publishers are looking at India and China. Printers in India are becoming increasingly sensitive about the total cost of the product rather than just the printing cost. In order to stay competitive, the top 20 book printing firms in India are offering end-to-end solutions to their customers. Today, most of them can offer electronic publishing with a fair amount of ease.”

Government is Driving Investment in Indian Printing

The Indian government has committed $7.56 billion every year for a period of five years and had set aside $3.33 billion for 2010-11, all with the aim of improving the quality and availability of schoolbooks.

“India is poised on the cusp of a great educational revolution,” says P. Sajith of Welbound Worldwide. Today, if one averages seven textbooks per literate student, the government prints 1.5 billion books per year for 1-10 standards. Then there are private publishers who add 300-million to this tally.”

Bhuvnesh Seth of Replika Press agrees, “Higher education is equally — if not more demanding — than ever, due to the proliferation of private universities and colleges. About 100 million books are estimated to be focused on this segment. Approximately two billion books address the educational segment in general. Of this about 50% is produced by adhesive binding methods.“

Publishers Want and Need the Same Things

At the center of this debate is, what do publishers want? In the past few months, I’ve been interviewing a few publishers. One thing seems to be clear, the requirements are as diverse as their portfolios, but when it comes to production needs, whether it’s a global publishing giant or a niche specialist, there is often much common ground.

Subhasis Ganguly of Pearson India points out his company’s challenges: “We have to reduce the risk. In order to achieve that and still maintain margins, we have to be creative. Print runs have come down over the past three-to-five years, and stock management is driving that. We used to print a year’s worth of stock, nowadays even for titles that are more demanding in terms of the production specification, we will only print a few months’ worth.” Having said that Ganguly believes, “India could become a foremost book printing country by 2017.”

The Book City project and the collective stand at Frankfurt is unquestionably idealistic, but as Vasant Goel of Gopsons says, at the heart of this cross-industry initiative lies the physical book, which is a remarkable invention. Goel feels the NBPC initiative should act as a spur for additional book sales as international publishers are reminded of the remarkable power of the Indian book print industry.

Time will tell how big an impact the India initiative has on the international book trade. But in 2012, as it looks set to go global, the possibilities are dizzying and endless.

The 10 Indian Commandments at Frankfurt Book Fair

  • World-class quality and service
  • Environmentally accredited paper/materials
  • Print-on-demand
  • Direct deliveries (with total adherence to compliance criteria)
  • Distribute-to-print model (alliances with overseas manufacturers to improve speed to market)
  • Full product life-cycle offering under one roof (POD, short-run digital, long-run litho)
  • Quality assurance workflows and accreditations
  • Storage facility (on-site and off-site)
  • E-books and multi-media formats
  • Adherence to lead times and pricing

DISCUSS: India vs. China, When it Comes to Printing, Which is Best?

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