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Print is back in business – that is the key message

After a string of online events and conferences, this year’s Indian Printers Summit, possibly the first proper programme in the print industry after the COVID years, brought together more than 215 media executives from around 50 organisations for the 30th edition of the WAN-IFRA event. Neha Gupta and Aultrin Vijay sent us this report

The theme of this year’s conference, which took place in New Delhi on 14 and 15 September was ‘Back to business – Print for the future’. The first day featured a keynote speech by Mohit Jain, board member and executive director at Bennett Coleman and Company (Times Group), president of The Indian Newspaper Society and a WAN-IFRA Board Member, on ‘what holds good for the future of print in the digital world’. There was a spirited discussion on the future of the printed product and how to leverage the credibility of print for years to come.

Quoting the Neuroscience Research Canada Post 2015, Jain said, “We may not be at pre-COVID levels of advertising revenue, but we’re up for the challenge. The cognitive power in print is much more powerful than digital. Content in print connects with the brain more effectively and requires 21 per cent less cognitive effort to process information.” He continued to list the primary challenges plaguing the print industry that included supply chain disruptions, news avoidance, digital influx, the threat to freedom of speech and the struggle to retain talent.  

The next speaker, Partha Sinha, president – Response, Bennett, Coleman & Co, spoke about the strategic repositioning of print in the post-COVID reality. Should publishers choose efficiency, effectiveness, or both? The choice is not very clear. “In context of the pandemic, many marketers have been forced to adjust their expectations of return on investment (RoI),” said Sinha. “In some cases, brands in severely challenged categories have been put under pressure to chase short-term RoI just to survive the next couple of months.”

Sinha said the secret to growing a brand is to build “market-based assets” and these come in two flavours – maximised distribution (physical availability) and clear and distinctive branding using sensory cues that are easy to remember.

The day concluded with a roundtable on the ‘revival of print and the ensuing business opportunities’. The panellists comprised Varghese Chandy, VP, Marketing & Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama, and Harrish M. Bhatia, president – Ad Sales, DB Corp. The session was moderated by Suresh Balakrishna, chief revenue officer, The Hindu.

“Covid-19 has created several opportunities. Before the pandemic, we thought print media and ad revenue was going down. The pandemic was a boon for all of us. It helped reinstate people’s trust in print media,” said Bhatia. “DB Corp’s circulation is about 93 per cent right now. Content is king and nobody can touch print media for the next 10 years,” he said. Chandy said Malayala Manorama reached the value and volume of their 2019 figures, for the quarter starting July this year. 

Earlier, K.N. Shanth Kumar, director, The Printers (Mysore) and WAN-IFRA Board Member welcomed the gathering. He urged publishers to adapt to new realities, find niches and make changes. Adrian Haack, director, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, New Delhi, said journalism has become fast-paced and it is important for traditional media to maintain its position as the trusted source of news. 

Day 1 of the summit was packed with networking and in-person meetings with product and solution providers to discuss business and the latest developments in the print industry. Attendees had the opportunity to learn from print media experts and interact with suppliers who reviewed their upcoming products and services during the event. 

Day 2 of the conference saw discussions around management of the supply chain, optimising resources, digital printing of newspapers, among other topics. Paula Smith, sales director, Copap Inc and Satish Chandra Mishra, director, Jagran Prakashan, shared insights on the global newsprint supply trends and spoke about the newsprint challenges and the way forward for the industry.

Smith said the global newsprint supply declined dramatically in the past few years due to the secular decline in demand, accelerated by the pandemic in some areas. However, on a positive note, Smith said India will remain a key newsprint market and a leading importer, considering the decline in demand in other markets, including China. 

The session was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Snehasis C. Roy, director – Technical, Bennett Coleman & Co. The discussion touched upon the different ways in which publishers and suppliers could manage their resources. The panellists comprised Bernhard Schmiedeberg, senior VP – Sales, EAE QIPC; Utsab Choudhuri, senior VP and head of Technology, DIC India; and D. Gnanavadivel, director, Sri Srivathsa Paper Mills.

One of the key points highlighted by Gnanavadivel was to minimise the import of newsprint. “India is going to be the second largest economy very soon, so you must support the Indian industry… Rather than importing newsprint, procure it from Indian mills, which are capable of producing high quality newsprint.”

During the session, Schmiedeberg said that printing, globally, was going down and suppliers were jumping out of the business. However, “we want to be the last standing in this industry.”

Meanwhile, Choudhuri highlighted the three issues plaguing the ink industry – raw material availability, price and substrate variations. He told the viewers that DIC was working on inks that have lower see-through, as paper GSM is being reduced to counter the paper price hikes. 

Speaker Amit Khurana, COO-Newspaper Group, TechNova, was pretty upbeat about the print industry. He advocated customisation and personalisation in newspapers. Khurana said other sectors such as packaging printing have been able to reap benefits from customised printing, thanks to digital presses. 

“Print has grown 4X in the last 40 years. Print is here not only to survive, but thrive,” said Khurana to a cheering audience in the Crystal Ballroom at Radisson Blu, New Delhi Airport. 

The day concluded with a panel discussion on ‘successful innovations and new ways of operating in print publishing’. The panellists included John Cusack, business development manager, Baldwin; Saptangshu Chaudhuri, deputy general manager, ABP; and Puneet Razdan, general manager, Hindustan Times. 

The two-day event was supported by The Indian Newspaper Society, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, TechNova, techniweb, QI Press Controls, Orient, NewsTech, Manugraph, ppi, Baldwin, Bombay Wellprint Inks and Poddar Global. Supporting publications were All About Newspapers, gxpress, Indian Printer and Publisher, PrintWeek, Print & Publishing, and RIND Survey.

(The writers are multimedia journalists with WAN-IFRA South Asia.)

October 2022