Printing Industry Post Covid Era
Printing industry trends:
Printing industry has been in a state of flux since the last two decades. It has seen its peak in technological advancements and also its fall in the traditional printing processes – all in a short span of 25 years. I have been fortunate to be part of the Printing industry during these years. When I joined the industry, printing machines and technology were primitive, very similar to the Ambassador and Fiat cars that were just functional in nature; they did the job however, had no automation, speed, and did not care about the user experience.
We saw rapid development of printing technology and printing machines turned into a highly sophisticated printing machines that produced huge quantities and delivered excellent quality. Newspapers, Magazines, Books, Packaging, Signages, Brochures, Photographs, bills and statements, cheques etc. all increased in volumes and were able to fulfill the increasing demand of a growing and increasingly literate Indian society.
Then came in the internet and things changed – while the content increased manyfold, the need to print all of them decreased over a period of time. India was experiencing a growth in digitization as well as growth in conventional printing requirements as the vast population was evolving. While some moved on to Ebooks – many were still holding the first books in their hands. Higher Education started to go digital. Video and audio based learning started taking over reading based learning and Commercial printed brochure started to go digital with much more rich features that had links to buying options / presentations / videos / Case studies / etc. Last two decades saw the boom in Printing industry in India as consumption was fueling all the demand. Packaging industry was growing at double digits CAGR while commercial and Publishing industry was growing in single digits as it was facing competition from digitization. Calendars, Diaries, Bills, Statements, financial reports , photographs went completely digital. E-Magazines and Newspaper apps became common. Increase in Internet bandwidth and use of UPI further pushed the digitization and reduced print.
While these have evolved according to the demand from the industry, things were not exactly smooth sailing for the printing industry. Faced with an economic slowdown, rising manpower, and raw material costs, along with an intensely competitive market and environmental concerns, naysayers were calling it the end for the printing industry. Fortunately, rising demand from the consumer retail market, innovation, efficiency in production methods, and niche marketing used by commercial printers saved the day for the industry.
Effects of Pandemic on Printing Industry:
And then came in the Covid lockdown and that was a catalyst towards complete digitization of print. In the three / four months of lockdown – people got used to reading news and magazines on apps. Children as young as 5 years old were learning over zoom calls and the entire learning process underwent a major change. All those who were used to reading a printed document, magazine, paper, brochure – got used to reading them online. Sales of Mobile phones had already exploded before Covid, sales of laptops – doubled and more and more people started doing things digitally. Those who were uncomfortable reading News, magazines, books, brochures on the computer screen – got used to it.
Printing Industry – post Covid:
As we come out of the Covid lockdown – I expect the traditional offset printing industry to go through a major downturn and rediscovering itself. Traditional Offset printing for commercial and publishing requirements is going to shrink drastically and the existing installed capacity in the country is likely to be in state of over capacity. Almost all printers who were catering to Commercial printing and Publishing printing – now want to diversify into mono-carton packaging as they see Packaging as a continuous growing business – not realizing that every Printer is thinking the same and this will create too much over capacity in mono-carton packaging space as well. Overall – the offset printing capacity in the country – moving forward – is going to be in a state of overcapacity for next few years.
Role of Digital Printing:
The need of the hour is to invest in digital Printing for commercial and Publishing segment. Print will remain – but run lengths will be shorter. Digital Printing was playing a secondary role pre-Covid. I believe digital printing will start to play primary role for commercial and Publishing segment. Next decade – we will see digital printing maturing and improving in its technology to become more viable while traditional offset printing will start to vanish.
The Digital printing market is expected to reach US$ 28 billion in the next couple of years. In its various forms, it is also likely to be the most popular printing technology for the future as printing can be done on almost any kind of surface.
Importance of packaging printing:
All three traditional printing technologies for Packaging – Gravure, Flexo and Offset will continue to grow as the demand for packaging and online shopping will continue to fuel that growth.
The famous quote of Beny Landa, “All that can go digital, will go digital” – will finally apply to the traditional print.
Ajay Aggarwal, CEO & MD, Insight Print Communications