The Department of Finance on 2 September issued guidelines to ban printing of diaries, greeting cards, coffee table books, and calendars in physical form. All such items will now be issued only in digital form.
The government’s economy measure has to be seen as a clear attempt to promote digitisation and underplay print’s traditional role. Will this memo put small print businesses at risk?
On 2 September, the memorandum was circulating on every single print WhatsApp group and social media. Only this time it was not “fake news". It was an office memorandum by the department of expenditure, ministry of finance, which said, “As the world is increasingly moving towards adopting digital force multipliers for productivity and given the fact that using technological innovations for planning, scheduling and forecasting is known to be economical, efficient and effective, the government of India has decided that there will be no further activities towards printing wall calendars, desktop calendars, diaries, festival greeting cards and similar materials by all ministries/departments/autonomous bodies and other organs of the government.”
There was an eerie silence on most groups.
And then the floodgates opened.
Prakash Kumar of The Vijay Books, Sivakasi, said, “This will mean a huge blow for the commercial print industry, which is already in bad shape. If this continues, soon books, publishers and paper would be a thing of the past.
Rahul Jain, managing director, PSPL Advertising, added, “It's saddening. No way that this should be allowed to happen. What legacy are we going to leave behind?”
However, Niten Shah of Vyoma Graphics from Pune felt differently. “It’s basically a cost-cutting measure by the government and we should take it in the right spirit. Commercial printing was slowly dying, but Covid-19 has hastened the process. We need to face the reality. Lots of businesses have shut down due to the rapidly changing technology. Commercial printing seems to go that way.”
Rajesh G who is vice president (Central) at KMPA and head of Rajsree Industrial Printer concurred with Shah. He said, “Government tender conditions are designed for certain printers only. Most of the tender conditions will not suit the normal printers and they will not be able to apply for it.”
The Association response
In its memorandum, the government said it took the decision, as using technological innovations for planning, scheduling and forecasting is known to be economical, efficient and effective. As one printer said, "Does this mean print is none of these things? It has a legacy of five hundred solid years. Civilisations have been built on its shoulder. Who is advising our government officials? What are our print associations doing?”
Tushar Dhote, president at Mumbai Mudrak Sangh (MMS) stated, “The decision to ban printing of diaries, calendars, and coffee table books taken by the government of India is absolutely uncalled for. The decision to do so is definitely detrimental to the printing industry, where thousands of workers in towns like Sivakasi and others depend on print for their livelihood.”
Dhote added, “This unplanned step taken by the Government will have more severe repercussions than the Covid-19 pandemic.”
He goes on to state, “I really fail to understand how can the government take such a drastic step without consulting the Federations and Associations of print and the paper industries.”
MMS has drafted a representation and has requested other progressive print and paper associations to come forward and join hands in revoking “the ban”.
Kamal Chopra of Foil Printers, Ludhiana, on behalf of printers of India and Offset Printers Association of Ludhiana, said: “The 2,50,000 printers of the country are already facing the crunch of lockdown and many printers who were not able to afford their livelihood are already facing closures. The printers always look forward to New Year and many are dependent only on such work. Printers are facing huge problems, due to this forced lockdown. One of their major sources of income comes from the educational institutions, which are not allowed to function due to the pandemic. Depending on the government work, the printers were eagerly waiting for the orders of calendars and diaries, which is an annual feature and another source of income for the 85% micro and small printers of the country. With these orders, the hope of survival for this key industry is dismal. It is, therefore, a plea to the government to reconsider this decision.”
The ramifications of the memo
KMPA’s Rajesh G pointed out, “One thing we have to understand is when the government stops such tenders, many printers are going to lose huge quantities of print works, which we used to receive. Now, the printers who used to procure government tenders will target the commercial print market and compete on lower prices. Empirical data suggests print consumption had hit records low. On top of that, there is a cessation of government printing orders. This will result in a bloodbath in the market and printing rates will be further slashed.”
MMS’ Dhote agreed, “In the past few years, we have seen a downward trend in the commercial printing activities followed by a total fall in demand during the lockdown. This unofficial ban is the final nail in the coffin for the printing industry.”
Lakhs of print workers will lose their livelihood in one stroke. In addition, Prakash Kumar of Sivakasi says, “Our world will become an electronic junkyard in the very near future.”
Change is inevitable
Govind Pandey, group CEO, TWBA India, said, “Everything is changing and every industry has to adapt.”
He added, “People like to hold printed objects in their hands. The tactility is important, and its longevity also contributes to its effectiveness.”
Ajay Kakar, CMO at Aditya Birla Capital, said, “I think that we do a disservice to any medium when we compare it with another, in isolation. Or as an absolute. The starting point must always be the proposed audience and then the proposed messaging. The ideal medium for each campaign, so defined, will come up, naturally, as the outcome. And rest assured, there is and will always be a role for the print medium, for certain audiences and certain messaging.
Govind Pandey, stated, “The traditional, mainstream blast-out-ten millions of copies of something I see dying a slow death. As technology evolves, marketers will continue to want to get to more finely customise pieces for specific customers learning from the digital world, where you can choose your exact demographics.
Kakar pointed out, “A call on diaries, calendars and so on, taken for the short term as cost-saving measures should not be read as a view on or the absence of faith in the print medium.”
Pandey said the symbiotic integration with digital is huge. “Together, print and online are greater than the sum of their parts. Print will increasingly team up with digital media as a way of driving traffic or working together in other interesting ways.”
Is it too late?
Kolkota-based PR Ray with four decades of experience in paper and allied industries seems to say it best. He said, “For me, this appears to be one of those dream schemes, which will die its own death after a year. But as I have been saying paper and print for the education sector will definitely reduce to a great extent. Our industry needs to wake up.”
Meanwhile, the clarion call from the industry is, “It's never too late. Lobbying and government pressure needs to be maintained against such schemes.”
(This article first appeared on Printweek.in with inputs from Campaign India)