14 April 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on the print industry

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by Akanksha Meena, Deputy Editor, Brand Print India

The rising cases of COVID-19 in India is leading to widespread fear and uncertainty about the future. The lockdown imposed by the government of India on March 25, 2020, to curb the outspread of the disease, is resulting in economic catastrophe. The Indian printing industry is among the highly suffering industries at the hands of the pandemic.

The Offset Printers Association (OPA) organized a webinar on April 11, 2020, to address the growing concern of the Indian printers about the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and how to deal with the threat once the market is operational again. The webinar was hosted by Prof. Kamal Chopra, general secretary, Offset Printers Association, and the speakers comprised academic and professional experts in the field. Apart from India, the webinar was attended by printers from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Indonesia.

The webinar had four aspects – how to stay positive during the pandemic, the safety measures for machinery and equipment to avoid accidents and losses, the technological and operational changes to look out for after the lockdown and takeaway from COVID-19.

Safety measures to take post lockdown

The first speaker, Pradip Ghaisas, a safety expert, spoke about the safety measures to take after the lockdown ends. He stated that as the lockdown ends and movement begins, there will still exist a risk of catching the infection. He insisted on practicing social distancing post lockdown as well.

Speaking about the safety of machinery and equipment, Ghaisas said that since the factories are closed, rodent and insect infestation could occur which might result in flashback, arching and short circuits. Pest and rodent control can be done to avoid it. He advised the audience to restart the machinery and utilities with caution and ensure that the required guards are in place before starting them to avoid any injury.

Uncertainty shall never cease

Sudhir Chopra addressed the problem of the workforce and financial losses. He pointed out that the uncertainty in business has always been there. He said that the only difference right now is that our fear is driving our assumptions and decisions for the future. Decisions based on fear might not be advantageous. Instead, he urged the viewers to stay motivated and reflect on the things we take granted.

The US printing industry

Frank Romano, a veteran of the print industry, gave insights about the US print industry. According to him, the dailies took the biggest hit as they are supported by small scale advertisers. The weeklies have also suffered significantly. The periodicals have been suffering for a while but since they are supported by large corporates, they are still being printed, although the page count has decreased. In the case of books, the short-run on-demand books seem to be doing well. The high-speed roll-fed inkjet presses are replacing older sheet-based equipment.

He went on and added that advertisement and promotional materials took a big hit since the postponement and cancellation of major exhibitions and events. They are expected to return when the industry revives. Packaging printing including the label market, in his opinion, is doing phenomenal because of the multiple options in packaging. Romano said that social distancing is forcing the small printing companies to shut down. The printing businesses are operating with limited staff and are expected to come to a halt.

The European printing industry

Beatrice Klose, secretary general of Intergraf, European Federation for Print and Digital Communication, gave a brief overview of the situation of the European printing industry. She said that print has taken a sharp fall since the pandemic began. The print has been recognized as an essential service in the European countries owing to its functions in packaging to secure food products, pharma goods, and deliveries. Newspapers are an important source of reliable news in the EU. The pandemic adversely affected the commercial printing segment, especially with the cancellation of major events and thus, the related print was not ordered. The service industry’s downfall has also affected the European print industry. Printers reported an 80 percent decrease in their activities and workers are being laid off. Cash flow is a big concern because of the closing down of customers’ business. She stated that print needs a fully functioning economy to thrive. She hopes that the world realizes the fragility of this world and learns to take better care of it for a sustainable business ecosystem.

The Global printing scenario

Prof. Dr Anjan Kumar Baral, former chairman at the Department of Printing, GJ University, Hisar, summarized the global losses. He reported that businesses in Denmark are losing turnover, the staff is being laid off and orders are being canceled. The decline of customer base, shutting down of cultural and tourism sites, expected decrease in orders for the spring and future, deterioration of customers’ willingness to pay at the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19, expected bankruptcy for small businesses, price rise for basic and auxiliary materials can be observed in Hungary.

The reduction in demand for goods and services is leading to suspended parts of their activities in Portugal and there is a general feeling of uncertainty in the UK and small businesses are not expected to survive beyond six months.

Equipping employees for future roles

Prof B Kumar, head of Department of Printing Technology, Anna University, Chennai, mentioned that the upcoming recession will be like none other in the history of recessions because it will happen at a global scale and affect all classes. ‘It has become a sort of an equalizer,’ he said.

He opined that it might affect the way we interact with each other and new norms will come into place. He suggested that employers should help their employees during and after the pandemic. Equipping them with better skills and preparing them for future roles could be resourceful. It could be done using online training resources.

Preparing for the post-lockdown market

Prof. Mrs Madhura P. Mahajan, faculty and HOD of Printing Engineering at PVG's College of Engineering and Technology, Pune, suggested that if the lockdown unwinds in phases, printers should plan their operations accordingly. They should focus on the market of the future. She said that the food and pharma industries are operating at a basic demand level right now and might boom in the future. Printers should find ways to be a part of their supply chain

Mahajan added that identifying the markets that are going to bounce back faster and being a part of it will help the printers get back on their feet. She insisted on staying in touch with your staff and helping them is important.

Future market opportunities

Dr TKS Lakshmi Priya, head of the Department of Printing Technology at Avinashilingam Institute for Women, Coimbatore, urged the viewers to find potential opportunities and look for innovation in printing while they are in isolation. She indicated that a few options including cross-media printing, hybrid printing, shifting from commercial to luxury printing, becoming a total solution provider or an event manager and digital media could be interesting to explore. She proposed that collaborating and ensuring that all the elements in the supply chain are stable can be useful. Lastly, operating at a minimum level might be a good way to begin the revive the business slowly.

A sustainable business model

Baral mentioned that there is a general feeling of anxiety, panic, and fear in small and medium-sized printers in India. Most Indian printers use the offline mode of business and most deals are closed in person. But since the pandemic, it has become difficult for printers to conduct their business. He recommended the online mode of business. Designing a simple website, getting registered on Google, engaging with customers online, displaying products on Google Merchant Center could help printers conduct business during uncertain times. He also suggested that allowing employees to work from home can save costs.

Lessons learnt

Manoj B Mehta, former president of All India Federation of Master Printers, recalled the pandemics of the past and reminded the viewers about the reforms that came into existence because of them. He remarked that COVID-19 has exposed gaps in the social safety net. The Indian government should have adequate shelter provisions for the poor, mobile testing and food delivery systems. He also mentioned that India’s GDP forecast is looking good in comparison to the other countries.

The webinar ended with Q&A session.

Main picture: (l-r) (top) Prof. Kamal Chopra, Pradip Ghaisas, Frank Romano, (middle) Beatrice Klose, Prof. Dr Anjan Kumar Baral, Prof B Kumar, (bottom) Prof. Mrs Madhura P. Mahajan, Dr TKS Lakshmi Priya and Manoj B Mehta

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