Label printing in India: Digital has to wait a while!
India has been termed as perhaps the fastest growing market for printed products in the world. According to the NPES/PRIMIR World Wide Market for Print study, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, “the size of India’s print market will be USD 29.3 billion in 2017 up from USD 24.3 billion in 2014. Print market growth in India has slowed down since the global financial crisis, but the market will continue to grow over the period through 2017; total print product revenues in India will grow at 6.8% annually through 2017”.
Digital printing accounts for 15% of all printed products globally. However, as for India, given the late start and slower adoption of new and fast changing technologies by the cautious print fraternity, even if we make a moderate estimate, the market size for all the digital printed products should be within USD 3-4 billion. This is my personal estimation but if I take predictions and estimation of industry leaders, it appears to be relatively accurate. Pankaj Kalra of Xerox stated in 2012, that “the size of the digital printing market is estimated at USD 1.5 billion now and is expected to grow to USD 2.5 billion by 2012-13”, clocking a whopping 70% growth! The packaging and label segment account for over 40% of the total printed products in India and the segment is growing at 15% against a global growth rate of 5%.
Middle class and cultural diversity as growth drivers
Most of the growth is expected or is coming out of the bulging middle class in India. It is a consumer segment that is turning out a literate and young workforce with disposable income and a long residual working life indicating stability. This young workforce is exposed to the internet and wishes to indulge in modern day retail spending, driving amazing demands for consumer products and also for labels and packaging.
India is a large country having a population with diverse cultures and religions. In addition, similarly different cultures have different festivals. Retail marketing professionals are formulating ways to tap the selling opportunities such occasions offer. It is at this time customized short runs become the need of the hour. The print on demand capabilities of digital printing provides the perfect solution to such requirements. Consumer product companies can offer limited edition packs with regional festival branding. It is one such example of things that are driving that tremendous growth into digital printing in India.
The impact of digital printing
While digital printing has made its impact in the Indian sheet fed printing arena, yet it still does not have many takers in the narrow web label printing. Most of the established offset printers have more or less enabled themselves with digital capabilities for not just proofing but also to cater to their customers who need short run jobs. Otherwise customers would start looking elsewhere to get short runs done. Customer retention is a very important requisite for successful print firms with large capital investments. They cannot afford their customers to go to other printers for short runs as this way they are liable to lose their bulk business as well.
The reason for small digital printing companies for sheet-fed mushrooming all over the country is that most of the large offset printers are still focused on their high volume customers and they acquire some digital capabilities to address the needs of existing customers. The smaller consumers needing just the short runs, have created a demand to cater to this need, small digital printing outfits have come up in colonies and markets in all big cities in India.
I believe sooner or later the bigger players in the organized segment will indulge in tapping this market in an organized manner offering services at the smaller customer’s door step on demand. Obviously these are game changing times and that is what makes the Indian printing stalwarts go on the defensive. The sheer ever changing and evolving nature of electronic technologies makes them apprehensive. They fear their equipment will become obsolete before they can say they got their return on the investment.
Investment in digital printing
The Indian label industry is in an undecided stage regarding investment in digital printing equipment. Most of the larger narrow web printers have been toying with the options for the last few years. Some have taken cautious steps into the technology, there are others waiting at the threshold and the rest would like to wait and watch the ones who have indulged.
A couple of years ago all or most of the handful who dared to venture into digital for narrow web label printing were tight lipped about the outcome of their big investments. Pioneers always go through the difficult phase of initiation. The scenario does seem to be stirring up some interest in all the big label companies tempting them to bite that forbidden apple. This so in light of the fact that leading press manufacturers like Gallus, Omet, and Nilpeter, are offering digital capabilities on their conventional label presses. At the forthcoming Labelexpo Brussels 2015 these press manufacturers will showcase their innovations in digital and conventional printing brought together in excellence for the narrow web label industry.
Indian label printers have started to feel that it will not be long before they will have to have that capability as well. To be that early bird or not remains a dilemma. To initiate a dialogue on this subject, I spoke to Sanjeev Sondhi of Zircon Technologies. “In my opinion, for digital printing in labels, India is still not ready. This is so primarily due to the cost of print compared to established technologies and above all, print buyers do not pay anything extra on small runs if it is printed digitally. Therefore, I believe that to be successful with digital in label or packaging printing, one has to look for value addition for which customers can pay or indulge in some really out of the box thought process”.
Indian industry feedback
To get the Indian industry feedback I posed a few questions to some of the leading label printers in India. I list below my questions and the responses:
Why has digital printing not found large scale acceptance with India label printers so far?
Narendra Paruchuri (Pragati Pack): The main problem in getting digital accepted is the client. The purchase officer is buying 1000 items and we cannot expect that he has knowledge of labels he is buying. The labels printed on Offset/flexo/digital will vary as the technology used is different. This difference has been accepted very well in the west and we will have to explain, teach and make sure that it is acceptable. This is the primary issue. In most of the cases, the knowledge of prepress is very limited. Once you get a digital machine, the amount of data you are crunching is huge. Colour management is a major issue. The learning curve would be steep and time consuming.
Gautam Kothari (Skanem Interlabels): The cost of digital printing remains very high. The manpower costs in India are much lower, thereby viability is not there.
Rajesh Nema (Pragati Graphics): Less awareness about the technology, costlier per print cost and fast rate of the equipment becoming obsolete.
Amar B. Chhajed (Webtech Labels-Huhtamaki Group): Investing in a good high end digital press is a relatively big investment and when compared with similar investments in a conventional press, the output of the digital press is substantially less. Making the saleable product that much more expensive. Also key to digital business is constant innovation which is not an easy task for anyone.
Vivek Kapoor (Creative Labels): It does not create extra revenue for the printers. The end users are not willing to pay a premium on digitally printed labels. They will give a huge run and subsequently expect a small run for granted at the same price.
How long do you think it will take for digital to move into India?
Narendra Paruchuri: It will not be very long but all of us should understand that digital will not replace any technology. It will only co-exist. So a part of your business which is short run or with variable data can be serviced by digital and the longer runs with all the bells and whistles could be serviced by the regular flexo/offset machines.
Gautam Kothari: It depends on the applications for which it is used. For general printing of labels; three years at least, depending on how fast costs go down.
Rajesh Nema: I think it will take two more label expos before the technology starts to get a firm footing in India. However, if there are more international label printers in India, it may come faster.
Amar B. Chhajed: There can never be a precise timing for anything. It is already happening for some and in general it could happen over next two to three years.
Vivek Kapoor: Five years
What are the conditions that will fuel demand for digital printing?
Narendra Paruchuri: I think that my answer for the second question is more or less is the answer to this one too.
Gautam Kothari: Basically runs in India are getting shorter; however the crossover to digital is at much lower running meters due to high cost of digital. Therefore only very small runs are viable if at all. Also India has far lower manpower/overheads costs vis a vis the West making it difficult. Cost per print has to go down and speeds need to improve, only then will digital really take off in India.
Rajesh Nema: Per print cost on digital presses and converting equipment needs to come down. Press owners need to be re-assured that in case of faster obsolescence of technology, press manufacturers will suitably compensate by way of buy back of old and replacing with new equipment.
Amar B. Chhajed: Advancements on the technology front that bring down the overall cost of printing will be essential to fuel the demand for digital, specially the ink/toner costs which are multiple times higher than conventional costs.
Vivek Kapoor: The day it is able to generate revenue on its own.
I was quite amazed by the similarity of responses from most of the persons who responded. All have expressed that the cost per print in digital and does not prove a viable proposition considering the high cost of the equipment and high ink cost. The undercurrent in all expressions is that digital printing as things stand now will not be the mainstream technology. It will co-exist with existing technologies and will be used for specific demanding needs. The time frame before digital printing becomes largely visible and used in label printing in India, varies between three to five years. So for the time being, “Digital has to wait a while!”