Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vignettes from an international conference

There were some excellent speeches and exchanges at the IFRA India 2008 Conference. Following are some interesting highlights:

The Times of India publishes a newspaper for students – about 500,000 copies are sold. Ravi Dhariwal, CEO-Publishing, The Times of India Group, said that students like to read the paper. The newspaper (in general) has to be customised to suit the present generation, he feels. “The alternatives available to the post-1990 generation are much more (than of his generation). Editors realise that they need to draw the younger crowd. The ageing population is a cushion. The newspaper will still remain relevant. We do not, however, need to change the circulation-growth strategy,” he said.

Shahrukh Hasan, group managing director, the Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan, attending an IFRA conference for the first time, told me that the media scene in Pakistan is very robust and competitive. The market, both Web and print, is growing. Internet is growing exponentially in urban areas, he added. Indeed, India and Pakistan are among the few countries where circulation of newspapers is growing (23 per cent for India and seven per cent for Pakistan). According to Hasan, 70 per cent of the population in Pakistan is under 21 years of age. “We need young readership. The traditional newspapers cater to the more mature readers,” he stressed.


Mohit Jain, director-Business & Commercial, The Times of India Group, felt that the biggest challenge for the news publishing industry in India is the worrisome newsprint situation. “Newsprint cost has risen to 50 per cent of our cost structure and has a huge impact on our bottom line. We like to know how others are handling the situation, whether they are increasing advertising or circulation rates or changing web-width or re-designing the paper. IFRA conferences are all about specifics – about issues most relevant to the newspaper publishing media. So, attending them will help us understand whether we have to expand or migrate from print to digital.”

While explaining Stampen AB’s (Sweden) approach to the news publishing business, Tomas Brunegard, chief executive officer, said that globalisation with new technology is affecting all newspaper publishers and that the newspaper industry must change, building on its strengths. “The future media is not about publisher or individual power, it is about the power of cooperation. Modern people want to take part, and we have to adapt,” he pointed out.

Cyril Pereira, vice president-Manufacturing, ABP Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata, urged CEOs and publishers to find commercial opportunities and make win-win deals. “Newspapers are losing opportunities because of lack of cooperation. Newspapers should ally with Google and Yahoo,” he said and added that linking up with large advertisers have made newspapers powerhouses. “Newspapers are trying to retain profit margins and forgetting investigative journalism. The newspaper’s mission is long gone. Also, newspapers must know the reason for its existence, create a brand image, engage community to solve problems, and be useful and interactive. Newspapers mean something to the community if they are useful. But newspapers are moribund in their thinking. We should be able to tell the advertiser whom they are reaching. Today, I don’t have the ear of the advertiser. We are sitting on a gold mine but we don’t spend a dollar understanding our customer.”

The IFRA India 2008 Conference commenced with the official launch of the IFRA India Newsletter by Thomas Jacob, deputy CEO, IFRA. Dean Du Toit, senior production manager, Gulf News, Dubai, set the ball rolling with his take on the business concept of printing the daily newspaper in heatset and on high-quality paper.

Presenting a case study of The Printers (Mysore) Ltd., Bangalore, S. Krishnan, senior manager-production, covered a wide range in heatset drying, including high ink cost, frequent blanket cleaning and UV incompatibility with conventional coldset ink. He referred to a VAPON (Value Added Printing of Newspapers) study and stated that heatset is only 14 per cent more expensive than coldset on the same paper. The same study also revealed that readers are concerned about the quality of front and back covers in newspapers, and about the use of four-colour as well.

Printing, using lower grammage newsprint, issues associated with it, and how to manage production formed Yusuke Naito’s presentation, which turned out to be one of the most interesting for the delegates. The senior chief engineer, Printing Engineering Department, Nikkei, Japan, explained that Nikkei’s development of the 40g newspaper was dependent on maintenance of print quality and that he and his team had worked closely with ink manufacturers to reduce strike through.

The concluding session on Day 1 of the IFRA India 2008 Conference saw C. K. Gan, managing director, SEA Graphic Communications Group, Kodak, Malaysia, outlining the possibilities of digital printing for newspapers and the technology that can be adopted. His presentation covered consumer behaviour, technology and application. “Print is the core component of today’s media mix and will remain so in the future. Technology has given consumers more power to select content that interests them – they are looking for less information, but information that is more relevant. Today’s challenge is to communicate with the more sophisticated and in-control consumer,” he says, going on to list the advantages of high-speed inkjet technology.

Focussing on how to handle different paper grades in commercial printing of newspapers, Erik Ohls, director-Technical Marketing, UPM Kymmene, Finland, the world’s leading producer of magazine paper, says that paper is the single most important element that defines quality. “When we talk about hybrid printing, we need to identify opportunities for additional revenue,” he adds. According to Ohls, it is most challenging for the printer to combine coldset and a true HSWO web. “It would be good if the printer has an HSWO background. Coldset webs are easier to handle. Also, press start-up sequences need to be developed – heatset webs require a different sequence from coldset.”

Ian Lewis, director, Arcon Digital Ltd., New Zealand, commenced the final session at the Conference with his take on CtP plate technology. Thermal chemistry-free technology is used extensively in North American markets, he said, and added that while violet-free technology is aimed at smaller newspapers, it is now suitable for larger sites. “The development focus is now on violet technology which has matured,” he pointed out. According to him, chemistry-free technology is viable, cost-effective and environmentally sound. Process-less technology has plate handling restrictions and is not viable yet. However, its commercial experience reveals it has a short storage life.

Sandeep Gupta, executive president, Dainik Jagran, the largest circulated and read newspaper in India, drew the attention of the audience to technical issues of short-length run and smaller presses, growing demand by readers for colour pages, and press configuration. “We follow the lean manufacturing method, which means that the focus is on reduction of waste throughout all departments,” he said. Stating that 80 per cent of problems are usually people-related, Gupta was of the view that a systematic approach, measurable practices, recognition of work and training will help solve problems.

The IFRA India 2008 Conference concluded with Sanat Hazra’s (director-Technical, The Times of India Group) presentation on ‘green publishing’. He suggested various initiatives on the newsprint front – use of thinner but stronger and opaque paper, use of alternate fibres, reduction of newsprint waste. He also spoke about new developments in consumables – soya-based ink for offset printing; water base for flexographic and gravure printing; high strength ink; chemistry-free CtP plates; waterless printing; and soft proofing.

Highlighting the aspect of waste management, Hazra said: “Every economic activity produces waste. Proper collection and handling of hazardous waste is crucial. Unless you have proper documentation of a project definition, it will not happen.” He stressed that a time frame must be fixed to get results. The Times of India, he said, is saving energy by reducing the use of diesel generators, for instance, and also saving water and newsprint.

1 comment:

Maddy said...

enjoyed going through some of your blogs!!

so you are from Tharoor too eh? interesting...As a calcuttian, you may (if you have not already done so) be interested in reading the new release Chowringhee by Sankar in English..