The index of optimism

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ippstar
The IppStar survey of Indian brand owners, printers, packaging converters and suppliers captures the challenges they face in the Covid-19 lockdown. Graphic IppStar 2020 www.ippstar.org

As technical and science writers, we are taught to speak based on evidence and facts. We spend a lot of our energy in trying to gather evidence and also opinions to understand and interpret the evidence. We argue the evidence and often question and criticize the statistical information delivered daily by the financial press, which often quotes handouts from research and consulting companies.

Our own informed questioning of data and ready-made statistics has persisted for over 30 years. We have looked at the industry process, and technology changes to understand migration, which is one of the most potent tools in trend forecasting. Needless to say, when we began our research, most of our respondents and expert informants noted that what we were trying to do – to put numbers on an incredibly fragmented industry – was impossible.

In 1999 our organization set up a separate company, IppStar, to research the Indian printing, packaging, and publishing industry, for both global and Indian clients. Several of our clients entrusted us with repeat projects. On occasion, we were invited to present our findings at industry fora in India, the United States, Germany, Japan, and the MiddleEast.

Although, we always felt that bankable numbers were an input needed for any industry to mature and grow healthily, expecting a fragmented industry to invest in such work was always a bit optimistic. Nevertheless, we have persisted in the search for numbers, nuances, growth drivers, levers, and links to the overall economy. The analytical aspect of the research process has made us reasonably close students of the Indian economy.

Our readers, who are often also our research respondents, share information with us honestly. We have interviewed some of you more than ten times in the past 20 years, building a degree of trust that the information will be treated responsibly. Ethically and that none of your data will be shared with anyone. We have never even given anyone a pen or any other kind of gift for filling out a questionnaire.

However, research is not pure science, where we identify the unknown in a test tube by adding reagents and putting them in a centrifuge. Our quest for reliable ideas and trends is based on a belief. The belief that the industry verticals or domains that we are expert in – publishing, print, and packaging will grow and become more organized. And for this, they will ultimately want better and more precise research.

Our work is also driven by the belief that societies and economies are continually trying to improve themselves. And that our industries will succeed as long as they find a way to be part of improving entertainment, information, communication, science, education and, in the instance of packaging, modern trade practices.

During the recent Covid-19 lockdown, we conducted a research survey to ascertain our stakeholders’ views as to when the lockdown would end and how quickly the economy and their industry would recover. In the main, we found our more than 200 respondents resilient – a relatively high percentage, 23% across segments, were optimistic of a quick recovery of the economy and their business from the lockdown. A significant portion, 53% across sectors, felt there would be a slow recovery. The results of the survey with graphs and charts are available here.

We have kept talking to the industry since the survey and to several industry experts keeping in mind that 18% of the offset and commercial printers expected a quick recovery. Having spoken to a senior supplier of digital presses and a major publishing company, this cannot be seen as pessimistic at all. The publisher says that having lost at least two to three months of sales, he expects turnover to take a 25% to 35% hit this year, and the negative effect will partially linger in the next year as well. Rebuilding the economy and our businesses are going to require a mindful global effort. Also, like any successful organism, we should boldly expect our economy to be capable of self-correction and adaptation.

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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