“You cannot survive with high cost and no innovation”

Can offset printers remain relevant?

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L-R: Bimal Mehta of Vakil & Sons sharing the stage with Fasheem Agbotwala of Hi-Tech Printing Services

The Indian offset market is currently divided in three segments — mass, general and niche. The mass segment is characterized by huge volumes and low margins. The general segment consists of products such as leaflets, visual aids, and brochures while the niche segment consists of high margin products such as coffee table books.  According to Agboatwala, automation and Industry 4.0, will provoke this change. “In the next ten to twenty years, the general segment will be gradually squeezed and people will move to either the mass segment or the niche segment,” he said.

Agboatwala’s prescription to printers on how to survive this change consisted of two points —  innovate or cut costs. “You cannot survive with high cost and no innovation. Come up with innovative products that help you move into the niche segment or bring your costs down and move to the mass segment. This is how you can survive the change,” Agboatwala said.

Kill the old business model
One of the best examples of a traditional printer adapting to technological changes has been Mumbai-based Vakil & Sons. The company transformed itself from a greeting card and annual report printer into a modern IT enabled firm that now creates content for mobile devices, develops web applications and a significant amount of content for the pharmaceutical industry in the regulatory space amongst its new age activities. Bimal Mehta of Vakil & Sons took the stage with Agboatwala to explain how this transformation took place and where from his point of view, the print industry is headed.

“About eight years ago, we realized our business model was not relevant anymore. Greeting cards had started going electronic and annual reports were being distributed in digital format. That is when we transitioned from being a printer to an IT enabled company,” Mehta explained. Now Vakil & Sons offers solutions such as a virtual boardroom which makes the boardroom paperless. “Vakil & Sons is moving into an absolutely paperless era. Being a printer, I was regularly asked why I was killing my own business model. I said that if I do not kill it someone else will. If we cannot fight change we may as well embrace change,” Mehta said.

In fact, according to Mehta, the current business model of Vakil & Sons is already getting outdated. He argued that in the next three to five years his company will have to again reinvent its business model with the advent of artificial intelligence and automation. “Print is changing and it is changing rapidly. In India, too it is changing much faster than we believe it is. There will be a huge change in the next three to four years,” Mehta concluded.