Newsprint crunch: Are Indian newspapers staring at a crisis similar to Sri Lanka
Amid an economic meltdown in Sri Lanka, two prominent newspapers were recently forced to and several others reduced pages due to lack of paper, as costs soared and imports became difficult. The newspaper sector in India, many believe, has been staring at a somewhat similar crisis.
Leading Indian newspapers such as Telegraph and Times of India have been hit hard with a shortage of newsprint, though the reasons are slightly different than Sri Lanka’s. And some have trimmed pagination and compromised on quality to overcome the challenge.
The industry at home depends on less than 50 percent domestic production of newsprint. But imports have been affected by the war in Ukraine and the pandemic-exacerbated container crisis. Domestic manufacturing, meanwhile, has barely kept up with the quality of imports due to low demand and supply, unavailability of raw material, dated equipment, and higher production costs.
Mohit Jain, Indian Newspaper Society’s president, believes that newspapers in India might meet the same fate as in Sri Lanka if the conditions ailing the industry continue to prevail.
Dealing with the crunch
Of the 2.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) consumption of newsprint in India, imports constitute 1.5 MTPA, according to the Indian Newsprint Manufacturers Association . Jain said that 45 percent of imports come from Russia and 40 percent from Canada. According to trade intelligence website , Russia is also the leading exporter of newsprint globally and exports most of its newsprint to India.
The leading newsprint buyers in India from Russia are the DB Corp Ltd, informally known as the Dainik Bhaskar Group which runs 66 editions in four languages, Jagran Prakashan Limited, and Lokmat Media Pvt Ltd.
While Times of India that one of the “unintended consequences” of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been a near vanishing of newsprint from the Indian market, Jain said it is not the only reason.
Telegraph CEO Dhruba Mukharjee said, “We are sourcing from our usual partners in North America and Eastern Europe as well as our domestic partners like Emami and Khanna. The shortage along with the container crisis has pushed up prices which has impacted us on the cost side. We are having to have a very close focus on calibrating our pagination as well as to control wastage to manage the stock usage.”
He said they would continue to closely monitor the supply situation and decide on the “buying strategy based on short term and long term outlook to prices”.
In Europe, the European print and digital communication federation, Intergraf, said in a that paper prices have risen by 45 percent – and newsprint by as much as 80 percent – in the past six months. Intergraf, which represents 20 national printing federations, has thus urged stopping exports of pulp and paper to “third countries” to safeguard Europe’s printing and publishing industries.
Jain also pointed to a heavy financial burden on publishers. As Times of India reported, the scarcity in newsprint supplies has doubled the price of imported newsprint to about $950 per tonne from $450 per tonne in 2019. He said the five percent customs duty on imported newsprint is behind additional pressure, even though this was brought down from 10 percent in 2020.
According to a to a question asked by Vallabhaneni Balasouri in the Rajya Sabha in 2020, the ministry of information and broadcasting said it had received representations from various newspaper industry associations such as the Indian Newspaper Society, Indian Languages Newspaper Association and major media houses for withdrawal of 10 percent basic custom duty imposed in the Finance Bill 2019, on newsprint uncoated paper (glazed) and light-weight coated paper used to print newspapers and magazines. The finance ministry decided to reduce it to five percent after considering all factors, including the needs of domestic newsprint manufacturers.
Jain said, “Newspapers, like Times of India, have cut down on editorials, and are running on low inventory. There is a lowering of quality, rationalising editorial columns and reduction of pages in the newspaper. These are the ways in which newspapers are dealing with the shortage.”
Talking about the long term impact of the situation, Jain said, “Ultimately people will have to shut down their print editions, because if there is no paper, what will they print on? The domestic capacity is 50 percent only and if the shortage continues, the prices of newsprints will increase. Currently the price of newsprint is touching 1,000 dollars per tonne and India needs about 1.4 million tonnes annually.”
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