Changes in reading habits and the dominance of web-based media have led to a significant reduction in the demand for printed materials.
BY Krishna Raj Bajgain
The printing industry in Nepal has a rich historical background. It is believed that the first printing press was invented in China during the 9th century. This method involved engraving letters on a wooden board and producing copies from a master copy. The same method was also used in Nepal to prepare posters of different serpents for Nag Panchami celebrations. The credit for the invention of the modern printing press is given to Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith who made a printing press in 1434 AD. This revolutionary invention marked the beginning of the European Renaissance. The utilisation of machines in writing and book publishing greatly contributed to Europe's dominance in the realm of knowledge.
The printing industry in Nepal is closely interconnected with other forest-based industries such as wood-working, pulp, and paper. It is an important source of employment, ranging from highly skilled and qualified staff to unskilled labourers. While printed books continue to be a part of the industry's output, there is a growing demand for various printed materials, including labels, packaging materials, display boards, and security-related print materials like cheque books, stamps, banknotes, licences, citizenship cards, and passports. The industry also faces several challenges. Changes in reading habits and the dominance of web-based media have led to a significant reduction in the demand for printed materials.
Competitors from low-cost countries, particularly India and China, pose a threat to the Nepali print industry. According to the Department of Customs, the import of inputs and printed materials in Nepal has increased more than threefold over the past 14 years. This trend can be attributed to the low-cost production capabilities in India and China, as well as the rising costs of energy, raw materials, and a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in the sector. Nepal embarked on a new era in printing history with the introduction of the Garuda press, commonly known as the Giddhe press, in 1851 AD. After that, both private and government-owned printing presses gained momentum in the Nepali printing industry, with private presses playing a dominant role. However, despite its strong historical background and the introduction of modern printing presses over a century ago, the printing industry in Nepal has not developed to its full potential. Indian printing houses remain the preferred choice for residents of the southern bordering region of Nepal due to their low cost and competitive pricing (referred to as Good Printing Price or GPP). Nepali printing industries face significant pressure due to the imposition of high import taxes on inputs such as paper and printing ink.
Duty-free access to imported books further adds to the challenges. In the fiscal year 2021/22, the import revenue from paper alone amounted to Rs 4.41 billion 41 crore, accounting for approximately 27% of the total import revenue for such products. A similar trend is observed in the import of printing ink, where the import revenue accounted for 21% of the import for such products in the same fiscal year. The taxes imposed on imported raw materials is eroding the competitiveness of the Nepali printing industry. The printing industry is renowned for its amalgamation of art, creativity, imagination, emotion, and devotion to knowledge, which are closely associated with Good Printing Practices (GPP). However, the Nepali printing industry, to some extent, lacks these attributes. One of the long-standing weaknesses faced by the industry is the absence of specialised training centres to produce skilled manpower. Despite the challenges, there is still a glimmer of hope for the Nepali printing industry. Nepal's glorious history and commitment to non-aligned principles create the potential for developing the country as a hub for security printing services. Additionally, the domain of 3D printing holds tremendous potential for growth. To translate these possibilities into opportunities, Nepal should adopt an integrated approach to invigorate the Nepali print industry. This approach should encompass several key components like skill development, supplies of raw materials and business friendly tax provision, formulation and adoption of Good Printing Practices (GPP), and remission and incentives to Nepali printing industry.
(Bajgain is a Senior Officer with the Trade & Export Promotion Center. The views expressed here are his personal.)