Defying gravity as print business (outside India) falls

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It's 'the Ifra' again, and around halls 21 and 22 of the Berlin Messe, the talk seems to be of defying gravity.

And there's time for talk: Normally the members of the trade place are accustomed to waiting until prospective customers have been served and making themselves scarce should one appear; this year, it's not a problem, and "have you got time now".

The first exhibitor I see is happy to talk, but not happy that he has only four meetings prebooked across the three days.

At the next two - both major mailroom vendors - our discussion turns to how they are coping with a newspaper industry in which few are buying. Müller Martini sales and marketing director Volker Leonhardt tells how the acquisitions of Kolbus and Heidelberg's print finishing business has added thousands to its user base... thousands of machines which will need service and ultimately replacement.

A similar story is at Ferag, where Marcel Binder says building the WRH Global business has helped provide a "second leg" not dependent upon newspaper printing, with which the Swiss mailroom specialist can help support itself. Indeed some staff are at another German trade event, representing the logistics unit which now accounts for 50 per cent of business.

It's the same when representatives of three European press builders get together for a panel event on the first morning: Two German survivors - Claus Bolza-Schunemann for a much-diversified Koenig & Bauer and Alexander Wassermann of the recently-expanded manroland Goss web systems - are joined by Pascal Clémencon who heads Wifag Services, the business set up to support the 80 sites remaining after the Swiss company stopped building presses.

For all three, parts and service are a major part of revenue after the new press segment - estimated by Bolza-Schunemann at about a third of revenue - dried up.

I have time later with Alexander Wassermann (more on this later) and he is dismissive of other manufacturers - especially those in Asia, including the bit of Goss AIP did not buy from Shanghai Electric - who he says are not making any money from markets in which, he says, "I don't intend to compete".

We're talking about India, of course, and those of us who have come from the Ifra event in Hyderabad are well aware of the vibrancy of a market which, in Berlin, is the "elephant in the room".

One thing organisers of the Ifra Expo and DCX conferences have got right his year is to move Indian participation further into the programme. Hopefully DD Purkayastha, chief executive of the giant ABP will open some eyes when he provides a "snapshot" of the Indian newsmedia industry tomorrow!

The Ifra World Publishing Expo and DCX Digital Content Expo continues until Thursday. More reports to follow.

Peter Coleman

Pictured from left: Wassermann, WAN-Ifra's Manfred Werfel, Clémencon and Bolza-Schunemann talk print survival

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