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The seed of a 'greenovation' idea is an apt metaphor for the print culture at English-language print giant The Times of India.

It's all about ideas... and seeing how they grow.

Technical and production director Sanat Hazra says it took two years to get the concept of a plant seed, embedded in the printed newspaper, to fruition. But he says, 'we've been thrilled with its popularity, and have done it twice now."

Older readers - and the Times, the world's biggest English-language newspaper, has millions of them - encourage youngsters to plant the seed and see what grows.

What has been growing is a culture of print innovation which Hazra says, is key to the medium's future. Innovations deliver premium value for advertisers at a premium price, and have also included speaking and vibrating newspapers, issues laced with fragrance and others that repel mosquitoes.

With the vital ingredient trust and respect, he says there is no such thing as a stupid idea. "We filter them all, and want a million one-dollar ideas, rather than just one million-dollar idea.

Innovations - which can be of product, process or systems - are considered for financial impact, long-term risk, barriers to implementation, and impact they might make in production on an 80,000cph pressline.

Hazra, who joined publisher Bennett, Coleman & Co ten years ago following a career which included roles at the New York Times, is a keen advocate of innovation in print, and speaks regularly on the subject.

"Our strategy is innovation, flexibility and automation, and we use all the tools," he says. UV and heatset production are available, and recent years have seen a basket of more than 100 innovations developed, about 20 of which are the most popular and in regular use, and more always in the pipeline. "We lead the way with innovations and others follow," he says.

Print innovation has its own budget and revenue target for the production department, and this is monitored monthly and calibrated following monitoring of other Indian newspapers.

"For us, print is still first and we have strong stakeholder support for this," he says. While the business is based on both print and digital platforms, it's print that delivers 95 per cent of revenue, and its importance is always in focus.

Often ideas start in editorial and are picked up by advertising, and they can simply be a bit of fun. One that's been snowballing (if you can use that expression) is the use of density measurement shapes for special occasions, such as Valentine's Day hearts - 4.8 billion of which were printed - trees for Christmas, and elephants for the Divali festival.

Glossy print options delivered through UV and heatset production are popular and cost-effective against other media, and the publisher works with advertising agencies to spell out its challenges and benefits. Jackets are another idea catching on - now glued on-press, thanks to an innovative "reverse-engineered" implementation - and have seen as many as four used in one issue.

"Our biggest challenge is convincing others in the company to try the innovation. 'Innovation is rewarded, execution is worshipped'," he says, quoting motivational speaker Eric Thomas.

A "very regimented" approach at Times of India includes monthly meetings to track innovations in each section: "We fail early, fail fast and fail cheap," he says.

But the concept and culture requires a top down approach, requiring the support of senior management, and has to be translated across the publisher's 13 other print sites.

"All the time, we're asking ourselves who will be the customers of the future, and how we can build non-consumers into regular consumers," he says.

• Based on a presentation to the IfraExpo Print World conference in Berlin last October

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