Like a number of other businesses across the country, the printing industry has also been severely harmed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the printing presses in Brahmanbaria, Bogura, Jashore, and Mymensingh are currently making a comeback by overcoming the pandemic effects.
The affected traders are trying to recover their losses by printing banners, posters and leaflets of municipality election campaigns and waz-mahfils (religious programmes).
Even though schools and colleges have not been opened, election posters and some small jobs are bringing smiles to the businessmen.
Press owners in Bogura said their business may normalise in the next few months. However, the printing presses in Mymensingh are still facing difficulties.
Ali Yusuf, the proprietor of a printing press there, said he usually gets various work orders from educational institutions by the beginning of the new year. He also gets orders for printing books on the occasion of the book fair in February, but this year he received no such orders.
Yazdani Quraishi, proprietor of Quraishi Press in Mymensingh, said he earns a good sum of money during the election period every year. He got some work during the election season this year too, but the number of posters has decreased as the election is not competitive.
He said, "A candidate would previously print over one lakh posters, but this year such a candidate did not order more than 20,000-25,000 posters. So, the business was not what I expected."
Echoing him, general secretary of the Mymensingh Mudran Shilpa Samiti (Mymensingh Printing Industry Association) Yusuf Khan Pathan said, "There are 70 organisations in the association. They get printing work during the election. They also print diaries, calendars, notebooks, and books for educational institutions at the beginning of the year."
"But, currently there is no work printing books. We are printing election posters, but its volume is lower than that in the last year," he said.
In the last election, he printed posters worth Tk15 lakh, but this time he printed posters worth Tk3 lakh only.
Despite all this, the businessmen think it is a good sign that the printing presses are becoming busy again. They think that with time the situation will become more normal.
Bogura presses expect return to normal within months
Bogura is the largest printing market in the northern region. Now the industry has also developed in Rajshahi, Rangpur and Dinajpur, but the position of Bogura is still strong. The printing industry started in Bogura in the 1930s with a couple of printing presses.
According to the Bogura Mudran Shilpa Samiti, there are 190 presses listed with the organisation, but many of the press owners have more than one press. So, currently, there are about 500 presses in Bogura, said people involved in the business.
Masudur Rahman Helal, owner of Tripti Press in No-1 Rail Ghumti area in Bogura, said, "The printing market is not normal now, but it has been gaining momentum for the last four months. The election has further strengthened that momentum."
"The ongoing crisis is the result of the closure of schools and colleges. When they will reopen, the situation will also become completely normal too," he added.
Shahidur Rahman Bilpab, owner of Mashreqi Press in the city's Press Patti area, said, "Our business has grown by 70% since the lockdown on Bogura was lifted last December. Now there is no problem in paying the salaries of the employees. The situation of the business has not returned to normal completely, but it is making a turnaround."
"We have now moved away from the gloomy situation we faced during the pandemic. This situation will get better in two to four months," he added.
Printers in Brahmanbaria working to recover losses
Most printing presses in Brahmanbaria were shut down, but the press owners there, like the owners of printing houses in other districts, had to pay all their expenses – including the salaries and allowances of permanent workers, shop rent and electricity bills – even when they were not earning anything.
However, after the novel coronavirus situation came under control, the printing presses in Brahmanbaria became operational again in December.
According to the Brahmanbaria Jela Mudran Shilpa Malik Samiti (Brahmanbaria Printing Industry Owners' Association), there are about 30 printing presses in the district. These presses rely on printing: the banners, posters and leaflets of political parties and leaders, businesses and educational institutions; official documents of hospitals; doctors' prescriptions; visiting cards, and other documents. Hundreds of workers work at the printing presses.
Shamsul Alam, general secretary of the association, said they suffered a loss of Tk2 crore due to the pandemic. All the printing presses in the district were closed from 26 March last year to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
After being closed for two months, the printing presses reopened, but the business declined by 80%. As a result, more than half of the workers became unemployed.
Press owners in Brahmanbaria also said schools and colleges are closed, but they are printing banners, posters and leaflets of waz-mahfils and election campaigns. However, the businessmen said they got more work from the councillor candidates in the previous elections. Each councillor candidate used to print banners, posters and leaflets worth Tk1.5-2 lakh. But now a candidate prints materials worth Tk30,000-40,000.
The printers also said they are printing invitation cards for small events and visiting cards for businesses. Before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, each press had work worth Tk20,000-25,000, on average, per day, which has now reduced to Tk10,000-15,000 per day.
But, due to an increased workload, the workers have to work day and night. If the business is better, it will be possible to make up for the losses caused by the pandemic, the traders said.
Yasin, machine operator at Titas Offset Press in Brahmanbaria, said he works for Tk15,000 per month. There was no work after the pandemic struck. The printing press was closed most of the time during the shutdown across the country. It was very difficult for him to bear the expenses of their families at that time, but now he is working as before.
Gias Uddin, owner of Titas Offset Press, said, "My printing press has lost Tk4-5 lakh due to the [novel] coronavirus crisis. I could not do any work, the printing press had to be closed for two months. But we had to pay all the expenses including the rent and electricity bills."
He also said, "Before the outbreak of the [novel] coronavirus, our daily work was worth Tk8,000-10,000, but now we are doing work worth Tk15,000-20,000 every day."
Basir Dulal, owner of Pulak Graphics, said before the pandemic, he used to deliver services worth Tk50,000 on an average per month. His work completely stopped during the pandemic, but he has been receiving orders again for the last couple of months. Now he is able to provide services worth Tk20,000-25,000 on average per month.
Shortage of festivals saddens Moulvibazar press owners
Although the printing industry in Moulvibazar is not very big, it has also faced losses during the pandemic.
Muhidur Rahman, director of Ankon Computers, said unlike other years, there were no waz-mahfil or kirtan (devotional songs) programmes in the area this winter, resulting in a 40% drop in demand for printed materials.
He said, "There was no Pitha Utsab (Cake Festival) or cultural event in winter this year. If the situation does not return to normal, our business will not become normal in any way."
Despite this dismal picture, the situation is improving there, too.
But Umed Ali, owner of Patakuri Offset, said, "The situation is better now than it was when the pandemic started. I got some big jobs during the municipality elections. There is not much work now but in general it seems that the situation is slowly becoming normal."
Jashore press owners worried about paper prices
Meanwhile, elections for various municipalities are also going on in Jashore. Elections for the Monirampur and Bagharpara municipalities were completed this month and the Keshabpur municipality election will be held on 28 February. The Jashore municipality election is coming up too.
All in all, the economy of the printing press in the district is turning around. The work speed of the staff has increased, but the rise in paper prices and the activities of the value-added tax (VAT) office are worrying traders.
Rakib Hossain Swapan, owner of Ekota Printers in Jashore, said his printing press had been closed for more than a year, because it relies on work orders from schools and colleges.
He said, "Educational institutions are still closed. Meanwhile, unscrupulous traders raised the price of paper after work orders started arriving during the municipality elections. The price of a ream, or pack, of paper has increased around Tk100-300 depending on its quality or gsm [gram per square metre]. This is not allowing us to make much profit in the business."
"In addition to that, the customs and VAT authority is knocking on our doors too. I am wondering what to do about it," he added.
Gopinath Das, manager of Chakladar Printing Press, said there are 50 printing presses in Jashore. They mostly receive work orders from educational institutions; however, since this work has not been done for more than a year, the owners have given subsidies. However, their situation has improved a little during the election.
Azizul Shonchay, Khorshed Alam, Hossain Shahid, Ripon Dey and our Jashore correspondent contributed to this report.