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Clinging to scraps: Printing industry struggles to survive in the ‘new normal’

Jose Rafael Ballecer - Philstar.com
Clinging to scraps: Printing industry struggles to survive in the ânew normalâ
Stock image of a printer.
Image by The_GADMan from Pixabay

MANILA, Philippines — Without a doubt, the printing business played a role in the life of a student, an employee, or anyone who had to submit documents and these sights are no stranger to them.

But just like any business, it was also hit hard by the pandemic.

It is a rather special case for this industry. The printing business is one that is and will always be bound on paper, which, in a sense, places it at risk of obsolescence in the digital age.

With practically all sectors going virtual and paperless,  the printing industry – a relic of the pre-pandemic times – is forced to rethink its ways as it awaits the day when its machines will once again work overtime to meet its patrons’ deadlines.

Going online

For most Metro Manila-based printing businesses, online services have been the go-to method. Key processes like the forwarding of payments and communicating with clients are now done online or through mobile applications.

Ricky Regis, an employee of Kooyah Copy Center along Asturias street in Manila, said this new method has allowed the business to continue.

“Operations go on because I have patrons I am friends with on social media. So with that, transactions are done online,” he said in an interview with Talamitam.

“It’s not completely successful, but it’s okay nonetheless. The business goes on.”

Compared to the old normal, Regis finds this new setup to be easier as it causes less stress.

“It’s less stressful now. No one is waiting, or walking-in while rushing orders, we don’t have that anymore. These days, you can take your time because orders are only picked up,” Regis said.

Just like Regis, Sophie Ancheta and Rex Rodriguez are convinced that the online sphere has kept their printing business afloat.

“Good. Nice. It’s nice because it (online presence) has been a big help for us. Online services have been a big help for us and we’re good with that for now,” Ancheta said.

“We have relied on online services since then. That has been what has kept us afloat really.”

Adjustments

However, some printing shops opted to still operate solely in physical stores.

Located along the University Belt is the printing shop of Jonathan Labrador. Unlike other counterparts who already have a presence online, survival has been difficult for his business.

“Ngayon talaga medyo hirap yung business namin ngayon, so ang ginagawa namin para maka-survive talaga, kahit ano na lang na maging client namin na printing, yun, pinapatos na namin [Our business is struggling right now. So what we do is that we don’t become too picky with our clients anymore when it comes to printing],” he said.

Other printing shop owners sustain their business for the love of it.  

Mario Canales, who owns a shop in  Binan, Laguna, said his enterprise has stayed “somewhat normal” even if it has lost its usual patrons like students, who are now attending classes online.  

But unlike some of his peers, Canales has the luxury of not having to rely on his business to provide for his family’s needs.

“Compared to last time before the pandemic, my quote as of now has stayed the same. This is because our business is not for profit anymore, It’s more like a past time. We don’t have to send anyone to school anymore as our children have finished their studies already,” he said in an interview.

Canales has come to a point where his rates have been inconsistent. According to him, rates have been lower, or even free, rather than his standard P5 per page rate.

But some printing businesses are not as fortunate and have completely halted operations.

Several shopkeepers and local residents could only point out a few areas where there are still operational printing businesses, such as Morayta in Sampaloc, and the Carmona town proper in Cavite, south of Metro Manila.

New environment, new struggles

Naturally, a new environment brings about a new set of struggles.

For these printing businesses, grappling with financial constraints is a common denominator.

“Our main struggle now is to meet the quota. We pay so much for rent so we really need to meet that quota,” Rodriguez said.

“There are a lot of changes especially in terms of income, then there are several layoffs due to that income problem,” he added.

Labrador echoed a similar sentiment.

“We struggle to pay rent right now. Back then you know, we can meet the quota. But now, earning P500 a day is already difficult. Of course, there are essential expenses, then we only earn P500,” Labrador said.

“Back then we used to earn around 2,500. Now we’re struggling to earn that much.”

But changes caused by the pandemic were not limited to dwindling profits.

Unusual silence has gripped printing shops as pandemic restrictions have forced schools to adopt a virtual learning set-up.

“Back then we just asked students to approach us, then we’d ask them to go to our shop upstairs. We were able to get patrons too because we stepped up our service,” Labrador said.

“Of course we got used to it (silence). What was considered abnormal back then is starting to become normal,” he added.

Labrador,  Ancheta, Regis, and Rodriguez were initially shocked by the “new normal” that they hoped would not stay long. But for now, they have no choice but to find ways to cope with their losses.

“At first it was boring. But now, I’m getting used to it because I’m already busy with work,” Regis said.

But while they have their struggles, not all hope is lost for these people.

Moving forward

Aware that the pandemic is not likely to end anytime soon, some printing owners have started to expand their business ventures.

Ancheta and Rodriguez are now selling items such as perfume and face shields to augment their income.

Ancheta said her new venture allowed her to get back on track financially after a rough start due to the pandemic.

“We actually sank badly. You have no option but to pay for your shop. Even if there’s no income, you still need to pay, thus our business really sunk. But when we were able to think of new ventures, that’s when we started to recover,” she said

Rodriguez sees his additional venture as a means to regain pre-pandemic levels of income.

“Ever since the pandemic started, so much has been added to our shop, like face shields and face masks. We also continue to think of alternative ways to increase our income so that we can earn money like we used to,”  he said.

Labrador has started to accept orders such as ID and PVC cards to survive.

“Kahit yung dati na di naman namin pini-print eh pini-print na namin, katulad ng mga sa ID, PVC [polyvinyl chloride] [cards]. Kasi dati hindi namin kaya gugulin yung oras noon eh, mas priority namin yung printing ng mga estyudante. Eh ngayon eh wala kaming customer, yun yung mga tinatanggap namin [Even the ones that we didn’t do, we do now already. Examples would be IDs, PVC cards. Before we couldn’t afford to do that since they take so much time and we prioritized students’ requests. But now, we do not have a lot of customers, so we accept that now]” he said

However, some printing business owners stuck to their printing business, with little to no alternatives.

While profit is no longer Canales’ main consideration for retaining his shop, he did admit to considering new business ventures.

“My plan as of now is to continue. But then, like you said, a lot of people have started to get their own printers. If that’s the case, then maybe I could start looking at different business ventures,” Canales said.

While there are no indications that things are about to improve soon – the Philippines has been recording more than 20,000 new daily cases in the past few days – printing business owners are not losing hope.

“Huwag mawalan ng pag-asa pag dating sa business. Ang tumal, hindi inaayawan, tinitiis [Don’t lose hope when it comes to business. You endure a sales drought, rather than give up on it],” said Labrador.  - Talamitam

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This article is an output of Talamitam, a network of schools established in 2017 by journalism societies of the University of Santo Tomas, Bulacan State University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and University of the East. Talamitam aims to empower ordinary citizens through community journalism, focusing on topics not commonly reported by the mainstream media and alternative angles of current issues. 

To achieve its goal of raising public awareness about community issues, Talamitam contributes articles to media outlets. News organizations can use or republish the stories for free provided they give credit to Talamitam and the authors.

Talamitam is a Tagalog-Kapampangan word for conversation.

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