Accra New Town is a densely populated residential area in Accra, but it is also a vibrant industrial area where domestic and commercial activities coexist in a rare and intriguing blend. Industrial areas are usually separated from residential settlements. However, over the years, Accra New Town has emerged from its residential status to become the hub of the printing industry in Ghana. In this article, Kofi Yeboah takes an expedition into the printing industry at Accra New Town.
Information on the number of printing press firms at Accra New Town is very scanty, but one can have a very good sense of their density just by a cursory look around the area.
Almost every structure in the community, from the smallest kiosk to the largest building, accommodates a printing press; the only thing required is space.
“At times, you can see a kiosk or a container but there is a machine in it,” the Manager of Misato Printing Press, Mr Sampson Agyei, confirmed.
There are hundreds of them scattered all over the area. It is not difficult to locate them. Their rhythmic sounds are constant in the area 24/7.
Every material printable – flyers, brochures, receipt books, exercise books, newspapers, calendars, posters, wedding programmes and leaflets – is produced from the printing hub of Accra New Town.
The industry is a source of employment for hundreds of youth in the densely populated community.
History & nature
The history of the printing press industry at Accra New Town is not very clear but sources suggest it dates as far back as the creation of the settlement.
What started on a very small-scale some decades ago soon blossomed into a huge industry as the positive prospects motivated many people to invest in the business.
Depending on an individual’s financial capacity, one could acquire a big or small printing press and business takes off, pronto!
The printing press industry at Accra New Town offers services such as printing, designing, separation, burning of plates, lamination and binding.
Some of the printing press firms offer a one-stop shop for those services, depending on the capacity of the machines, while others may deliver one or a few of those services.
Comparatively, printing jobs at Accra New Town comes cheaper than doing so at bigger and other printing press establishments outside the town.
The Publisher of Good Faith Magazine, Mr Emmanuel Narteh, who was printing the magazine at one of the printing press outlets, confirmed that assertion.
The fact that hundreds of printing press firms are scattered all around Accra New Town suggests the business is good.
The peak period of the business is the last quarter of the year when schools reopen for the new academic year. During this period, the demand for and printing of exercise books are very high.
It is also a period when many weddings, engagements, corporate events and other social activities that require the printing of programmes, flyers, posters and other materials take place.
In an election year, such as 2012, the last quarter is the period when political parties upscale the printing of party information materials.
At the Vasa Concepts Printing Press, one machine could print about 30,000 copies of materials on a daily basis, an operator at the company, Mark Agbenorxevi, indicated.
Ancillary businesses, such as general goods shops that sell raw materials used by the printing press firms, and engineers/mechanics that provide maintenance services, are also flourishing in the industry.
But whenever the question was posed as to how good business was, the answer from operators of the printing press firms was not an emphatic ‘Yes’, but the broad smiles they usually wore made their response so obvious.
Mr Agbenorxevi was, however, emphatic: “It’s a good job”.
Kwame Alex, owner of God’s Favour Printing Press, said it was a good job “if only you are hardworking”.
“Those with big machines are doing the real business. We are only doing it for our daily bread,” he added.
One of the printing press firms with big machines that Kwame Alex believes are doing “the real business” and making good money is Misato Printing Press.
But the response of its Manager, Sampson Agyei, to the question on whether business is good, was as modest and divine as Kwame’s.
“Once our good God is alive, it’s okay,” he said with a smile.
Good business in the industry does not, however, come on a silver platter; it is earned through quality and prompt service delivery, effective marketing to attract more clients and having the right ‘connections’
“It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know,” Mr Agbenorxevi pointed out.
He said apart from doing printing work, his job schedule also required him to reach out for more clients for the firm.
Just like other industries in the country, the printing press industry at Accra New Town has been severely hit by the current erratic power supply.
This has resulted in business losses running into thousands of Ghana cedis, as many of the printing firms are compelled to shut down whenever there was power outage.
“We lose about GH¢1000 every day because of light off,” Mr Agbenorxevi indicated.
He said given the size of the machines at his firm, a plant, instead of generator, was required to provide electricity whenever the lights went off.
But he was quick to add that the price of a plant was beyond the reach of his firm.
Kwame Alex is also worried: “The unpredictability of electricity is very disturbing because you cannot plan”.
“When there is light off and there is much work to be done, it’s very much disturbing. Printing deals with time and date so if you fail to deliver work on time, it affects the client,” he added.
He said he could not afford to use a generator because it could destroy his machines, apart from the additional cost it would impose on production.
Kwame Alex said acquiring a plant would be helpful but that option was out of consideration because “it is very costly”.
According to him, he had had many bad experiences in the past when the lights went off at a time he was trying to beat the deadline for the printing of wedding or funeral programmes.
“The clients got angry, left the work and did not come back again,” he said.
Under such circumstances, both the printer and client suffer severe financial losses, but for the client, the disappointment is beyond monetary loss.
Mr Narteh, the magazine publisher, had to contend with the frustrating situation when the lights went off at two printing press firms he was printing the magazine.
For that reason, he had to transport the materials for the printing of the maiden edition of his magazine to three different places to complete the job.
Apart from the additional cost implication, the young magazine publisher was also worried about the negative impact on production time and quality of production.
“This is the first time I’m coming to print here. With all the problems I’ve gone through, I will assess and see whether to come back or not,” he remarked.
Managing the electricity challenges
In order to avoid such embarrassing situations, some of the printers have come up with an arrangement that enables those who do not have electricity to go to their colleagues who have it to continue their printing jobs, after which the two parties share the income according to the volume of job done by each of them.
Kwame Alex said that arrangement had been very helpful, except that it reduced profit margins and imposed an additional cost in respect of transporting the printing items from one printing firm to another.
But that intervention is unhelpful in instances when a partner, having electricity, has volumes of job to do and deadline to beat.
Unlike many of the printing press firms, Misato Printing Press has acquired a plant to guarantee constant power supply and production.
But the company has to contend with a minimum daily fuel cost of GH¢80 to power the plant, and that, according to Mr Agyei, was very burdensome.
“This is a very huge loss to the business because you may have taken an order from a client already before the lights go off. But you cannot demand anything more. So we bear the additional cost,” he explained.
For those who cannot afford the acquisition of a generator or plant, the obvious thing to do when the lights go off is to sit idle.
But when the lights are on, they keep the machines rolling throughout day and night because time is of great essence and there is zero tolerance for acts of distraction, given the fear that the lights may go off at any time.
That orientation was made clear by an operator of a small printing press who politely turned down a request from the Daily Graphic for an interview.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to talk to you,” he said.
The erratic power supply has compelled many of the printing press firms to lay off some of their workers.
The situation has affected every chain of the printing press industry.
A dealer in raw materials for the industry, who gave her name only as Auntie Serwah, said business had slackened considerably.
She said since the fortunes of the suppliers of raw materials were directly related to those of the printing press, any negative impact on the latter “affects us too”.
Lack of insurance
Like all other industrial establishments, the nature of the printing press industry at Accra New Town requires insurance protection for both machinery and human resource.
But the observation made was that many of the printing press firms, at least all the 15 visited, are operating without insurance.
When the issue of insurance was raised, the response of the operators was either they were working on it or they had not given it a thought.
The way forward
The erratic power supply is fast crumbling the otherwise booming printing press industry at Accra New Town.
What is required to salvage the situation is for the players in the industry to invest in the installation of a power plant to serve as an alternative power supply and ensure that business continues unabated.
But the cost involved does not make that suggestion attractive to the operators in the industry, apart from the fact that they do not have any credible association to pursue such initiatives with a united force.
Their fate now hangs in the balance.
Article by Kofi Yeboah