Challenges of Printing in Mongolia
Today, book shops in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, offer a wide range of colour books with hard covers and colourful pictures printed on high quality paper. Such books were very rare before the '90s. The situation was even worse at the beginning of the '90s when the country was in the transition from a centralized economy to a market economy. All printing houses had collapsed and almost no one was interested in reading books as the economy faced hyperinflation.
But nowadays, not only books, but also magazines and newspapers, are printed in colour with high technology, so that printing has become one of the economic sectors in Mongolia.
Printing in Mongolia has a tradition of many years. Historically, the first printing house was established in Mongolia in 1912 with the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the Mongolian Bogd Monarchy. The printing house was located next to the ministry and equipped with one printing machine from Russia, and it had 5 employees.
It is still not clear when the printing house started to operate in Mongolia, but it was decided that 18 December 1912 should be designated Printing Day, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs had written the initiative letter to other 5 ministries on that date, soliciting their agreement to purchase a printing facility from Russia.
After 1912 books such as Oyun Tulkhuur, Modny Shastir, and Tsaatsan Shuvuu were printed in Mongolia.
In December 2002, the country celebrated the 90th anniversary of Printing Day in Mongolia. Printing has been developing rapidly, especially for the last 5-6 years. Modern printing facilities and computerization have become normal for many local printing houses. The development has caused both an increase in market demand and a strong competition among local printing companies.
The present printing houses were mainly initiated by individuals who started their own modest companies with one printing machine after the privatization of state printing houses since the '90s when the country was moving into the market economy. Printing houses, both large and small, in Ulaanbaatar now number 300.
As the competition becomes stronger, printing houses, especially those bigger ones, try to obtain bigger market shares based on their competitive advantage.
"Unget Khevlel" (colour printing), the largest printing house with its 12 printing machines, was established with the assistance of Germany in 1961 as the first colour printing house in the country.
Prior to the '60s when colour printing did not exist in Mongolia, colour publications used to be produced in the former Soviet Union. Among the first colour publications printed in Unget Khevlel were Tonshuul (woodpecker) newspaper and Soviet Union, a 30-page magazine. Since this time the printing house has been printing everything in colour, especially textbooks and other books.
Due to the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the printing house became a share-holding company owned by its workers and engineers in 1992.
As Unget Khevlel was one of the biggest printing houses in Mongolia it was the place where many local printing specialists and skilled workers got their training before the '90s. So it played an important role in the development of printing in Mongolia, as those experts trained others and worked in the newly established printing houses in the mid-'90s.
The newspaper printing house that prints almost all newspapers in Mongolia was established with the assistance of DANIDA within the project Free Press in Mongolia in 1996. The house has only one printing facility, Solana made in Sweden. Experts and workers were trained in Germany and Denmark and job training was conducted by Danish experts in Mongolia as well. Introducing technology and techniques from Western Europe, the house brought a new era for the development of newspaper printing in Mongolia. People were able to read high-quality newspapers in different colours.
Private Sector Involvement
Since the country has adopted a market economy, the private sector has become the engine of the country's development. That goes for the business printing sector, too.
1996 was a historical year for the development of printing in Mongolia, as today's most competitive private printing houses, Interpress, Admon and Munkhyn Useg, were established in that year.
Interpress started with investment from Singapore while Admon had received investment from Rep. of Korea.
Interpress also engages in all kinds of printing activities besides printing itself. The company provides the local market with printing equipment from overseas such as Hamada, Diplo and Toko from Japan and Adast from Czech Republic, and offers full services and installation of these machines. Interpress employs 30 workers and experts, and has 3 printing machines with modern printing technology. It prints all kinds of colour and black-and-white materials.
Munkhyn Useg (Eternal Word), one of the most successful companies, provides all printing services to the local market. They purchase their printing materials, such as paper, from China and equipment from Japan. Today the company operates with Ryobi printing machines from Japan and Horizon and Shoei from Heidelberg, Germany, having used Toko from Japan at the beginning.
Like Munkhyn Useg, most printing houses purchase their printing materials/papers mainly from China.
Skilled workers in modern techniques and technology from these companies were trained in Singapore, and Rep. of Korea and Germany.
Concerning the printing technology, offset was introduced in the mid-'90s to the local market for the first time, while deepset press was widely used in the country before the '90s.
In general, deepset press houses turn out nearly 60 million pages a year. The annual number of publications ranged between 280 and 310. But today for example Unget Khevlel is capable of publishing close to 5,000 books yearly.
Local companies are highly efficient due to computerization. Mr. Ganbold, Executive Director of Munkhyn Useg, said, "Printing facilities, especially computerization, are being updated very rapidly for the global market and so is market demand. So we have to follow these changes." The company changed their computer facilities fully to Macintosh in 2002.
In 1998, Interpress opened its own computer graphics and design centre, which enables it to print high-quality materials and meet clients' specific demand.
As for the market, it has also changed very much compared with before the '90s.
Ms. Erdenetogtokh, Director of Ungut Khevlel, explained the changes with this example; the print-run of labels ordered by Talkh Chikher, the biggest local bakery and candies producer, hit 1 million per month prior to the '80s, but that has plunged today. The drop was triggered by two factors: first, more and more food products are being imported and secondly, former printing companies have been broken up into smaller companies.
Furthermore, more types of food products produced by local manufacturers, are being introduced in the local markets. For instance, Talkh Chikher used to produce only 3 types of cookies in the past, but the statistics for last year counted over 500 types of cookies sold in the market. This situation simply calls for printing houses to be able to meet specific demands in terms of both quality and quantity.
Another aspect that causes the market demand is the reading habits of Mongolians. The habit is on the way to recovery, compared with the beginning of the '90s when almost all bookshops closed because of the economic collapse. As the economy has been stabilizing for the last few years, Mongolians have again become a reading nation, as they were under the socialist system.
Challenges and Future Perspectives
Despite the rapid development of printing in Mongolia, a critical point that needs to be paid attention is the competition of local companies with local individuals and Chinese printing houses.
At the early stage of printing development at the beginning of the '90s, it was common practice to prepare the blueprint in Mongolia and print it in Rep. of Korea or Singapore. Later, smaller companies established in the mid-'90s or individuals, chose Beijing and Khukh Khot, China, for most of their printing. The practice is still very strong due to the low price and reasonable quality of printing, especially compared with local companies. This situation simply makes it difficult for local companies to win bigger orders, particularly in state bidding for printing of school textbooks and handouts, as most of the big bidding conditions state that "the origin of schoolbooks can be any country".
Ms. Erdenetogtokh is critical on this point, saying that "Mongolia has been injecting a large amount of investment into printing companies overseas, for example, through the bidding of the Ministry of Science, Education and Culture. If the funding had gone to local companies, they could have grown to some extent".
Local experts emphasize the importance of strong competitiveness among local printing companies, which could be achieved with a certain policy and close co-operation among them. Mr. Dorj, chief engineer, said "the whole printing publication process, for instance in certain bidding, is not necessarily done by one company - one company can prepare the blueprint; another one imports the printing paper and the third party, for example, Unget Khevlel, prints books." He added that all benefit from such cooperation.
An important point is that local companies are very optimistic about the future perspective of the printing market in Mongolia due to their experience and capacity gained over the last few years. Mr. Ganbold says they are ready to meet any demand that might happen in the local market in the future.
Managing Director, biz Mongolia, PO Box 92, Ulaanbaatar 2106 46 46a,
She is Managing Director of biz Mongolia, Mongolian Business and Economic Information Service and Consultancy. Since 2000 she has been reporting on development issues focusing on Mongolian business and economy. She also supports and promotes Mongolian Children's Cultural Foundation, especially activities in reading habits among children.