Thursday, July 13, 2006

 

The Money's in the Making

For decades there has been a concern about the graphic arts business attracting new workers to replace those who leave, but more importantly, to ensure that the industry is vibrant and innovative. One of the indicators of the attractiveness of an industry to workers is the wages that it pays. The printing industry often competes with its own print - buying customers for new workers. That is, many young workers find themselves choosing among industries such as publishing, advertising, graphic design, and printing. Now that the 2004 industry wage and salary data have just been released by the Commerce Department, we have a more current look at what those workers see. We dug into the historical industry data and we came up with some interesting findings.

We took the average wage for all workers in the broadest grouping of the printing and creative industries and adjusted them for inflation to make historical comparison possible. Since 1988, the first year that data are available to us, the average industry wage in the creative markets has gone up about 12%, while pay in the printing industry has gone down slightly. The best year for creatives was 2000, where the increase compared to 1988 was up to 17%, at the peak of the Internet bubble. Printing wages barely moved at the time.

Historically, the average creative wage is typically 50% higher than the average printing wage (binding and finishing workers wages keep the average print wage down, most likely). From 2001 to 2004, however, the difference in the average wage of a printing employee and a creative employee had crept up to 57%.

Content creation markets pay more, a lot more, plain and simple. The question is whether or not this is even relevant. Content creation businesses are vastly different than job manufacturing businesses. The nature of what is done is not always comparable. The skills of the employees are quite different. Sure, there is occasional overlap, such as the need to use desktop publishing software, and administrative tasks, but the essence of the businesses are not the same, and that is reflected in their overall structure.

During the Internet boom, we were often told that new media managers liked hiring printing industry personnel. Among the reasons they cited were that the print workflow was disciplined, and had a beginning, middle, and an end. In other words, our workers knew what needed to be done, and had a sense of deadlines and urgency that other workers did not always have. Part of that discipline was to understand how to react to last minute changes and still get projects done on time.

Making the industry attractive to new workers, as well as retaining the workers we need, is a complex issue. It's always up to individual print businesses to do what makes sense in the long run for their business, especially in hiring and training workers. Good workplaces attract good employees.

This is not an issue that will change overnight, or even a couple of years. The modernizing of the printing business is an ongoing effort, with constantly moving targets. It is clear that smart capital investment in new technologies and workflows are essential to improving the situation that these historical wage data so starkly indicate.

This list below shows wage differences when compared to the entire commercial printing industry. For example, book publishing employees earn 47% more than commercial printing employees; quick printing employees earn about 23% less than the commercial printing average.

80% Advertising agencies
65% Periodicals Publishers
59% All creative
54% All publishing
47% Book publishing
22% Graphic design services
14% Miscellaneous publishing
13% Folding paperboard box mfg
12% All packaging
6% Digital printing
6% Commercial lithographic printing
6% Commercial gravure printing
3% Commercial photography
0% All commercial printing
0% Book printing
-1% Newspaper publishers
-22% Commercial screen printing
-23% Quick printing

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