Thursday, August 24, 2006


A Good Sign for Print Volume?

Key content creation markets employment is up compared to 2005. The latest The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show these changes in the number of employees for June 2006 compared to last year.

Graphic design employees, +3.8%
Graphic design, production employees only, +7.9%
Advertising agencies employees, +2.6%
Public relations employees, +5.9%

What does this mean? While print's summer is traditionally slow, the season's dog days are usually quite busy for design and advertising shops as they work on communication programs for the Fall, especially for retailers. The recent increase in current dollar commercial printing shipments for May and June correspond with these rises, as they usually do. This implies that content creation is up.

Especially interesting is the nearly +8% rise in graphic design production employees. This, suggests a positive indicator for the rest of the year. But, there's a catch. There is a media shift that is still going on, and many of these jobs are directed toward the production of non-print media. Nonetheless, these give us a reason for guarded optimism about print volumes in the short term. Not that they will increase, but that the steep declines of last year may be behind us. The last time that the number of graphic design production workers was this high was December 2001; the data do not include freelance designers.

In June 2001, the number of graphic design production employees was 62,300, according to the BLS. A year later, it dropped to 51,600 and stayed in that range for the next two years. In 2005, it went up to 53,000, which historically would have been a sign that the printing market would improve. Unfortunately, it was a false signal. This year, it's up to 57,200, and is twice the rate of real economic growth. Therefore, we have cautious optimism for print in case we get statistically snookered again.

Printing employment, however, is down about 8,000 jobs, a -1.3% decline. The shift of jobs from printing production to creative markets is a long term trend, and it is continuing. It's not the impact of the Internet though: this remains the effects of desktop publishing still rippling through the industry more than 15 years after it started. A reason for the decline in jobs in any market can often be attributed to increased productivity. The latest indicators we have imply that productivity in the printing industry is still unsatisfactory, and may have gotten worse, because good pricing is still difficult to achieve. The decline in jobs is more attributable to the decline in print volume. Since mid-2000, when print volume was at its most recent peak, printing employment went from 809,000 to 640,200, using BLS data, a decline of 168,800 jobs. The rate of decline roughly approximates the decline in commercial printing shipments in that period.

Productivity enhancement is our industry's biggest economic need. A bottom-up restructuring, involving major investments in computer technologies, as well as more efficient equipment is essential, all with a vision of a building a new role for print in a dynamic, and global, media market. These are not times for making small incremental changes in business operations, but for insightful revolutions that go well beyond the shop floor, with an eye toward what the industry looks like five or more years from now, not just what it will look like next week.

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