Commercial Print, an Industry in Decline

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Commercial Print, an Industry in Decline

Robert Ehnat

Business 110

The commercial printing industry, once the dominant communication medium of the United States has been changing constantly for the last 65 years. Since the end of the Second World War, the commercial printing industry has lost market share for a number of reasons. Unimagined technological advances brought continuous innovations, new media challenges, a changing culture and increased domestic and foreign competition. The result of these changes is an industry that’s been forever altered and is facing an uncertain future. Commercial Print, an Industry in Decline

I have been employed in the printing industry for the last 20 years, most recently as a project manager. During that time I have worked for six different companies. I didn’t always change firms by choice. Four of the six times I sought a new position was due to the company I worked for failing or being absorbed by a larger firm. Though the management of the failed companies played a part in their end, I came to see that their demise was a reflection of greater forces at work in the market place. The industry in which I worked was and is in a state of decline. The numbers from the last census “show that from 1997 to 2002 the total number of printing establishments closed rose to 17 percent, from 30,416 to 25,412”. (Graphic Arts Monthly, 2004) The decline has persisted, “U.S. corporate profits, an indicator for corporate demand for printing services fell 7 percent in the second quarter of 2008 compared to the same period a year ago.”(First Research, 2009) Technological Changes

“Printers have long been considered the epitome of the skilled blue collar craftsmen.” (Wallace & Kalleberg, 1982) The job of putting ink on paper was once the domain of highly skilled individuals possessing a broad base of knowledge that covered all aspects of the print production process. Job functions were complex and the technology of printing required a craftsman’s knowledge of the processes and materials in order to produce quality printed materials. All of that changed at the end of WWII. As profit margins began to shrink, printing businesses began heavily investing in new processes and technology. (Wallace & Kalleberg, 1982) Over the next 60 years, developments in offset printing, electronic prepress and laser technology continuously shortened the print production cycle and increased production capacity. The introduction of the Xerox copier made the ability to produce a printed page available to anyone. The use of computers altered the workflow. Word processing programs eliminated the need for typesetting. Documents could be stored digitally and then sent directly into the printers prepress operations. Previously, “the printer controlled the metal and later the film: the printer essentially “owned: the job. Today the customer owns the job.” (Romano, 2004) The development of stand alone digital printers allowed individuals and industries that formerly had to outsource their printing needs to now produce them themselves. As commercial printers embraced these technological advances to improve their production systems, the increased efficiencies have led to the need for fewer plants and thusly fewer workers. (Esier, Cross, Bolte, Mason & Carli, 2005) New Media

The development of the internet has had a marked effect on commercial print both as a technological development that’s further altered the printing market but also as a medium in it self that’s drawn advertising dollars from tradition print to the new media of web sites and search engines. It is no longer necessary to save a document created on a computer to a disc for transportation. Now a manuscript is transferred electronically from the creator to the output medium of their choice via an internet connection. Not only does this have the effect of again shortening the workflow but of disseminating work over a wider competitive...
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