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Technology Reduces Employment in the Printing Industry
by Brian Rooney
Published Apr-23-2013

 
Employment in printing and related support activities has been on the decline since the late 1990s. Advances in digital technology have contributed to declines in employment in two important ways. First, by changing the marketplace the industry operates in as options to deliver information become more diverse. And secondly, by improving productivity so the industry needs fewer workers to do the same amount of work.

Firms in the printing and related support activities industry (which will be referred to as the "printing industry") print products, such as newspapers, books, periodicals, business forms, greeting cards, and other materials, and perform support activities, such as bookbinding, platemaking, and data imaging. Newspapers and other publishers that do in-house printing are classified in the publishing industry of the information sector and are not included here.

An Industry in Long-Term Decline
 
Employment in the printing industry has been declining for more than a decade, but it remains an important industry in Oregon, employing about 5,400 in 2012 (Graph 1).

Annual average employment in the industry has dropped about 36 percent since 2001. Going further back in time, employment in commercial printing had increased until the mid-1990s. It then leveled off for a few years before starting a slow decline in the late 1990s. The decline accelerated during the early part of the 2000s. After a relatively stable period between 2006 and 2008, the industry, like most in manufacturing, was hurt by the Great Recession. Since then, employment has been relatively stable, declining slightly over the past two years.

The largest portion of the printing and related support activities industry is in private sector printing. The support activities for printing subsector is relatively small, with an annual average employment of 338 in 2011, down 63 percent from the 812 recorded in 2001.

Graph 1
Oregon printing and related support activities employment
Technology and the Printing Industry
 
Through history, from ancient Chinese block printing to Johannes Guttenberg's movable type press to lithographic offset printing to today's digital printing, technological advances have made printing more productive and of higher quality, increasing the availability of information.

Today, however, other forms of media are distributing information at an increasing rate. First radio, then television, and now the Internet and e-books have taken market share. This has reduced the demand for printed material and contributed to the decline of industry employment.

Although some in-house newspaper printing is not included in this industry, the decline of newspaper circulation is a prime example of how technology has reduced the demand for printed material. Online news has many advantages. It's often free of charge, has a wider range of information available, and the ability to provide updates several times a day. This has pushed people online for their news and away from print newspapers. According to the Newspaper Association of America, paid circulation began to drop in the late 1980s. Between 1990 and 2011, daily circulation in the U.S. dropped from 62,328,000 to 44,421,000, a loss of 17,907,000, or 29 percent.

Another way technology can reduce employment is through increased productivity. In many manufacturing industries, improvements in productivity eventually make the industry less labor intensive, reducing employment. One measure of productivity is the output per worker. Graph 2 measures productivity as the inflation adjusted contribution per worker of the industry to Oregon's gross domestic product. It shows that except for the recessionary period from 2008 to 2009, the printing and support activities industry has generally increased productivity. Although productivity can be increased in other ways, it is at least partly due to better technology.

Graph 2
Oregon real gross domestic product per employee printing & related support act
Occupations in the Printing Industry
 
The largest occupations in the printing and related support activities industry are production workers. These are workers who do the printing, binding, and prepress work. Not surprisingly, the largest occupation is printing machine operator, which makes up 16 percent of the industry's employment. The next largest occupation, bindery workers, makes up 10 percent of the industry. These workers take the printed materials and bind them into books and other publications. The third largest occupation, and 7 percent of the industry, is prepress technicians. These workers do typesetting, camera work, photoengraving and other set-up work for the presses.

Table 1 lists the largest 15 occupations in the printing industry and their wages. The wages listed are for all industries that include the occupation, not just printing and support activities. Wages in the printing and support activities industry are midlevel. The 2011 average annual pay for the industry is $40,910 compared with an overall statewide wage for all industries of $43,077. The wage for the support activities subsector is a little higher at $45,959. However, wages in the industry are low for a manufacturing industry. Overall, manufacturing has an average annual wage of $60,223.

Most occupations in printing production, such as printing machine operators and bindery workers, require only a high school diploma and moderate on the job training, and tend to pay below the industry average. Others, like prepress technicians and graphic artists may require education beyond high school and involve artistic skills. These occupations generally pay higher wages.

Table 1
Select Printing and Related Support Activities Occupations in Oregon
    Percent of 2012
  2010 Industry Occupational
Title Employment Employment Median Wage
Printing Machine Operators 1138 16% $17.67
Bindery Workers 660 10% $15.10
Prepress Technicians and Workers 497 7% $20.56
Machine Feeders and Offbearers 321 5% $12.87
Supervisors/Managers of Production and Operating Workers 281 4% $25.49
Job Printers 246 4% N/A
Customer Service Representatives 230 3% $14.72
Sales Representatives, Services, All Other 227 3% $24.24
Graphic Designers 193 3% $21.67
Production Workers Helpers 170 2% $12.71
General and Operations Managers 164 2% $41.71
Shipping, Receiving, and Traffic Clerks 157 2% $14.14
Office Clerks, General 138 2% $14.38
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks 134 2% $17.09
Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products 121 2% $25.57
Outlook
 
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment in the printing and related support activities industry is expected to decline slightly at 0.7 percent between 2010 and 2020. Continued loss of market share to other media and continued automation causes net overall employment to decline, but at a much slower pace than in recent years.

Demand for some forms of printed material like packaging and direct mail advertising that are not as susceptible to replacement by electronic formats is expected to increase along with economic and population growth. This will moderate the losses from technical advances expected elsewhere in the industry.

Most occupations in the printing industry in Oregon are expected to remain flat or decline slightly. However, with an aging labor force there are expected to be increased replacement needs from retirements that will help provide opportunity. Table 2 shows the expected employment change and replacement needs of occupations most directly related to printing and support activities. Several of the occupations are expected to have no openings created by growth, but are expected to provide opportunity through replacement openings.

After years of decline since the 1990s, and a big drop during the Great Recession, the long-term projection is for future advancements in technology to further reduce employment in the printing industry. Still, paper products will long have a place in our economy. In the future, declines in printing-industry employment are expected to be slower than they've been over the past decade.

Table 2
2010-2020 Employment Projections for Select Printing and Related Support Activities Occupations in Oregon
  Projected Annual Openings
Title Growth Replacement Total
Printing Machine Operators 0 33 33
Bindery Workers 0 21 21
Prepress Technicians and Workers 0 16 16
Machine Feeders and Offbearers 64 81 145
Supervisors/Managers of Production and Operating Workers 109 101 210
Job Printers 0 6 6
Graphic Designers 47 83 130
Production Workers Helpers 62 61 123
Shipping, Receiving, and Traffic Clerks 134 222 356