Trends in the U.S. Printing Industry

Printing Industry Trends

The traditional printing industry is shrinking, which should come as no surprise. What is interesting to note, however, is what’s going on inside those numbers. Recently released information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns data provides an inside look at the categories in which the industry is shrinking and the areas that have shown some growth in several establishments over the past decade. 

What Is an Establishment? 

You can think of a printing industry establishment as a single work site. The U.S. Census Bureau describes the number of locations with paid employees at any time during the year. That means that if a given establishment existed in January 2020 but went out of business by the end of the year due to the pandemic or other reasons, it would still count as an establishment for 2020. This is good to keep in mind when considering the numbers because any businesses that closed during the first year of the pandemic would still be counted in the 2020 numbers. 

Another point to consider is how businesses are classified in the government’s categories. As the printing industry has contracted, the Census Bureau has adapted its categories over time. Typesetters and color separators operated as separate categories decades ago, but technology shifted those roles elsewhere.  

Today, the categories related to printing are focused on four areas in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The top category, Printing and Related Support Activities, goes by the three-digit NAICS code 323. Beneath category 323 are Printing (32311) and Support Activities for Printing (32312). The NAICS printing category breaks out into Commercial Printing (323111), Screen Printing (323113), and Book Printing (323117).  

Keep in mind that these categories are self-selecting, so there may be some overlap or misclassification. For example, a prepress house that moved into digital printing might continue to identify itself by its legacy category (prepress) when it might actually be better described as a commercial printer. In addition, a commercial printer that does a large amount of bookwork will likely identify itself as a commercial printer. 

The U.S. Printing Industry: Number of Establishments 

Back in August, some of you might have seen a WhatTheyThink article summarizing the latest printing industry establishment data from U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns. This article noted a steep decline in establishments within the U.S. Commercial Printing market between 2010 and 2020. WhatTheyThink’s August overview did not include Screen Printers, Book Printers, and Support Activities; these were covered in later posts. The Figure below combines the data to provide an overall view of the number of establishments in the U.S. Printing Industry. 

Source: PIA Blogs, Sponsored by CSA, Written by Keypoint Intelligence 

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