A Look at (Un)Employment in the Publishing Industries

November 12, 2009

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the long-time leading economists focused on the printing industry. In his column today on WhatTheyThink? (membership may be required) he looks at the employment drop in the printing industry, but offers a charts the reveals comparisons to other publishing sectors.


Only newspapers and direct mail advertising are dropping staff faster than printing companies.

Dr. Joe (as he’s known) relates these figures to the official U.S. unemployment numbers released this week: 10.2%, but 17.5% once underemployed workers and those who’ve given up the search are included (which surely they should be).

Of course these numbers show YTR changes in the number employed and so can’t be compared to unemployment figures per se. And it’s difficult to make easy comparisons to the total unemployed. While the seasonally-adjusted total number of unemployed American has increased by over 50% YTR (to over 15.7 million), the unemployment rate has increased from 6.6% to 10.2%.

The most relevant figure is that the number of Americans employed in October 2009 was 4.4% fewer than in October 2008 (again on a seasonally-adjusted basis). Only ad agencies match that percentage decline. The others all exceed it, in the case of newspaper workers, by some 320%!

Another indicator that ink-on-paper publishing’s decline far exceeds the indicators for the challenges to the U.S. economy as a whole.

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The Pace of Change

November 4, 2009

My intention this evening was to point to some article or other or some statistic or other that would suitably comprise a subject for a blog. I’ve got dozens in my files…many to chose from. But as I scoured through them I thought that a recap might be more appropriate than a narrow-subject issue.

I was with a client yesterday, a long-time client with whom I’ve worked not for years but for decades. In this case it happens to be a printing firm. Many of my readers will click to another subject upon that revelation. But as I continue to argue, publishing is an ecosphere, and to focus on only one aspect, such as social networking or Google dominance, is great folly. It’s essential to recognize the ecosphere as a whole, and at the same time to recognize, not unlike the flapping wings of the apocryphal butterfly in Africa, that indicators from any and every sector of the publishing business reflect upon the whole if you’ve got the wherewithal to recognize the effect.

My client is an exemplary firm, with exceptional staff and very loyal customers. Its sales have continued to grow through a recessionary time, albeit, of course, with diminished margins. But most important this firm has not lost the faith: its intention is to be there for the long haul. And so it does not shy away from the changes that affect every aspect of the publishing industry.

It was an unusual consultation. I had visited just two weeks before. And yet I felt it imperative to once again call together the board of directors to deliver a revised forecast. I had warned them that I felt that the pace of change was not in any way slowing but was increasing in its intensity. What I said that two weeks ago never led me to imagine that I would have vital new data to present that would cause me to revise a 14-day-old forecast. But I offered half-a-dozen data points that supported my revision.

I was not embarrassed by my report. It only supported my earlier claim that the pace of change in the publishing industry is without precedent.

Regardless of what place your firm occupies in the publishing ecosphere, be mindful. If you do not have sufficiently qualified staff onboard to keep you abreast of these near-daily changes, then retain one or more consultants (self-serving, but quite true).

Anything you constructed in your publishing goals or workflows one or more years ago is due for a further revision today. Please take my word for it.

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Let’s Check in with the Printing Industry

June 11, 2009

With all of the attention these days focused on newspapers, eBooks and Twittering, I thought it might be time to check in on the printing industry, the background engine for so much of the country’s publishing activity.

My colleague Howie Fenton works at the NAPL, which though not the largest, is I think the finest  trade organization serving printing companies. Amongst its many virtues, the organization has an excellent economist on staff, Andy Paparozzi.

In Howie Fenton’s latest blog entry on Graphic Arts Monthly he points out the the latest NAPL economic research “has both good news and bad news,” although I have to say I’m hard-pressed to find the good news. Howie reports that “according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, total production hours in the commercial printing industry were down 14.2% in the first quarter of this year from a year ago.”

Further, commercial print sales are down by about 15% in the first quarter.

And meanwhile the largest printer in the U.S. (R.R. Donnelley) is actively engaged in trying to take over the second largest print in North America (Quebecor). (Update late June: Quebecor has rejected Donnelley’s offers and is still trying to renogitate with creditors.)

OK, I’m changing the channel now…next up, if the Kindle is selling so well, why was E-Ink Corporation sold at fire sale prices?

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Sometimes the Web Drives Me Mad

March 26, 2009

These days I’m living in West Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m house-sitting for some dear friends. I’m lucky because it’s so beautiful here.


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Jason Epstein on the Future of Publishing

February 18, 2009

Jason Epstein is a publishing legend. If you don’t know of him, start with the all-too-brief Wikipedia entry, and move on from there. All are well-advised to learn more about this remarkable man.

He now has a vested economic interest in the future of publishing because of his work with the Espresso book print-on-demand device. But this in no way reduces his ability to articulate the changes that are taking place in publishing. He is eloquent, experienced, educated and thoughtful, and his words should be sifted through carefully.

Fortunately the O’Reilly conference on the Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC), held this month in New York, is generous in sharing content from the many presentations there. Here is the full text of Mr. Epstein’s presentation in New York.

He covers the broad range of topics that concern all publishers. A small excerpt here:

“Whatever new publishing paradigms emerge, narrative will persist as a permanent expression of our human nature. We are a storytelling animal and all the world’s tyrants from the beginning of human time have been unable to thwart us. The triumph of samizdat over tyranny is a very old story.”

Please click and read on.

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