Print Industry Productivity

By Andrew Paparozzi
In April 25, 2008

To what degree has productivity increased in the print industry? As printers diversify into value added services, it is becoming more difficult to measure overall productivity for the industry. But first, let’s be clear what we mean by productivity. Essentially, we are referring to how much is being produced for each labor hour. At NAPL, we prefer to go one step further and concentrate on production employment (factory productivity). Granted, the speed and effectiveness of new machinery, digital technology, and other factors all come into play. However, when we talk about productivity, our focus is on how much is actually being produced.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that production employment in print and related support activities averaged 444,200 in 2007—a decline of 154,000 from 1998 levels. BLS data also show that average weekly hours of production employees in the industry were at 39.1 in 2007, slightly below the 39.3 average for 1998. Thus, total production hours in 2007 were slightly more than 26% below the 1998 total. An output index (production adjusted for price changes) also from the BLS shows a decline of 7.7% for the print industry between 1998 and 2006. Data for 2007, once published, aren’t going to change this result much. Comparing the two sets of data, we can see that the drop in output has been significantly less than the drop in production labor hours. The difference primarily reflects higher productivity—being able to produce more for each production employee hour—achieved through a combination of better and faster equipment, digital technology, improved workflow, more efficient processes, better-trained employees, improved workforce management, etc. Furthermore, while focusing on factory productivity, one definitely shouldn’t ignore the productivity and effectiveness of non-production employment.

Can we be satisfied with the productivity gains achieved? Short answer—no. Striving to improve productivity should be an ongoing goal. There is no point at which you should say we’ve done enough. This is true no matter how successful a company has been or will be. In addition, remember that it becomes more difficult to achieve productivity gains during periods of a weak economy—periods when effective sales and marketing programs become even more critical.

Joseph Vincenzino

Andrew Paparozzi

Epicomm's Andrew Paparozzi, Vice President/Chief Economist, is well-known for his accurate and thoughtful discussions on the economy and US commercial printing industry. A foremost author and speaker on economic business trends in the printing industry, Paparozzi heads Epicomm's Printing Economic Research Center.

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