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Components of the Printing Industry

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The largest component in dollar volume is the newspaper industry (SIC Code 2711), with over 9,000 domestic newspapers and a payroll of more than $1.5 billion. Newspapers took in over $11 billion in sales and another $38 billion in advertising in 1995 and 1996, with some 60 million newspapers sold each day. Next is commercial printing (SIC Codes 2751-2759), with some 56,000 plants engaged in printing every description of printed matter, including advertising materials. Another major component of the industry is engaged in printing packages of all kinds, from metal cans to plastic bottles to folding cartons. It has been estimated that about 200,000 people work in 12,000 package printing plants. Business Forms (SIC Code 2761), Greeting Cards (SIC Code 2771), Typesetting (SIC Code 2791), and other subareas of the industry account for additional millions of the domestic payroll. Other industry components include magazine publishing, with more than 900 new titles added in 1996, book publishing and manufacture, and printing of such diverse items as gift wraps, wallpaper, and vinyl floor coverings.

An important branch is what is called by government statisticians "Trade Services," a generic term that serves all other components. These establishments include typesetters, plate-makers, color separations producers, bookbinders, and related services. There are over 3,000 such plants in the United States employing about 180,000 people.

Canadian statistics courtesy of the Canadian Printing Industry Association So, you see, the printing industry is a diversified effort, a major force in the economies of North America, and a fertile ground for career planning. The industry as a whole employs about 1.6 million people in about 100,000 plants nationwide. The annual payroll of the printing industry, with all its subdivisions and classes, exceeds $38 billion annually.

Although these figures by themselves are impressive, even more impressive is the fact that about 80 percent of the 100,000 U.S. plants employ fewer than 20 persons. This means that printing is essentially a small-business enterprise. There are printing plants in every corner of the country-there is probably one just around the corner from where you live!
In addition to these bare facts and figures, understand that printing and publishing is one of the most progressive of all U.S. industries, deeply involved in new electronic and technological developments. These developments have application in the three phases of printing: pre-press, which is the preparation of materials for printing; press, which is the actual application of ink to paper; and post-press, which includes folding, binding, and trimming printed pages into books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets.

Computer technology is employed in the printing industry in many different ways. For example, in preparing text matter for the press, the writer nowadays has only to type the copy on an ordinary typewriter keyboard linked to a computer, and then punch a key. The computer will "read" the copy and format it, that is, divide it into evenly spaced columns, decide when and how to hyphenate at the end of the line, and deliver the finished copy in the form of a sheet of film or a "hard copy" sheet of paper. Electronic imaging technology is among the fastest-growing and farthest-reaching elements of the modern computing energy, with hundreds of hardware and software firms bringing out new scanning and imaging products every month. Indeed, as government agencies scramble to comply with the Federal Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and with businesses converting to the more efficient "paperless office environment," more and more career opportunities open in optical data transmission and storage, which in some instances compete with the more traditional printing industry, as exemplified by the advent of the electronic magazine.

Nonetheless, the computer has saved at least six steps, some of which could be accomplished in the past only by skilled workers putting in many hours. Even in matters of judgment and quality control, instrumentation has taken over some of the duties of skilled, experienced people. The density of a dot of colored ink makes an important difference in the fidelity of color printing. Formerly, this could be judged by a skilled press operator-the more skilled and experienced, the better-who then made adjustments to the ink fountain of the press to bring up or down the amount of ink deposited on the paper. This is now done in many plants by a densitometer, an instrument for reading the density of ink across the entire face of the printed sheet. Its readings are linked to the ink fountain, and adjustments are made automatically and continuously during the press run.

Despite these and many other space-age developments, the caliber of personnel in the printing industry remains high. Both labor and management are interested in maintaining a skilled and well-paid work force. Competition among employees is keen, perhaps due to the fact that the quality of the finished product is directly related to the motivation of the individual. As the saying goes, doctors bury their mistakes, and lawyers may argue themselves out of theirs, but printers must live with theirs for as long as the printed page survives. Thus, we see good reason for the special care and pride of the craft that exists in the printing industry.

Ink itself has undergone transformation in the past few years as new environmental regulations and industry response has put hundreds of chemists to work developing better quality inks. Indeed, energy-efficiency, concern for the environment, and high competition have yielded faster presses and created thousands of jobs for equipment designers and engineers.
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