January 20, 2014
Talking Points

Technology advancements a boon for printing industry

Heidi Buckley

When was the last time you heard someone say they were running down to the printer's to get some copies made?

If the task at hand required hundreds rather than thousands of copies, it probably has been a long time. As evidenced by the steep decline in Americans employed in the printing industry in the past 20 years, such jobs obviously are now done far more often in the home or office than by a professional printer.

Personal computers and home or office printers have taken a huge chunk out of what once was America's dominant trade industry. But there are some signs that the print industry is stabilizing. In fact, some experts see a resurgence in communications that can be picked up and put down at will, looked over at one's leisure, and returned to as often as wanted without "rebooting."

"High touch" is becoming more important as high tech continues its impersonal advance.

Of course, the new technologies have made it easier to transfer information over time and distance. But these tools also have caused us to trade in real relationships for a less intimacy and less sincerity. How much communication really occurs within a 140-character message?

The key for business is to properly integrate high tech with high touch as the technology alone is unlikely to produce a sale. It is true that individuals buy every-growing quantities of merchandise over the Internet, but it is also true that both companies and people much prefer to buy from people.

As well, how much more effective is a signed, personal letter versus a marketing solicitation sent to thousands by email? Similarly, with most business people receiving a torrent of solicitations by email every day, it stands to reason that an interesting brochure is going to draw more attention from your potential buyer.

Political campaign literature is another example of documents that generate a far better reaction when held in the hand than viewed on a computer screen — and they can be carried to various locations without worrying about Internet connections.

Electronic cards sent by email continue to grow in popularity but nothing says you truly care about someone like a printed greeting card containing a brief handwritten note and signature from a friend or loved one.

The printing industry — the No. 1 employer in the U.S. only two decades ago — has undergone major changes as a result of modern technology. In fact, the 1994 Annual Report to Congress touted the print industry as employing nearly 1 million people compared to the second place auto industry that employed 780,000 at that time.

By 2012 the number of people employed in the U.S. printing industry had dropped by more than half to about 460,000.

A highly visible example of the decline in commercial printing can be found as close as your daily newspaper. Many once dominant daily newspapers have suffered plummeting circulation in the past quarter-century, and as a result have shifted much of their focus to online editions, at the expense of editorial and pressroom staff.

In fact, the decline in newspaper circulation is so intense in some quarters that two Connecticut newspapers recently traded dueling editorials on what constitutes the prime cause. Both are blaming technology and the Internet — among other issues that are disputed.

But where many daily papers have significantly reduced the space devoted to news, and thus have sacrificed the local news that once made them so desirable, weekly publications have sprung up to replace them. That same adaptability can help the overall print industry rebound.

In the past year some analysts were claiming the print industry was dead as a result of emerging technology. I maintain that printers have adapted and are surviving. Perhaps America's print industry won't return to its 1990's levels of employment, but print isn't on the way out either.

As the writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Heidi Buckley is the founder and president of Marketing Solutions Unlimited, a West Hartford-based printing and mailing company.

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