The printing industry in the United States has enjoyed success in spite of many years of technology stagnation.
A recent wave of innovation has fueled changes that are beginning to affect the organizational environment. Forces specific to the general environment are causing the printing industry to be reinvented, while forces within the task environment are redefining the supply-chain. From production employees to raw material suppliers, everyone’s role, responsibility, and relationship is changing to accommodate the paradigm shift of this five-century-old industry.
Forces within the general environment are driven by the changes surrounding all three segments of the printing industry. Technological forces are the most predominate in the pre-press and press organizations. Pre-press concentrates on the preparation of materials for printing (Brown, 2009). Typesetting, for example, belongs in the pre-press segment of the printing industry. The advent of computers and desktop publishing software has redefined the role of a typesetter. Instead of manipulating the movable type invented by Gutenberg over five centuries ago, a graphic designer uses computers to set type and perform composition tasks.
The press or output segment of the printing industry is facing change due mostly to technological forces. Digital printing technologies are challenging traditional offset and web printing companies by allowing smaller companies to compete in the same market as large commercial printers. The most costly components of print production is addressed and solved with digital printing. The equipment is easier to maintain and waste is virtually eliminated.
The opportunities and threats created by technological forces are cascaded through several other general environment forces (Jones & George, 2007). For example, demographic forces are created by the need for employees with education and skills to match the new technologies. While jobs such as journeyman typesetter have become obsolete, advances in technology defined new positions. The demographic of a graphic designer is in complete contrast to a journeyman typesetter. Typesetting was a trade that could only be mastered by working as an apprentice. Today, graphic designers can learn the skills necessary for this position while attending college or a trade school.
The learning curve necessary to become a proficient digital pressman is minimal. As a result, the average age of a digital pressman is ten years younger than a journeyman offset pressman. Another ripple effect caused by a younger workforce surrounds sociocultural forces. The overall environment and culture in the workplace is changing to suit the personalities, tastes, and interests of a younger demographic.
The overhead and wages necessary to run a successful printing business today is noticeably less than in previous years. Many businesses have made financial cuts to their printing and advertising budgets. This economic force has challenged many of the well-established commercial printing companies. However, the smaller organizations are better poised to burden the financial strain.
The Economic forces resulting mostly from the demand of cost-conscience consumers have created a crowded playing field of competitors. The smaller businesses are beginning to win bids that would have never been considered in the past. Customers that would have never been able to afford traditional printing services are not only leveraging these services, but also in some cases justifying their own installation of digital printing equipment.
The low cost of digital printing has spawned a trend of in-house printing departments. Suppliers sell the raw materials to both commercial printers and in-house facilities, and therefore not affected by the loss of commercial printing to in-house manufacturing. Distributors are removed from the supply chain in an in-house printing environment. The most disconcerting change is that the customers now become competitors. The same economic forces that cause companies to become financially frugal shift direction and expose new revenue streams for in-house production facilities.
Digital printing technologies have reshaped the printing industry. An industry that once enjoyed an exclusive membership has been diluted by technology. Although technology can be interpreted as threat to the printing industry, many opportunities have emerged as a result. Moreover, opportunities for many new entrepreneurs to explore are now possible mostly due to advances in technologies in the printing industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2008) reports that 69.3% of the printing businesses in the United States employs less that ten people. General environment technological forces are responsible. Sociocultural forces endorse the changes, and demographic forces change the face of the manufacturing workforce in the printing industry—all for the better.
Brown, R. (2009). A Capsule History of Typesetting. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from http://www.historybuff.com/library/reftype.html
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2008). U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, Retrieved November 14, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs050.htm
Jones, G., & George, J. (2007). Essentials of Contemporary Management. McGraw-Hill Publishing. Boston.