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Industry Insight

NAPL: Print Output Declines Even Faster than Payroll Hours

The economists at NAPL have published some hard numbers about a hard reality—

By Patrick Henry
Published: June 2, 2009

The economists at NAPL have published some hard numbers about a hard reality—the slashing of the industry’s productive output as the recession maintains its cruel grip. In a recent post at the NAPL Biz Trends blog, we’re told 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. Over 80% of the NAPL Printing Business Panel (a survey base) reported in April that their factory payroll hours were lower than a year ago, with only 4% reporting that hours increased. Despite the drop in hours, 41.5% of the panel report that productivity is lower—a year ago the percent reporting lower productivity was 23.3%. With commercial print sales off by almost 15% in the first quarter, and with nearly 80% of the panel reporting declines in output, NAPL’s economic team concludes that output may be declining even faster than payroll hours. This would be consistent with what BLS data indicate for the manufacturing sector as a whole, where a steep drop in output (-14.0%) outpaced the sizable drop recorded in hours (-11.1%). As if that weren’t disturbing enough, unit labor costs are moving sharply in the opposite direction and are virtually impossible for manufacturers to pass through in the form of price increases. “In these difficult times for the printing industry,” says NAPL, “managing factory productivity and costs is especially critical, and being able to continuously monitor performance is vital.” Tools for accomplishing this are available to printers of all sizes, and every printer should be using them.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.



By Joe May on Jun 03, 2009

OK, tell me again, Mr. Romano, that there is NOT over capacity in the printing industry. Tell us again how improved technology is working for us, and NOT against us. It really doesn't matter if printers go out, what matters is the amount of "iron" on the street. In NoVA, everyone thinks of printing as a commodity, and that means everyone thinks they can be a printer. Unfortunately, that means that someone new is buying that "iron." Couple that with paper merchants like XPEDX becoming bankers to the tune of hundreds, if not millions of dollars in paper sales that won't be collected on, and ALL of us have a problem. Am so glad I've only got a few more years till retirement. AND, it may be sooner than I thought!


By David Batson on Jun 03, 2009

Sounds like the NAPL needs to get their message straight. Here's the quote in Print Solutions Weekly. Check out the last sentence: NAPL Reports: Printers are Committed to Sustainability; Recovery Near? More than 80 percent of 175 printers surveyed by NAPL are either pursuing or soon intend to pursue environmental sustainability measures, despite the troubled economy. Printers surveyed were from throughout the U.S., with sales from $3 million to more than $40 million. The association also reported that its printing industry economic indicators show some signs of stabilizing. "For the first time since September 2007, reports of rising activity have increased and reports of declining activity have decreased," NAPL said in a news release. So how valuable is the rest of their information when they can't even agree on the outlook within their own organization. I'd say find some more dependable sources.


By Andrew D. Paparozzi on Jun 03, 2009

I understand the confusion, Mr. Batson, but there is no inconsistency in our outlook or our message. Our press release begins, "The recession is far from over, but for the first time NAPL's economists are seeing some glimmers that we may be finally reaching the bottom." The release then cites supporting data and follows with the comment: "None of this means the recession is over. In fact, it doesn't even mean the worst is over—this could be a false bottom. But the April numbers are the first signs that the freefall our industry has been in since last October is slowing. And that is the first step toward recovery." I'd be delighted to share the report on which the release is based with you. It includes both our outlook--commercial printing industry sales (all sources) down a record 8.0% to 12.0% this year; recession continuing well into 2009, at least; and recovery being painfully slow at first, not feeling much like recovery until well into 2010--and a concise statement of "Bottoming: What It Means, What It Doesn't Mean." Just let me know and I'll send it right over.


By B. Smith on Jun 05, 2009

Printing is dead. Shop owners don't realize it. They have their heads in the sand, believing things will get better...things will only get worse. Mark my words: Printing is dead.


By Patrick Henry on Jun 08, 2009

B. Smith, no doubt about it, we're hearing your point of view expressed by lot of people these days—including some in the industry. I'd just ask that you take another look at "Virtual Press Clips," our roundups of good news from small print firms that are succeeding against the odds, before you conclude that things can only get worse. By the way, we'll be happy to include your company's good news in "Virtual Press Clips." Just let us know. Thanks for your comment. Pat


By Brian on Jun 10, 2009

I don't think printing is dead. Printing will always be around. It is just not the default advertising medium anymore. Print is competing against a multitude of other mediums now. Couple that with the fact of increased throughput on every piece of equipment (presses, digital machines, bindery etc) and you have a decrease in the amount of printing firms an area can support, hence plant closings and layoffs. Technology and capacity on equipment is so good now, it takes less people to get double the amount of work through.


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