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Economics & Research Blog

April US Commercial Printing Shipments Down -3.4%; Shipments Down 12 of Last 13 Months

April 2012 U.

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: June 6, 2012

April 2012 U.S. commercial printing shipments were $6.672 billion in current dollars. For perspective, in April 2008, current dollar shipments were $8.636 billion, nearly $2 billion more, at a time when social media was gaining steam, the iPhone was just another gadget, and the iPad was barely a rumor. Compared to April 2011, shipments were down -$238 million, or -3.4%. For 12 of the last 13 months, shipments have declined compared to the prior year. Last month, the Commerce Department reduced its estimate of 2011 printing shipments by -$1.8 billion to $81.8 billion. (click chart to enlarge) Forecast models are now showing a -4.0% decline for 2012 compared to 2011; we don't necessarily believe it, but some models are forecasting steeper declines than that. Two of our more aggressive models, which weight recent trends more heavily than older ones, are forecasting declines of -6% and -9% compared to 2011. Remember, forecasting is a strategic tool for scenario development in planning, and forecasting models are notoriously bad for statistical precision. The models are capturing significant shifts in communications expenditures and the further division of the media use of consumers and businesses among more media choices. Ten or so years ago, we reminded readers that they were reading about print on the Internet. Today, they're reading it through the Internet on numerous devices, often multitasking in the process. Managers need to be going through "what if?" scenarios in their planning sessions. Such downward pressure on printing shipments will stress even healthy print businesses, and will underscore the need for wise consolidations that allow for development of new business opportunities that could not be sought alone. Defensive consolidations, those that merge costs and don't alter strategy, are not helpful in long-term scenarios. On an inflation-adjusted basis, shipments were down -$397 million, or -5.6%. Inflation-adjusted shipments have declined for the last 14 months. For the first four months of 2012, current dollar shipments are down -3.8%, and inflation-adjusted shipments are down -6.3%. This is not a good start to the year, obviously, and it would be easy to blame a slow economy for these fortunes. To do so would fail to recognize the revolution in communications and the regularly declining costs of computing and communications ownership and use, and the productivity they continue to offer. Many print businesses used the "breathing period" of 2010 to reposition and re-think their businesses in light of these foreseeable changes. It is essential that such re-thinking be a constant, ongoing process. Keep focusing on staying ahead of customers, and issues with competitors who do not do so will take care of themselves in the long run.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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