The U.S. Census Bureau officially designates NAICS 32312 as “Support Activities for Printing,” identifying these businesses as “establishments primarily engaged in performing prepress and postpress services in support of printing activities. Prepress services may include such things as platemaking, typesetting, trade binding, and sample mounting. Postpress services include such things as book or paper bronzing, die cutting, edging, embossing, folding, gilding, gluing, and indexing.”

In 2010, there were 32,906 employees in U.S. pre- and postpress establishments, a count which had declined to 22,855 by 2018. As we remarked when we looked at establishments in this category, it’s not difficult to understand why the number of employees has been dropping, especially if you read the definition of “prepress” above. In fact, it’s kind of surprising that it hasn’t declined more than it has: prepress has largely been absorbed into the printing process itself. Especially in digital printing workflows, prepress is little more than what happens in the digital front end. As a result, there is no need for an entire business to be dedicated to prepress the way there was back in the heyday of the service bureau. In fact, as automation continues to penetrate into printing companies, there is less and less need for prepress employees—and, again, even less of a need for a business to be completely dedicated to prepress. We also suspect that many business that had once been solely prepress-oriented have moved into new kinds of services, such as graphic design, wide-format printing, perhaps even other kinds of digital printing, while still retaining their legacy NAICS classification.

Finishing is a different beast. A lot of print businesses have been adding in-house binding and finishing, since, in this age of fast turnaround, who has time to send a job out for finishing? Still, dedicated bindery services businesses still abound, and they have shifted a lot of their focus to higher-end finishing services, such as so-called “embellishments” (be they digital or not), and the kinds of services that print businesses may not want to add in-house. After all, one print shop can’t add every finishing process under the sun, despite the growing prevalence if all-in-one machines.

If you’re wondering how many of these establishments are prepress and how many are postpress, before 2012, County Business Patterns broke them out separately, and in 2011, the balance was 56% prepress and 44% postpress.

These counts are based on data from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns. Every other week, we update these data series with the latest figures. These counts are broken down by printing business classification (based on NAICS, the North American Industrial Classification System). Next up, we will be looking at employment in the publishing categories:

  • 511 Publishing Industries (except Internet)
  • 5111 Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • 51111 Newspaper Publishers
  • 51112 Periodical Publishers
  • 51113 Book Publishers
  • 51114 Directory and Mailing List Publishers
  • 51119 Other Publishers
  • 511191 Greeting Card Publishers
  • 511199 All Other Publishers

These data, and the overarching year-to-year trends, like other demographic data, can be used not only for business planning and forecasting, but also sales and marketing resource allocation.

This Macro Moment

Yesterday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released their third estimate of Q4 GDP growth:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 33.4 percent.

The “second” estimate had GDP rising 4.1%. The BEA adds: “The updated estimates primarily reflected upward revisions to private inventory investment and state and local government spending that were partly offset by downward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and consumer spending.”