These data about US commercial printing establishments are from the newly released 2013 County Business Patterns published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the turn of this century, there were nearly 38,000 establishments engaged in commercial printing and services; in 2013 there were nearly 27,000. These data do not include inplant printing departments or packaging, but do include label printers and trade services. An establishment is a separate location in a practical definition, and a firm can own more than one establishment. The number of establishments is in response to the size, scope, and nature of overall print demand, but there are other factors.
Inside the printing establishments, there is no longer the need to have prepress departments in the same size, structure, and function as they existed in 2001 when the shift direct-to-plate was gaining momentum. Adoption of digital printing also changed the nature of establishments. When those are combined with the massive shift away from long run publications and general changes to page counts, size, frequency, and other characteristics, the pressures to consolidate and reallocate industry resources was immense.
Plants with 50 or more employees declined in percentage the most, almost -42%. Those establishments with 1 to 9 employees declined the least, -24.5%, but that can be misleading. It can take a while for an establishment to close, and larger establishments are technically still in business for the period where last remaining administrative staff file prepare their accounting, tax filings, and equipment disposals. It is unknown how much of that “zombie print establishment” phenomenon is in the data. But we do know that technologies such as digital printing, e-commerce, networking, workflow, all contribute to greater efficiency, requiring fewer employees for the same revenues than in the past, and therefore the greatest portion of the lesser decline in that category is related to that.