April 17, 2019

It’s Official. Print is Dead.

It’s Official. Print is Dead.

So, it’s official. Print is dead. I know this because the Washington Post said so. The headline read, “Stop the presses: Commercial printers and other vanishing jobs the Labor Department can’t track anymore.” Does anyone find it ironic that this headline appeared in the print edition of the Post?

According to the Washington Post, each week nearly half of Washington metro area adults read the print edition. Print circulation within the paper’s Washington Designated Market Area (DMA) is over one million daily papers and nearly 1.5 million on Sunday. I guess it’s the “newspaper fairies” that produce the paper.

According to washingtonpost.com, the website reaches nearly 1.7 million adults in the Washington DMA each month. So, if I’m reading this correctly, the print edition of the paper reaches almost as many people every Sunday that the online version reaches every month. Interesting.

I’m not a guy with his head in the sand. I know newspaper circulation is not what it used to be. But I also know that you can’t judge an entire industry by just one segment of that industry.

What’s Behind the Actions from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics?

A lot has been written about the facts and figures behind the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) decision. In my opinion, the actions of the BLS are the ultimate example of a problem that has plagued our industry for years. While we promote and advertise every product and service under the sun, we never promote ourselves.

Question: Why can’t the industry find quality employees?

Answer: The printing schools, where we’ve traditionally found these employees, have no students.

Question: Why are there no students in the schools?

Answer: Students, parents, and school counselors don’t see the industry as a viable career choice.

Question: Why don’t they see the industry as a viable career choice?

Answer: Because no one knows we’re here.

The irony is, all of the career options promoted to students use print. Slick, glossy brochures, direct mail university promotions, posters in the counselor’s office, and more. Yet no one realizes that all of this print collateral was designed, printed and mailed by employees of the printing industry.

What’s the Impact of the BLS Decision?

The idea that print is dead now reaches beyond schools and universities. With this BLS decision, those in the halls of our state and federal governments will wonder what’s happening to our industry.

Imagine the task facing Lisbeth Lyons, Vice President, Government & External Affairs at Printing Industries of America (PIA). On the Saturday the headline appeared in the Washington Post, she was boarding a plane to the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat. Nearly everyone on the plane was reading the Post.

Lyons said that once on the plane, Senators were looking at her, holding up their newspapers, and pointing to the article. That must have been an interesting conversation starter. After all, she was attending this event to represent and promote the printing industry.

According to Lyons, the BLS decision will impact three areas within the industry. The first will be the collection of economic data. This will probably have the least impact on the industry. In the last few years, economic data used by PIA has been collected from other sources, due in large part to the BLS’s narrow definition of the printing industry.

The second area affected will be the overall perception of the industry. In an economy where many industries are competing for the same potential employees, recruiting, retaining, and replacing individuals to work in the printing industry will become even more difficult.

The third area to be affected will be Career Technical Education (CTE) and workforce development funding. This will probably be the area most affected. Most funding for these programs relies heavily on the employment projections and data from the BLS.

The Role of Industry Convergence

The printing industry is not alone in this situation. According to the Washington Postarticle, discontinued industry categories in 2009 included Motion Picture and Video industries. In 2012, the Beverage and Tobacco-product manufacturing category was discontinued.

This trend may be less about these industries and more about the changing makeup of the economy as a whole. A recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that two-thirds of global CMOs saw industry convergence as their greatest business challenge. The report states, “The boundaries between industries are continuing to erode, as companies in one sector apply their expertise to others – bringing previously separate industries together and sometimes redefining the very way in which they’re classified.”

As industries continue to converge, it’s essential that the BLS adapt to these changes. This is why PIA is in the process of reaching out to print advocates in Congress to help the BLS modernize their decision-making process. According to Lyons, PIA sees this as an opportunity to create new/updated definitions for the industry and the BLS.

The question is, what will we call ourselves?

Even Bigger Problems in California

The decision of the BLS in regards to our industry will impact schools throughout California who need CTE funding to continue training the printing employees of the future. In addition, local printers will soon have to contend with even bigger problems coming from our legislature here in Sacramento. That is why our goal as your trade association is to educate legislators about the impact of the printing industry on the California economy. Towards that end, we are working with RJ Cervantes of Fernández Cervantes Government Affairs. As our Legislative Advocate in Sacramento, he will guide us through the over 3,000 bills introduced every year in the California legislature to determine which will have an impact on our industry.

The Coming Tax Increase

Two bills of particular interest to printers in 2019 concern taxes. One bill introduced could establish a tax on services that businesses provide to individuals and to other companies; however, this bill is very preliminary and has a long way to go. The second will make changes to Prop 13 concerning commercial property taxes. This will have an enormous impact on many of our members.

Working with Politicians

Mitigating these proposed tax increases requires working with legislators. Working with politicians is a lot like developing a new client for your company. You can’t just walk into a prospective print customer and ask if they have any jobs to bid on. A successful sales rep nurtures their client; they take time to talk with them and learn about their company. They make phone calls, drop by and leave donuts, send emails or birthday cards, all to determine their client’s needs. When working with a legislator, the same holds true.

You can’t just walk into your local representative’s office and demand action on a particular piece of legislation. First, you need to get to know them, and they need to get to know you. It’s all about building a relationship. Visit their office when they’re in their districts or attend a community event they sponsor. Cervantes says, “This has to be more than a one-off meeting.” Consistency is important.

According to Cervantes, owners of printing companies, both large and small, can have an effect on local legislators. Your local representative, whether Democrat or Republican, understands that you and your employees impact the local community. Your company, your employees, and you provide tax dollars to the cities where you live and work. Think of the influence that nearly 5,000 companies with over 71,500 employees can have on a political campaign.

Print also has a special significance to legislators. According to Cervantes, one of the biggest things these representatives depend on for election and re-election is print. Political organizations spend millions of dollars on direct mail alone. Most local politicians are directly involved with their campaigns; thus they know their printer personally. While the legislator speaks with the printer about their desired outcome from the print campaign, it’s rare that the printer discusses the state of the industry with the legislator. That needs to change.

Cervantes believes the industry is actually in a position of strength because politicians rely so much on printing. If the industry doesn’t do well, it will have a direct impact on political campaigns. Thus, these legislators have a vested interest in keeping our industry healthy. We, as an industry, need to capitalize on that strength.

What can you do?

The power of a 13.6 billion dollar industry in California cannot be ignored. We must make our voices heard. We each need to put our industry, our business and ourselves in front of our local elected officials. Find ways to make this happen.

  1. Learn who your representative is in Sacramento: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/
  2. Check their website to discover their mission and goals.
  3. Search their website for Upcoming Events that you can attend.
  4. Join their mailing list.
  5. Send letters of support or concern relating to a specific piece of upcoming legislation.
  6. Join the group of members traveling to Sacramento from Tuesday, June 18, to Wednesday, June 19, to meet and lobby California legislators. Contact us at PIASC for more details.

If each of us took the time to connect in one form or another with our local elected official three times a year, think of the impact it could have on future legislation.

Remember, these are not partisan issues. Funding for CTE programs helps everyone in the printing industry. Taxes, too, have a direct impact on each and every one of us. We’ve seen the result of inaction. By not defining who we are, we let a government agency define us. We’ve seen how that turned out.

We all know print is not dead, but without a concerted, organized effort, we may wind up with one foot in the grave.

About the Author

Printing Industries Association, Inc. is devoted to helping our members succeed…and there are many ways that we do so. Need group medical insurance? We’ve got dozens of plans to choose from, and a designated local customer service rep to handle your account. Have questions about human resources issues, sales tax or compliance? We’ve got the answers.

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