Eyes Wide Open
The big wheel of business has turned a million times over since Johannes Gutenberg spearheaded the printing movement. Many recognized opportunity and seized it. Demand increased, profits soared and companies expanded. Then, a crippling recession happened, leaving behind a paper trail of red ink, closures and bankruptcies.
So, what happens next? It's a complicated question with no simple answer. "We continue to struggle with a painfully slow, maddening[ly] inconsistent recovery from our worst recession on record," observed Andrew D. Paparozzi, chief economist of the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL), East Rutherford, N.J. "Business picks up, only to slow right back down. Even companies that are growing aren't sure what to expect next."
He used last year's numbers as an example. According to Paparozzi, sales from all sources (not just print) rose 0.6 percent—the first increase in nearly five years. "Sales firmed as the year progressed, growing by 1.3 percent during the fourth quarter," he noted. "And confidence is gradually returning: 27.3 percent of NAPL State of the Industry participants now expect business to improve during the six months ahead, up from 24.0 percent last fall and 19.1 percent last summer."
Still, Paparozzi noted, with total industry sales down more than 20 percent from pre-recession (i.e., 2007) levels, recovery isn't going to happen overnight. As for the economy, current Blue Chip Economic Indicators estimate that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will grow just 1.9 percent in 2013, a slight improvement over 2011's 1.8 percent growth, though short of the 2.2 percent growth in 2012. (The Blue Chip consensus is hopeful for 2014, forecasting the GDP to grow by nearly 3.0 percent.)
Dr. Ronnie H. Davis, senior vice president and chief economist at Printing Industries of America (PIA) in Sewickley, Pa., maintained a cautiously optimistic attitude. "In general, the industry is doing OK—certainly not great, but it could be much worse," he said.