SIC 2732

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in printing or in printing and binding books and pamphlets, but not engaged in publishing. Establishments primarily engaged in publishing or in both publishing and printing books and pamphlets are classified in SIC 2731: Books: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing. Establishments engaged in both printing and binding books but primarily binding books printed elsewhere are classified in SIC 2789: Bookbinding and Related Work.

NAICS Code(s)

323117 (Book Printing)

Industry Snapshot

The earliest printing techniques were developed in China in the second century A.D. The printing industry was inaugurated in the Western world when Johannes Gutenberg, Johann Fust, and Peter Schoffer invented movable type and the printing press around the middle of the fifteenth century, producing the first printed books in the Western world with this newly developed equipment. Printing came to the United States with some of the earliest English immigrants; the first book printed in the new world was the Bay Psalm Book, printed by Stephen Day in 1640. Since that time, design improvements and new inventions have made the process quicker and less costly. Almost from the beginning, printing and publishing were separate enterprises, and not much has changed since then: today, publishers decide what to print and how it will look, and printers put the words on the page to the publishers' specifications.

The continued movement toward automation, computerization, and other new technologies caused radical changes in the industry. Desktop typesetting and formatting at point of origin (the author), digitized color scanning and imaging, electronic publishing over the World Wide Web, and new media formats available for the conveyance of information constituted some of the driving forces of the industry.

Book printers generally are divided into two categories: long-run printers and short-run printers. For the largest book printers, such as R.R. Donnelley and Sons Co. and Quebecor World, Inc., book printing was just one of several types of printing services they offered. Donnelley, for example, served five end-markets including book publishers, magazine publishers, directories, financial services, and merchandise media. Short-run printers, on the other hand, tended to specialize in book printing. They typically offer publishers both hard and soft-cover printing on editions of 500 to 15,000 copies.

Organization and Structure

An overview of the major segments of the printing industry, including commercial printing, is provided through the various affiliates and sections of the Printing Industries of America: Electronic Prepress, Graphic Arts Marketing and Information Service, Graphic Communications Association, International Thermographers, Label Printing Industries of America Printing Industry Financial Executives, Sales & Marketing Executives, the Web Offset Association, and the Non-Heatset Web Section. In addition, the Printing History Association and Research and Engineering Council of the Graphic Arts Industry help preserve the heritage of printing and coordinate production techniques and new technologies.

Historically, books are separated into many different categories, such as trade; mass market paperbacks; textbooks; and scientific, technical, reference, and professional books. These have been marketed through traditional bookstores, super-or mega-bookstores, book clubs, and via direct-mail order and the World Wide Web.

The book printing industry is influenced by several factors: the publishing industry in general with its mass and specialized book marketing, the economy at large, and technological innovations, particularly those relating to increased quality or production.

The publication of books in the United States is characterized by a clear division of labor between book printer and book publisher. The publisher selects the books to be printed, makes all of the decisions regarding the appearance of the final product, from page layout and illustrations to type font and paper quality, and finances the production. The printer takes either a camera-ready copy or a film negative and reproduces it in the quantities required by the publisher on the paper specified and often already purchased by the publisher. The printer's role in the publishing process is one of reproduction rather than production.

Depending on whether the publisher supplies the camera-ready copy, a phototypeset film negative, or a computer text file, the printer's job begins either with making film negatives of each page or printing plates. In some cases, graphic artists working for the publisher take the corrected typeset hard copy of the text and lay out each page with any necessary graphics. These cameraready pages, called mechanicals, are then sent on to the printer. The printer then photographs these mechanicals to produce the film copy necessary in the platemaking process. With recent advances in computer graphics capabilities, many computer systems can bypass both the layout process and the photographing process. Computer programs can combine text and graphics, so page layout can be done on a computer rather than the drafting table. Hardware peripherals can generate output in the form of a film, ready for platemaking.

Metal, paper, or plastic plates are what actually put the images of the text onto the paper. Using photochemical processes, the image to be printed is transferred from the film negative onto the plate. The prepared plate has image areas that chemically accept ink and can therefore pass the ink onto a piece of paper and nonimage areas that chemically repel ink and therefore pass nothing on to the paper, leaving spaces between the letters, images, and lines.

Having made the plates, the printer can begin the reproduction process. Most printing is offset. The inked plates pass a reverse image onto a rubber sheet, which then passes a positive image onto the paper; offset tends to produce a clearer image than direct printing. Black and white graphics and text-only pages need pass through the machine only once to produce the complete image. Color pictures complicate the process, however, and are usually sent through several times for different colored inks. After the actual printing, some print shops also bind the books; others ship the unbound product back to the publisher or to the bindery.

Background and Development

It is generally thought that the Chinese invented the earliest printing. During the second century A.D., they carved religious texts and images into marble columns around their temples; devotees and pilgrims would ink the columns and press paper to them to make their own copies of the text. Small seals were carved for similar purposes, and, by the sixth century, artisans carved wood blocks with which to make prints as well. The oldest known printed works were made with wood blocks in Japan in the eighth century. A million Buddhist charms were printed on paper and distributed to followers around 770 A.D. One of the oldest extant printed books, the Diamond Sutra (a Chinese version of the Buddhist scriptures), was printed in 868 A.D. using wooden blocks on seven sheets of paper attached at the top and bottom ends to form a single 16-foot roll. Although movable clay block type had been invented nearly 400 years earlier, it took the rebirth of knowledge, an abundant paper supply, ink that could be applied to metal and transferred to paper, a wooden press, and the availability of an alphabet to allow printing to become a major force in communication.

The geographical containment of Europe and sociological needs of the Renaissance, along with four essential elements (paper, ink from painters, a press from the olive and grape vine yards and metal casting from the goldsmiths) and the synthetic genius and tenacity of Gutenberg set the stage for typography. Nonetheless, it took yet another 500 years for the age of automated typesetting and computer generated camera-ready copy to arrive.

Papermaking, a necessary predecessor to printing, came to Europe via the Arabian presence in Spain between the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. Woodcarving prints survive from the fourteenth century, but the printing industry really started in Germany in 1455 with the invention of metal movable type and a printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg made molds of individual letters that then could produce many type pieces of the same letter, all identical. The printer then arranged the pieces in a composing stick in the proper order and fastened each stick onto the press, which could print many copies of each page. Type pieces could then be removed from the composing stick and revised for the next page.

In the first century of printing, printers were publishers and publishers were printers: that is, the printer decided what to print and provided the initial financial investment, and the publisher did the rest. In the sixteenth century, for example, as the church and different governments gained control over the trade and determined what would and would not be printed, these institutions granted licensing rights to only a small number of men to produce a small number of acceptable books. In England, booksellers were granted these rights rather than the printers; thus, the printers lost the power to decide what to print, and the publishing industry was born. The English booksellers' guild, called the Stationers' Co., had the authority to inspect any printing office and destroy unauthorized publications; the members of the company became the sole (legal) publishers in the country, and law-abiding printers worked on commissioned jobs.

Printing and publishing have always been separate ventures in the United States. The Reverend Jose Glover, who might rightfully be called the father of printing in the United States, brought the first printing press from England to America in 1638 and hired Stephen Day, a locksmith, to do the printing. Glover died during the voyage; the press was passed on to his wife, who brought the press to the newly established Harvard College. The first president of Harvard, Henry Dunster, oversaw the 1640 printing by Stephen Day and his son, Matthew, of the first book in this country, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Meter (also known as the Bay Psalm Book ).

The history of the U.S. printing industry is essentially the history of the technology. Minor changes in design and processes eventually became continuous improvements in the speed and efficiency of the presses, and major new inventions periodically altered production. In the process of stereotype, for instance, molds were made for each page before printing in order to free the type pieces before the printing process, which in turn allowed more than one press to be used simultaneously. By the end of the next century, photography was applied to the process, and photoengraving was invented. This process used film, light, and chemical reactions to engrave the text on a thin plate that was then used for printing. Desktop publishing capabilities have demystified the process of printing. By the late twentieth century authors, familiar with various type styles, point sizes, and page formats, could adapt their computer-generated text at the point of origin to the styles required by publishers.

Composition, the process of setting the type, also underwent several changes. By the late nineteenth century, the invention of the Linotype and monotype machines improved typesetting speeds over hand composition. The first quarter of the twentieth century was characterized by innovative and creative breakthroughs in typography, such as sans serif type, which were driven by consumer needs rather than artistic design. In the middle of the twentieth century, the invention of computers revolutionized typesetting once again. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the computer was used to set the type and could either produce a hard copy on paper that was then photographed to make the plates or could generate the image on film to be used immediately to produce a plate; some machines could make plates directly from the computer file, sidestepping the film stage completely.

The medium for printed matter was rapidly changing. CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web (with its ability to transmit text, color images, and even full-motion color video) provided new media for the printed word. Once data or text was entered into a computer for book production, it was an easy step to transmit it over the wire to a publisher or a consumer.

Predictably, the printing industry was affected by general economic trends. During the economic growth years of the early 1980s, the industry grew tremendously. The recession of the early 1990s brought this growth to a stop. The modest recovery that began in the mid-1990s, however, helped the printing industry regain its strength over the latter years of the decade. Book sales in all categories remained strong in 1998, showing increases over 1997, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP). In 1998 American consumers spent $28.7 billion on books, while the AAP estimated total net sales of books for 1998 at $23 billion.

Acquisitions and mergers in the printing industry continued to occur as the industry leaders become even larger. In September 1999 Quebecor Printing, then the second largest book printer in North America, announced it would acquire World Color Inc. for $2.7 billion. The new company, called Quebecor World Inc., would be the largest magazine printer in the United States.

Current Conditions

The book printing industry is closely tied to the health of the book publishing industry. Although the U.S. economy suffered during the early 2000s, book publishers were in relatively good shape, boding well for book printers. Book publisher sales were $25.0 billion in 2001, virtually unchanged from the previous year and up from $23.0 billion in 1998, according to the Association of American Publishers. Shipment values for U.S. book printers increased from $5.9 billion in 1999 to $6.0 billion in 2000.

By the early 2000s, new media formats continued to redefine the word "printing" to include a variety of media, including CD-ROMs, electronic publishing, and other products. Many reference books and technical manuals were sold with accompanying CD-ROMs. Furthermore, the perception of the industry was changing as the diversification of media for transmitting information increased. Growing attention was being paid to the marketing end of the printed or produced product, to digital technology, and to establishing a place on the information highway via whatever process was necessary.

So-called "e-books," which consumers could download electronically via the Internet to devices like computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and special e-book readers, were an emerging category within the book publishing industry that might affect future book printing industry revenues. Although e-books represented only a small fraction of all books sold in the United States, by 2003 this category was growing. Leading online booksellers like and were marketing books this way, as were other booksellers like eBook Mall, which marketed more than 25,000 titles. In addition to booksellers, book publishers like Penguin Putnam also were directly selling e-books. These included classics and recent titles from best-selling authors.

Industry Leaders

A few large corporations dominated the book printing industry in the early 2000s. Some were part of large conglomerates that also owned publishing houses. Two of the largest U.S. book printers, Berryville Graphics and Offset Paperback Manufacturing, were part of Bertels-mann AG, a worldwide corporation with expertise in entertainment, publishing, printing, and distribution. Bertelsmann also owned Random House publishing group.

The largest printing companies had subsidiaries all over the country and the world. R.R. Donnelley and Sons, headquartered in Chicago and among the largest printers in the United States, had operations in nearly 200 worldwide locations, including manufacturing operations in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. It had about 90 sales offices and manufacturing locations in North America. In addition to its leadership position in printing books and telephone and business-to-business directories, the company also was a leading North American printer of consumer and trade magazines and offered a wide range of other printing services. For 2002 Donnelley reported $142 million in earnings on sales of $4.8 billion.

Montreal-based Quebecor Inc. was another leading North American book manufacturer in the early 2000s. It printed hundreds of millions of books annually, with a client list that included major U.S. book publishers. According to the company, its subsidiary Quebecor World was the "largest commercial print media services company in the world" in 2003. Both the parent company and its subsidiary grew through a series of acquisitions, including the additions of book printers Arcata Corp. and William C. Brown. Quebecor's other print products, in addition to books and directories, included magazines like Time , Sunday magazines and comic books, inserts and circulars, catalogs, and specialty printing products. Quebecor Inc.'s annual sales reached $7.3 billion in 2001.

A leading short-run printer was the Thomson-Shore company of Dexter, Michigan. This small company was a leader among short-run printers. It was founded by Ned Thomson and Harry Shore, both of whom worked for another Ann Arbor, Michigan, small press, left their jobs, and started their own company with their own business philosophy. Decisions were made by committees of employees, who owned one-third of the company. They employed no sales force.

After almost 20 years of just printing books, Thomson-Shore began to branch out into prepress and postpress activities. They added a bindery operation and a pagemaking program for their computers with an eye toward eventual composition work. They specialized in short runs, because reprint costs were considered cheaper than carrying long-term inventories. In the early 2000s, Thomson-Shore's average runs were between 200 and 10,000 copies.


In the early 2000s, printing companies employed skilled technicians, mid-level management, and highlevel management. The actual production, however, was carried out by skilled workers using highly complex machines. Vocational and technical colleges offered training, as did some high schools and two-year colleges. Workers could often rise to mid-level management jobs, such as foreperson or production control. A college education was frequently required for the higher-level management positions. A few schools offered degrees in printing technology, but science, art, or business degrees could also be helpful.

Printing occupations were divided into three main stages: prepress, press and binding, or postpress. The industry was rapidly moving to "digital imaging" or direct conversion of customer-submitted computerized text to printing plates. Typesetting and layout was frequently done prior to coming to press and increasingly at the source. Authors now produced their product on a preformatted computerized layout that was transmitted directly to the publisher via e-mail or disk. Hot-type composition was replaced with electronic type or computer-to-plate technology.

According to the U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook, there were 222,000 printing press operators in 2000. This number was expected to grow through 2010, but at a slower rate than other occupations. New jobs would result from U.S. expansion into foreign markets and more direct-mail advertising. Hourly wages for many printing press operators in 2000 ranged from approximately $10.38 to $17.80 per hour.

America and the World

Historically, printing has been a national business. American copyright laws have kept foreign printers from American publishers, and American printers have been kept busy within the domestic market. In the early 1990s, however, American printers began to take on more international business. Long-standing disadvantages to overseas work included language barriers, shipping costs, cultural differences, and periodically fluctuating exchange rates. As the Eastern bloc countries began to open up, however, American technology and supplies, far superior to those available in many other countries, became increasingly in demand. Some companies, such as R.R. Donnelley, had subsidiaries overseas as well. Exports in the printing and publishing industries grew steadily in the 1990s. In addition, foreign nations like China were capturing growing shares of the U.S. market by the early 2000s.

Research and Technology

Book printers were becoming increasingly responsive to the needs of their different customers. Publishing firms that needed large quantities of best sellers were only one segment of their market. Demands for shorter runs and quicker turnaround in a computer environment increased. The printing industry sought new technology to meet these needs.

To help printers keep up with rapidly changing printing technologies, some of the manufacturers of book manufacturing machinery and systems set up the Book Technology Group in 1995. This international group held meetings and helped printers utilize the latest in book production technology. Heidelberg, a well-known manufacturer, established a Print Media Academy to offer training opportunities within the industry. According to the company, by 2003 the academy located in Heidelberg, Germany, served as the hub of a network that incorporated locations in other countries including the United States (Atlanta), Australia, Malaysia, Brazil, Egypt, China, and Moscow.

Small publishers and publishers producing books with limited appeal, such as university presses and the scholarship they support, frequently did not want large runs of books. Usually, the fewer the books printed at one time, the more each book cost to make, primarily because of the time needed for composition. Because more and more publishers were gravitating toward shorter runs, to cut down on storage costs and to realistically reflect the market, book printers were beginning to specialize in smaller runs, with new computer composition techniques. Computer graphics produced illustrations more efficiently than draftsmen. New machinery introduced new methods of plate production directly from a computer file without the middle step of a film. Each reduction in the time and cost of composing reduced the cost and increased the efficiency of shorter book runs. Some companies could produce any number of books—from 25 to 5,000—cost-effectively.

Newer formats, such as CD-ROMS and Web publishing, could demand new skills but increase profitability. Printing on demand also was becoming popular and necessary. Computer storage and laser technology meant that books need never be out of print. On demand and short-run color printing bypassed film intermediaries, created printed images directly from data, and was growing twice as fast as conventional printing. Digital printing systems were having an impact on printing. The definition of a digital color press varied, although most used electro-photographic imaging. E-Print 1000, Xeikon, or Agfa Chromapress represented some of this new equipment.

Many large industrial or technological firms needed to produce manuals for their employees and consumers but did not want to get into the printing business. Companies, such as Corporate Publishing Services of Fremont, California, were established to fill these needs. Its goal was to take data from their clients, usually in the form of computer files, and with their high-quality computer printers, xerographic copying machines, and in-house bindery presses, provide custom quantities of publications within hours. Recent advances in computer laser printing and computer composition made this service realistic and economically feasible.

Digital printing was a new technology that gradually was replacing traditional print processes in several segments of the printing industry. In book printing, digital printing made on-demand book production systems possible. Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world, introduced its Lightning Print digital on-demand library, which allowed single copies of books to be printed on demand. At the 1999 Book Expo America trade show Lightning Print produced hundreds of perfect bound books during the show. In 2000, Lightning Print became a subsidiary of Ingram named Lightning Source Inc. Based in LaVergne, Tennessee the company also had operations in the United Kingdom. According to Lightning Source, by 2003 the company had evolved into "one of the largest digital libraries in the industry with more than 100,000 orderable titles." It has established partnerships with more than 1,800 publishing partners and had printed more than 6.5 million on-demand books at a rate of about 60,000 books per week. Lightning Source delivered to more than 90 percent of U.S. retail bookstores.

Further Reading

"AAP Sales Report." Publishers Weekly, 23 August 1999.

Dzilna, Dzintars. "Printer Dynamics Change with Birth of Quebecor World." Folio, 1 September 1999, 62.

Heidelberg USA, Inc. "A Global Network," 13 February 2003. Available from .

Hilts, Paul. "Donnelley, Microsoft Team to Expand eBook Business." Publishers Weekly, 8 November 1999, 11.

Lamparter, William C. "Something for (Almost) Everybody." American Printer, October 1999, 69.

Quebecor, Inc. "Company Information." Available from . Accessed 13 February 2003.

R.R. Donnelley and Sons. "About R.R. Donnelley." Available from . Accessed 13 February 2003.

Rebsamen, Werner. "Bound to Deliver." American Printer, April 1999, 66.

U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of Manufactures. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-2003 ed. Washington, DC: GPO, 2002. Available from .

Zwang, David L. "Real World PDF." American Printer, June 1999, 70.

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