The modern commercial printing industry has been around since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s. The printing industry has worked hand in hand with the publishing industry to provide people with reading materials such as books, newspapers and magazines. Advertisers have relied on the printing industry to manufacture posters, brochures and and fliers. Changes in computer technology, customer tastes and economic conditions have created some serious challenges for the printing industry in today's market.
One of the biggest challenges facing the printing industry is digital substitution. The industry has been forced to deal with the impact of electronic media and other technological changes. E-book formats, such as the Nook from Barnes and Noble and the Kindle from Amazon, have become popular substitutes for printed books. Digital magazines for smartphones and tablet computers have also cut into traditional revenue sources for the print industry.
The printing industry has a major impact on the environment. More than 40 percent of trees harvested by timber companies are used to make paper. Most printing inks use petroleum-based ingredients, which may have high concentrations of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are known carcinogens. The paper treatment process uses bleaching agents to give standard printer paper its white color. Printers are addressing these concerns by using oil-free inks and recycled paper in more of their publications, as well as following regulations that govern how to dispose of waste products.
Postage increases have made it more costly for publishers and marketers to mail advertising circulars to potential customers. The printing and publishing industries in Wisconsin, the country's leading paper-making state, exemplify the serious challenges the U.S. printing industry faces from these rate increases. Steve Brocker, a senior executive with Western States Envelope and Label Company, told a Milwaukee newspaper in February 2014 that the rise in postal rates could cost the state many of its 200,000 jobs in the printing and mailing industries.
Desktop publishing technology has enabled home and small-business users to create documents that previously required professional printing. These users can create brochures, print ads and magazine layouts in their desktop publishing programs and send them directly to the printers. Printers have responded to this challenge by adapting their printing methods. Printers can now go from computer file to printing plate by using desktop technology files.