Sales and Both Indicator Indexes Accelerate but Some Industry Issues Still Remain According to the Latest Print Business Indicators Research

To help printing companies navigate through the current crisis to the recovery on the other side, NAPCO Research and PRINTING United Alliance launched COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research. This is the sixth in a series of reports, sponsored by Konica Minolta, that examines the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the printing industry, how printers are responding to the crisis, and how they can create a path forward. This survey tracks key indicators across a cross section of printing companies, including commercial printers, graphic and sign producers, apparel decorators, functional printers, and package printers/converters. Download the in-depth executive summary to understand the current status of the printing industry.

Here are the key findings from all printers participating in the sixth survey.

Comparison of 2020 and 2021 First and Second Quarter Sales Numbers Highlight the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the most recent COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research, printers provided us with their sales data for the first and second quarters of both 2020 and 2021 which gave us insight into how the pandemic affected the industry. In the first quarter, 34.8% of companies reported higher sales than year-earlier levels, while 62.0% reported lower sales. When looking at the second quarter, the numbers tell a much different story. In 2021, second quarter sales were up for 74.2% of respondents, while they were lower for only 11.9% of companies and stayed the same for 12.6%. From first quarter 2020 to first quarter 2021, the median change in sales was -10.2%. The median change for the year-over-year levels for quarter two was 15.0%.

Index of Current and Leading Indicators Reaches Highest Point Since the Pandemic Began

The index of current indicators, which tracks sales, production, prices, employment and pre-tax profitability has reached 73.9 – nearly quadrupling its reading from the beginning of 2020 (18.6). It is also up significantly from its reading of 56.1 in the first quarter. Sales, trending higher for 74.3%, production, trending higher for 68.6%, and prices, trending higher for 68.6%, were responsible for the uptick. For the index, a reading above 50.0 means more of the companies we survey report that business, as measured by the five components of the index, is trending higher, and a reading below 50.0 means the opposite. The index of leading indicators – tracking quote activity, work on hand, production payroll hours, and confidence has also reached its peak thus far, growing to 78.3. This is up from 61.8 in the first quarter of this year and up significantly from the 18.4 reading in the first quarter of 2020. The graph below shows the trend over this time period for the index of current indicators.

Q. How is business trending? Please indicate whether each indicator is increasing, not changing, or decreasing. n=156

Hiring Remains a Top Issue for Printers

Hiring employees continues to be a struggle in the industry as 68.6% of respondents told us that they are having trouble doing so. In order to bring in experienced and qualified employees, business owners were forced to take action. The most common response to these shortages was to increase compensation, offer more flexible work hours, and to increase benefits. The figure below shows the percent of companies who responded each way.

Q. What actions are you taking to attract employees? n=100

Want More Printing Industry Trends and Projections?

The full version of the report digs deeper into the data mentioned above plus much more!

The report includes sections on:

  • Index data including trends for sales, production, employment, prices, profitability, quote activity, work-on-hand, payroll production hours, and confidence.
  • How 2021 first and second quarter sales compare to the same period in 2020.
  • Capital investment plans for printers.
  • How companies are responding to labor shortages.
  • Cost inflation – How much have prices changed and what are companies doing to offset these additional costs?
  • Three critical questions to answer as we head into 2022.
  • The outlook for print.
  • An introduction to the Print Market Atlas – a snapshot of the establishment, industry, and employment trends by region.
  • “What we should know” – quotes from printers that give a more in-depth pulse of the industry.
  • Economic indicators to watch.

Printing United Alliance members can download a full version of the report HERE.

Participate in the COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research

In today’s unprecedent business environment, making decisions based on facts has never been more important. In the weeks and months ahead, reliable industry business indicators will be essential for monitoring what’s happening in all printing industry segments. The COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research is an essential resource for monitoring industry conditions and the NAPCO and PRINTING United Alliance research teams invite you to join our business panel and contribute to the research on an ongoing basis. Companies that join the panel will receive an exclusive version of the report that includes additional data and analysis. To join the COVID-19 research panel, please click here.


The combined NAPCO and PRINTING United Alliance research teams develop research and economic models that solve customer business problems. Market research is valuable for making strategic business decisions, solving challenges, and pursuing opportunities and the NAPCO Media research teams survey, analyze, and monitor critical trends related to marketing, printing, packaging, non-profit organizations, promotional products, and retailing. To learn more about how the team can leverage its research and industry subject matter experts to support your organizations needs contact NAPCO’s Vice President of Research, Nathan Safran, at [email protected]

About our Premier Sponsor – Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. is committed to the success of its customers, the industry, and the associations that support it. It is our honor to support PRINTING United Alliance’s industry-leading economic reports. By providing invaluable insights for industry leaders regarding critical economic conditions, Konica Minolta is proud to continue to be a trusted advisor and an indispensable partner to help businesses prosper.

Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc., a leader in industrial and commercial printing and packaging solutions, ignites print possibilities. It delivers the latest innovations in printing, applications, and expertise through its comprehensive portfolio of production print offerings that provide businesses more creative avenues, agility, and versatility to confidently capitalize on market opportunities. Together, the future of the print world can be transformed for the better.

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