Is The Technical Communication Market Really Shrinking?

Over the last decade, I have heard the warnings that “the TechComm industry is shrinking” and could slowly fade away. I also heard that no young people are joining our vocation. Also, the presentation does not matter, now that DITA XML is our savior … and more.

Let me speak to “The TechComm Industry Is Shrinking” alternate fact. I would like to quote a past co-worker and friend Chris Jastram to start to frame my stance.

“So I’ve recently come to a rather concrete understanding of the odd distinction between “facts” and “truth.” A lot of us have been taught to value facts, myself included. Unfortunately, this is a bit naive. Facts can get you in a lot of trouble. It is a fact that smoking lowers your blood pressure overall. Smoking helps you lose weight (and keep it off). These are facts, shown by science. But the truth is that smoking is bad for you. Facts are a part of discovering truth, but if you only satisfy yourself with knowing facts, you may not find truth.”

We have heard “The TechComm Industry Is Shrinking” from many software manufacturers, tradeshow presenters, consultants and bloggers in our industry. With a very limited scope, this fact could be seen as truth. We may go to tradeshows and see fewer people. Consultants may see less prospect client opportunities. The usual TechComm attendees come from large Companies that can afford to send them to these events. Their Technical Writer ranks may be shrinking due to the efficiencies of implementing structured authoring, managed content, automated workflow, and publishing. Tradeshow presenters come from both the consulting and named Company ranks. They talk about what they see in front of them. They speak about some facts, but not the truth.

I ask you to consider the possibility that most people that currently go to industry events (Tradeshows and Webinars) are the same Companies and individuals year after year. They may bounce between events, so some events may expand while others contract. We do get some new faces, but more older ones fade away. Does this mean the industry is shrinking?

No. I believe this group represents just a minuscule sampling of our industry and substantially under-represents Companies that have yet to move away from manual unstructured authoring or are still stuck in legacy structured authoring environments like ArborText with some modified version of XDocBook. Just because we do not see this group at many events, does not mean they do not exist. These are the groups that will drive our industry moving forward if we find a way to engage them. If we do, these non-early adopters are the reason I believe we are on the verge of what we will perceive as explosive growth. It is just the normal change in processes at these non-visible sites that will lead them to structured authoring, but this time in volume.

If you are experienced in XML creation, management, and repurposing, get ready for the next big new wave of opportunity!

Thoughts?