The 109 respondents who answered the latest Printing Industry Trends Survey Report said they had experienced reductions in profits, prices and sales compared with the same period the year before.
The report for the March 2013 quarter also found that labour and finance became harder to obtain, and that the number of outstanding debtors rose. Respondents also noted a 12-day cashflow gap – they paid suppliers in 40 days but took 52 days to collect their debts.
But there was also some cause for optimism in the survey, with respondents forecasting that the June 2013 quarter would produce improvements in profits and sales. Expectations for investment in plant and machinery for the next six months were at their most buoyant since December 2005.
Printcraft general manager Matt Naughton said profits at the 80-staff Brisbane operation "have been under pressure", although he added that business had been good and the future looked bright.
"I think the marketplace is generally tough going in all manufacturing circles, so I don't think I'm worse off than anyone else in manufacturing," said Naughton.
"I believe that our model is good. I believe that we've made some good moves to cater for the future. We're broadening our service offering. I don't think we'll ever return to majestic profits, but we're happy."
[Related: December 2012 quarter report]
Brand Print Australia owner Stacey Currie said her eight-staff Melbourne business had also been doing it tough, but that conditions seemed likely to improve.
"Business is really good. We've definitely had to push as hard as we ever have in terms of sales and marketing. We've had to step up a notch and get out there harder than we've ever had to," she told ProPrint.
"In the beginning we had to push hard, then it got to repeat customers, but now we feel we've had to get out there again. We feel it's tough, but we've had growth, and the marketing and sales we've ramped up has paid off."
Bright Print Group director Debbie Burgess said printers needed to play to their strengths and listen to their clients if they wanted to succeed.
"There are opportunities out there. You really need to make sure that you understand what the client wants and deliver not just a product, but a whole service and solution," she said.
Burgess told ProPrint that she was optimistic about the future and that the 110-person Sydney firm had noticed an increase in customer enquiries and quote requests.
"I think customers are getting their house in order in anticipation of conditions improving, but they're still adopting a wait-and-see position," she said.
"I think print still has very real value in the marketplace and I think it works very well with the different multimedia channels, so I'm confident print will still be around for many years to come."
The national manager of policy and government at the Printing Industries Association of Australia cautioned that printers' optimism might be misplaced.
Hagop Tchamkertenian said March 2013 was the 21st consecutive quarter in which survey results had come in below forecast.
[LinkedIn: Are you optimistic about the next 12 months?]
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at [email protected]
Sign up to the Sprinter newsletter