For years now, publishers have heard how digital will kill print. But at the Hewlett Packard Innovation Summit, held September 20 at the Eventi Hotel in New York City, HP and Pearson officials told PW how HP's new generation of digital inkjet printers are making print better, offering more efficiency and the same quality as offset presses.

It may be too early to call it an inkjet revolution, but Pearson officials were enthusiastic about what HP’s latest inkjet printers offered the company “for all of our businesses,” said Pearson v-p Edward Febinger—whether popular novels from Penguin, textbooks from Pearson Educational, or its Media Division, with properties like the Financial Times. Febinger suggested as much as 10% of its printing could be done on HP inkjet printers in the coming years. The inkjet books, meanwhile, are exactly the same quality as offset printed books. That's the first rule for "going mainstream" with inkjet-printed books, Febinger notes: inkjet books must be the same the same quality as offset, otherwise book buyers or authors might think they are getting pirated books, or something of lesser quality. "Teacher or authors, or booksellers can't think the books look different," Febninger says.

Febinger says Pearson and HP began their joint quest to develop inket printing for books in 2008, when Pearson officials gave HP, and its major competitors, a book file, and a challenge to use inkjet printing to make a book. Only HP, Febinger says, rose to the challenge. In the coming months, HP's technology continued to improve, and now, Febninger told PW, the company's four-color inkjet printing technology is poised to become an important development for publishers. "It is more efficient, it eliminates so much waste," Febinger says, reducing make-ready and set up costs associated with offset printing. The digital process, meanwhile, allows for custom book production, "versioning" of things like textbooks for specific markets, and makes short run printing and forecasting much more efficient and cost-effective, turning a traditional printing and inventory process Febinger describes as "print and pray," into a more easily managed "just-in-time" replenishment process. "That allows us to spend more time on what publishers do best, content development," Febinger says, and "less time on supply chain issues."

Because it can significantly reduce waste, the inkjet printing process is more environmentally friendly, another important benefit. Pearson's Marianne Fairclough said inkjets will not replace the need for traditional offset printing, but that the efficiency offered by inkjet printing could help Pearson significantly cut its paper costs.

HP's Aurellio Maruggi, says the company is making strides getting the inkjet printers into commercial printing companies, with machines now in use by major printers, such as European printer CPI, and in America, companies like Courier and Consolidated Graphics. As of now, there are 11 HP inkjets in use and 4 more in process. Febinger says he hopes Pearson's positive experience and public endorsement will help nudge more printers toward ramping up their inkjet services. "Pearson is hopefully big enough to energize some people."