Following the debut of HP’s new suite of short-run color digital inkjet web presses, Japanese publishing house Kodansha has taken the unusual step of purchasing its own HP T300 digital color press. Unlike U.S. publishers, which have long outsourced printing and manufacturing, Kodansha continues to maintain some printing operations as well as an ongoing partnership with Japanese printer Dai Nippon.

Kodansha is the first publisher to purchase one of HP’s digital presses and it will be installed and put into operation in Japan and used to produce on-demand backlist titles and other short- to medium-run books. The press can handle full color and a variety of front and backlist trade book publications, including manga, as well as magazines.

Aurelio Maruggi, v-p, general manager, HP inkjet production solutions, said that while its unusual for a publisher to purchase a digital printing press, publishers around the world are looking to high speed short-run digital presses to help customize their print-runs and optimize the management of their supply chain. “With the rise of digital publication and in a time when demand is uncertain, publishers are turning to short-run printing,” Maruggi said in a phone interview with PW. He highlighted the ability of short-run printing to “manage the supply chain and reduce returns and the costs of warehousing."

The Kodansha digital press is really a “book production system,” Maruggi said, calling it an end-to-end solution that “goes from the paper roll to a finished book.” The new Kodansha press should be set up for production in the next few months. Maruggi also acknowledged that most publishers have no interest in maintaining printing production capabilities. But HP works closely on short run printing with a number of American publishers, who work through book printing companies, such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Scholastic as well as European publishers.

HP produces a suite of digital inkjet presses that can be used for short-run printing—where books are produced in bulk numbers (though far less than an offset run) for conventional distribution—allowing publishers to go back to press quickly and avoid excess inventory. HP also manufactures digital presses for Print-On-Demand production, where typically one to ten books are produced and drop-shipped direct to consumers.

Both short-run and POD technology—and the quality of the printing--have advanced rapidly in recent years. He said the printing technology has reached a standard of “offset substitutability,” in other words, while offset continues to offer advantages in print quality, short-run technology can come very close to the “look and feel of an offset book.” Marrugi said publishers can start on a digital press with a short-run printing and easily transition to an offset run if demand increases, without a loss in the perceivable production quality of the book.