Buying traditional paper books is becoming an unrealistic expense for many people around the world. And yet, with the advent of e-books, reading opportunities have become even more polarised, catering for the economically-sound community who have access to credit and digital readers like the Kindle. For poorer populations, however, acquiring new books isn’t so simple; something that Paperight founder, Arthur Attwell decided to change.
Attwell, who has a background in literature and also founded Electronic Book Works, is the brainchild behind Paperight. “The more I worked in e-books, the more dissatisfied I was. E-books weren’t truly improving access to information as fast as I wanted them to. Among the poor, tech moves much more slowly.”
Paperight has the ability to turn any business or home with an internet connection into a print-on-demand bookstore. The website, by definition, “is a service that lets publishers sell licences to registered outlets. These licences allow the outlets to print and sell copies of the Rightsholder’s documents, which Paperight provides to them as watermarked PDFs.” Because of this, many places now have access to book-stores and community resource centres, at a small fraction of regular prices.
For example, to buy Huckleberry Finn, the customer orders and pays at the Paperight licensed outlet for the printing costs and publisher’s license fee. Beyond this, the outlet pays Paperight who then pays the publisher. And the customer pays a grand total of R60, compared to R105 at leading book stores.
“Print-on-demand is already a reality in Africa. It’s just small, run by copy shops, and usually done illegally. But it’s incredibly effective. I know we could make it even more effective, and legal, by offering printable books on a simple website,” says Attwell.
Just three months after the launch, there are already 150 Paperight outlets, with more being added daily. The online library includes books, past-paper packs and sheet music. In total, Paperight currently offers about 850 items, with hundreds more in preparation.
For students, especially around exam time, Paperight comes as a godsend. “Past matric exam papers are by far our most popular product. They’re being printed for students all over South Africa. Where you might spend R100 on a single year’s past exams in a conventional bookstore, from many of our outlets the same exams will cost you less than R50,” says Attwell.
Paperight has an outlet team working directly with schools and local copy shops to provide past papers, visit classrooms and take orders from both students and teachers. “Every year in South Africa we bemoan our poor matric results, and yet no one’s made a concerted effort to flood schools with past papers for studying. So we’re working hard to help make them more accessible,” says a committed Attwell.
In an effort to distribute low-priced books to low-income areas, much of Paperight’s time and marketing has been spent in these areas working with local outlets to put up posters, hand out flyers and place radio advertising.
Considering the number of printouts available and the ease at which it is done, maybe the Education Department will start relying on Paperight to print it’s textbooks for the country’s schools. It could mean reduced costs for the department, and students could finally have texts on demand instead of waiting for unreliable governement deliveries.
Image 1: Paperight Logo.
Image 2: Paperight documents can be printed at Office Crew, an outlet in Strand Street, Cape Town.
Image 3: The Silulo Copy Shop chain in Khayelitsha; all shops are Paperight outlets.
Image 4: The exterior of the Silulo Copy Shop in Khayelitsha.
Images courtesy of Paperight