Local startup, Paperight, has recently won a prestigious innovation award in New York City. Paperight returned to South Africa as the Most Entrepreneurial Publishing Start-Up from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Start-up Showcase.
So what makes paperight earn such a title? Paperight is a network of over 200 independent photocopy shops and other printing businesses that print books quickly, legally and cheaply. These outlets purchase one-off licenses to print books for customers, on demand. Payments come out of each outlet’s prepaid account and go to the publisher, once Paperight has taken a 20% cut.
With over 1400 books available, Paperight, founded by Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow Arthur Atwell in 2011, is as far as it is aware, the largest network of print-on-demand bookstores in the world. That’s innovation right there.
The truth is that bookshops and libraries are rare outside of big cities in South Africa and books themselves, are expensive. As a result, most books are photocopied much to the disapproval of publishers, a process that sometimes involves breaking the law.
According to Nick Mulgrew, Head of Communications at Paperight, “The startup is a way of legalising and expanding upon this process, giving photocopy shops a legal way to do what many of them already do, and to vastly increase access to all kinds of books where bookstores, libraries, e-readers and internet access aren’t as common as we’d like it to be.”
Setting up Paperight was a challenge in itself and nobody had every tried anything like it before on such a large scale.
Built to be able to be used in any country, with any documents, the startup had to put a lot of thought into delivering content to copyshops, ultimately deciding on an instantly generated PDF delivery system integrated into a POS website interface.
Mulgrew also reveals that getting both copyshops and publishers to buy-in was indeed a challenge as publishers often see photocopy shops as ‘the enemy’. Paperight has brought the two together to fulfill a worthy cause where publishers’ books are now accessible to people where they would have otherwise never existed.
Of the win Mulgrew says that “It sounds strange but we were as much relieved as we were thrilled when we won, because it was such a terrific vindication of our work. With the challenges involved in starting a new kind of publishing and distribution system, the encouragement helps immensely.”
So where to from here? Paperight will soon be running a new campaign to help matrics get hold of past exam papers. Last year hundreds of learners around SA used Paperight to get hold of past papers of which Paperight has for every subject and language since 2008 – that’s more than the Department of Basic Education has available on its website.
Paperight is also running the Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology competition for high school students to give them the opportunity to have their work published.
“We want to leverage our win and the great exposure it’s given us to get more publishers and copyshops both in SA and overseas on board to get books where they are most needed,” concludes Mulgrew.