A few years ago, I was accepted into the University of Cape Town, the top educational institution in Africa. From the day I was accepted, I couldn’t wait to get immersed in its academic vibe. I arrived on campus bright and early on my first day in impatient anticipation of my work. With reading list in hand, I hurried along to the university bookstore to purchase a few of the nine novels I needed. (They sure weren’t kidding when they said English students had to go through a lot of varied reading!)
But when I got there, I literally gasped as the assistant told me the price of each. I went to another nearby bookstore. Their prices were even more absurd. Dismayed after my first day, I went home to think long and hard on a solution.
The next day I met a family friend’s daughter, who was also a third-year UCT student. I told her about my predicament. She sighed and told me that the university permitted photocopying of books on campus, for academic, non-commercial use, meaning that I could check the books I needed out of the library and photocopy them using my student print credits. (The legality of this I now know to be wrong, but this is, in reality, what students believe and practice. To students, access to our books is more important than the nuances of copyright law.)
Photocopying turned out to be the most sound option, as the cost of doing so, binding included, was almost half, and sometimes a quarter, of what the original novels cost. I promptly went about doing the same for all my other courses, and in cases where only certain chapters formed part of the prescribed readings, I photocopied only what I needed. As a self-sustaining student working to support my education, I was extremely grateful for having been informed of this, but often wondered what other students who could not afford to buy books and didn’t know about photocopying were doing.
I am now a final-year student who has gone through my entire university experience without purchasing a book in-store. The upside is that I have been spared a huge chunk of money that can go towards my other expenses, such as rent, transport and living expenses.
The frustrating downside is that, all-too-often, the library only has two or three copies of a book, and they’re all taken out when I need it. Days can go by without access to the book, because the university – rightly so – assumes all students will buy their own. Considering that a course can include 400 students, however, and assuming that even a quarter cannot afford to pay R600 for a book, for example, this means that that one book on short loan is in crucial demand each week with each new prescribed reading. UCT has 26 000 students, of which an increasing portion come from townships or other countries in Africa, and so an increasing amount of students must work to buy university supplies and offset their large travel costs. Therefore, affording books for every course is increasingly difficult.
The question of there being a practical solution to the dilemma of photocopying rights-protected books plagued me. Could there be a way to have a photocopied book without the tediousness of making the copies myself after a long day of lectures? And if so, where was this solution?
Along came Paperight! Like a happy dream in the daytime, I came upon their website and watched the brief video on how their business works: an efficient machine which works like magic!
Imagine the possibilities if the copy shop on the UCT campus or those in the nearby neighborhoods of Rondebosch or Observatory were Paperight outlets? The surprisingly large number of my fellow students who tire of having to make copies and stress about checking books out would jump at the opportunity. How cool would it be to support a business that values students by making it their mission to make books accessible for them?
The profound thing, though, is that Paperight offers the chance for widespread availability of books, within a struggling economic climate, at an extremely affordable cost, and most importantly, in a completely legal way. As I look to my future studies on my journey into academia, I certainly hope a nearby outlet becomes affiliated with Paperight soon, making print-on-demand, photocopied books available to me.
The future is here. The more we demand it as students, the sooner outlets respond to bringing Paperight into our educational lives, and incorporating it into our daily student existence, for the better.