We didn't ever plan to publish this photo. But not everything goes according to plan.

Wrapping up the Paperight journey

Six years ago, I began work on an experiment: if there are copy shops in every corner of the world, what if they could legally, easily print out books for their customers? We could put every book within walking distance of every home.

I still believe in that idea, but I’m sad that we couldn’t make it viable at scale. This month, we’re closing Paperight. Our particular implementation hasn’t worked out: we just couldn’t sell enough books to keep our doors open.

There are many reasons for that, some we’ll never fully understand. In the months to come I’ll be writing and talking openly about the lessons we learned, in the hope that others will keep working on distributed print-on-demand. We’ve kept an open archive of our team’s plans and discoveries, as our team’s internal story. And if you’d like to run your own Paperight-like website, the code’s all open on GitHub.

Some housekeeping: we’ve begun contacting partner outlets and publishers to finalise accounts. If you want to check in, mail team@paperight.com. The paperight.com service will work till the end of December 2014.

Many people joined me on this journey, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. In particular, my team at Paperight, the magicians at Realm Digital, the champions who funded our early pilots, my endlessly patient and supportive wife Michelle, and the incredible individuals at the Shuttleworth Foundation, whose generosity opened the road.

I remain dedicated to reimagining publishing for emerging markets. I’ll be focusing on Bettercare, my open-access healthcare publishing, and nurturing the Book Dash children’s book initiative. And my former team are finding new homes in innovative ventures around South Africa and beyond. We’ll bring to them everything we learned at Paperight.

Keep in touch: there is still much we can all do to put every book within walking distance of every home.

One last time, then:

19 thoughts on “Wrapping up the Paperight journey”

  1. So sad it couldn’t become an ‘institution’ but as we both know, entrprenuership isn’t for the faint-hearted! Keep up the good word Arthur & stay in touch..

  2. Great post, Arthur. Thanks for pushing a radical new idea. I am sure not only you and your team, but the whole field has learned a lot – about the challenges and the opportunities (and the importance) of using open content to increase opportunities for learning. I tip my hat to you, and wish you all the best with your next venture. Onwards …

  3. Arth. You are an inspiration! In trying to find a quote that sums up what I want to say I found many that seemed too much like platitudes. But this one I like: “We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction” (Douglas MacArthur). Point is, I believe your ideas are brilliant. I only wish the world wasn’t such a difficult place in which to bring the change we need! Best wishes with your new adventures!!

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