Paperight and Riso Africa empower schools to print their own textbooks

Press release: 27 August 2013

Paperight and Riso Africa are making it easy for schools to print their own textbooks.

Despite the efforts of publishers and government, many schools still don’t receive enough textbooks for learners. And many matrics have no easy access to past exam papers and study guides for revision. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian recently, one teacher explained that “In my 12 years of teaching in Senekal, there has not been a year in which learners had all the textbooks they needed. This is why the system continues to produce learners who can’t read and write.”

By empowering schools to print their own textbooks, Paperight enables teachers and parents to take action themselves. Schools with a account can download and print books as needed, for instance when topping up shortfalls in setwork books or providing learners with extra study guides.

Printing learning materials through Paperight is completely legal. “Publishers really want to solve the problem of access to books in South Africa,” explains Arthur Attwell, founder of Paperight. “So they allow our network of schools and copy shops to print out books in return for a small licence fee.”

Working with Riso, that possibility becomes even more attractive. “Riso and Paperight is sparking nothing less than a revolution”, says Sonia Anderson, Marketing & Environmental Manager for Riso Africa. “Our ComColor machines let schools print out textbooks for less than their retail price, bound and in full colour. A 600-page textbook prints and binds in 6 minutes.”

A teacher can use to print books on a Riso printer

“We’re also excited about working with Riso because of their environmental pedigree,” says Attwell. “Riso machines require very little power, making them among the greenest in the world. They’ll even run off a UPS, making them perfect for schools where electricity is unreliable.”

Under the terms of the Paperight deal, Riso will contribute towards the publishers’ licence fees on behalf of schools that use their machines. Schools that enter into a contract with Riso Africa will receive a pre-paid account, which they can use to legally print books, including study guides and past matric exam papers. Paperight already offers over 1700 different books, including titles from Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press.

In February, Paperight was officially congratulated by Parliament, whose endorsement “acknowledges the importance of making published works easily accessible to millions of people throughout Africa; and … encourages publishers to register with Paperight in making their works accessible to all.”

Contact us to find out more.

Improving our privacy policy

Any time you use a website, it gathers info about you (it’s often also called ‘user data’). Sometimes quite a lot of info. So good web businesses have a public policy explaining what info they gather and how they use it. It’s usually called a privacy policy.

We published our privacy policy a year ago. We were still figuring out how best to do this, and over the last year we’ve talked and received feedback about our first version. We’re now making some changes to improve it, mainly to the parts that apply to publishers.

None of the changes mean that we gather more info or use it in new ways. The changes only clarify what we do in better terms, so that our publishing partners can rest assured that we’re being sensible with their info. Continue reading Improving our privacy policy

Updates to our publisher agreement

Over the last year, we’ve learned a lot, changed some of the ways we work, and gathered a lot of feedback from publishers about our standard publisher agreement. So it’s time to update the agreement accordingly. From today, the new agreement is live on our site. It’s effective immediately for publishers joining us from today, and takes effect after fourteen days for existing Paperight publishers.

We want to be completely open about our agreement, and give you a chance to go through the changes in detail, should you have the time and patience for that! So here it is, with the changes marked. Wording we’ve removed is struck through, and new wording is in bold. And after each change I’ve included our reasoning for it.

Continue reading Updates to our publisher agreement

Client services internship

At Paperight, we’re passionate about increasing access to books. We want to put every book within walking distance of every home. That’s our big, hairy, audacious goal. To do it, we’re turning regular old copy shops into the book shops of the future. Walk into one, and get your book printed while you wait. Anywhere, from downtown Joburg to rural villages in the Eastern Cape.

So we help copy shops become great booksellers. We need a brilliant young intern to join our team doing that. We need to phone and visit outlets every day, finding out how they work and how we can help, for instance by distributing posters and flyers, helping them with our website, and working with community media to promote them.

You don’t have to have a specific degree or qualification for this. You do need to be friendly, brave, smart, and want to make the world a bookier place.

We offer interns a small monthly payment for internships over two to six months (depending on what works for you and us), a wonderful office environment, and the chance to learn a lot about the business of publishing. We promise you’ll finish smarter, stronger, and well-set for a career working on stuff that matters.

The internship will be based at our offices in Claremont, Cape Town.

To apply, send a covering letter to telling us about you and explaining why you want to join us. Attach a CV or include a link to an online resumé (e.g. a full LinkedIn profile). We are much more interested in the cover letter, so make it count. If you have a blog or Twitter account, let us know – an outward-looking life, online or otherwise, scores extra points. We’ll then have a phone conversation with people we think may be a good fit.

There is no closing date. We’ll update this post to say when the position is filled.

Finally: A5 books from Paperight

If you’ve asked us for books in A5 format before, you’ll be relieved to know we can finally say yes! We know that A5 books are easier to read, nicer to own, and therefore better to promote in your copy shop.

Till now, Paperight outlets have only been able to download A4 documents for printing. Most come two-up (two pages on one side of paper), which is very quick and cheap to print, but can’t be cut in half to make a neat little A5 book, because the page imposition doesn’t work.

A4 is great for educational books and course readers. And A5 is best for books like novels, biographies, and many children’s books.

We’ve now improved our software and processes to allow for A5 documents. When buying print licences on, look for the option to download A5, not A4. Click the icon at A5 to make it green:

A5 selector on

Once downloaded, you can print these A5 documents using your print driver’s ‘booklet’ print setting.

It will take us some time to add the A5 option to all of our books. Our content team has to prepare over a thousand A5 documents for this, and it’ll take some time to get to them all. So if the A5 option isn’t yet available for the book you need to print, let us know and we’ll push that book to the front of the queue.

A tweak to our outlet terms

We like our outlet and publisher terms to be as short and sweet as possible. But sometimes we have to add more text just to be crystal clear about something. So, we’ve added one short paragraph to our outlet terms about how you manage those PDF files you download from

Each licence only allows you to print out a document once, and to sell that print-out to a customer. Once you have printed a document, you must delete all copies of the digital file. You may not give or sell the digital file to anyone.

That’s been added to the section on ‘Licences’. As you can see, it doesn’t change anything about the way we or you work, it just makes things absolutely clear. You can read the whole agreement here.

Win R1000 selling books in your copy shop

Printing with Paperight at Minuteman PressAround the country, staff at our member copy shops are selling books. Many haven’t sold books before, and they’re already good at it. We want to reward these star print-on-demand booksellers with a prize.

So every month from May till December 2013, we’re going to give R1000 to the user at a Paperight outlet who sells the most books.

How to enter

Now remember: if everyone in your copy shop uses one Paperight login, we don’t know who among you is the best bookseller. So, make sure you register each staff member as a separate user on your outlet’s Paperight account.

To do this, log in and go to ‘Settings’. At the bottom of the page under ‘Company management’, you’ll see your shop and the users you have registered already.

Click ‘Add user’ under your shop’s name.


Each user must have their own email address. And they must click the account-activation link in the email they receive after being added. From then on, they’ll be able to log in with their own details. And we’ll know when they sell a book themselves.


We’ll announce the winner for each month in the first week of the following month, once we’ve checked everyone’s sales.

  • Free documents do not count towards your sales (e.g. Quirk Emarketing and College Campus guides) – that would make it too easy to cheat!
  • You must include your customer’s first and last names on every purchase.
  • The competition is only for South African shops (sorry guys).

The winner will be the user who has downloaded the most books for printing.* If there’s a tie, the winner is the user whose documents cost the most in credits. If that’s tied, the winner is the user who entered the most customer phone numbers.

You must be willing to have your name and photo on our blog if you win. We want to spread the news!


  1. the winner is the user who sells the most copies, not the most different titles. So a user who sells one title 1000 times over will beat a user who sells 50 different titles once each. However, should there be a tie in the number of copies sold, the number of different titles will decide the winner, and only then the user whose documents cost the most in credits.
  2. The winning user must be registered with their real first and last name. E.g. your staff can’t all share a single team email address. We’re looking for the best individual salesperson, and we need the name for that.

Interview: Arthur in The Citizen

I enjoyed chatting on email to Genevieve Vieira of The Citizen recently for her story about Paperight. Here’s the full text of the interview.

How and when did you first come up with the concept for Paperight?

At Electric Book Works (my other company), we’d been trying to use ebooks to make reading easier and more affordable for people. But it wasn’t working, there are too many barriers to online access for most people. During a research project into print-on-demand, I realised that the smallest book-printing factory is a copy shop – and copy shops were everywhere, run by ambitious entrepreneurs across Africa. It was suddenly so obvious that they should be bookstores!

Has something similar been attempted in the past?

Nothing on this scale. There have been attempts to print newspapers and maps and sometimes books on-demand in stores, but they’ve always required very expensive machines. Our solution works on any old printer, so any printing business can participate, and we can reach far more people.

Was it challenging to set up an agreement with publishers in this regard?

For most publishers, yes. There have been shining exceptions: publishers who understand immediately that their role in society is to spread knowledge, and Paperight is a viable way to do that properly. But others have struggled to get over their mistrust of copy shops, to realise that copy-shop entrepreneurs want to be their allies and business partners. We’re getting there, though: after a long journey, more and more publishers are getting excited about the possibility of putting every book within walking distance of every home.

Do authors understand the necessity of something like Paperight?

Every author wants more than anything for their books to be read. The old book distribution system just doesn’t encourage that: less than 2 million South Africans buy books regularly. Authors feel that and it saddens them. Every author I’ve spoken to loves the idea that we can make their books available on every street corner.

Will publishers be losing out on profit?

Not at all. That’s the real beauty of Paperight: publishers can often make the same gross margins from Paperight sales as they do from conventional bookstores. Plus, they reach far more people: if they then sell more copies than before, they can lower their prices over time. They can finally break out of this tiny, suburban market they’ve been selling to for all these years.

Why do you think Paperight is so worthwhile in a country like SA?

Like many countries, South Africa is big. We can’t afford to ship regular books everywhere. And most South Africans don’t have Internet access. By turning any copier-printer into a book factory, every copy shop into a book shop, we can solve a problem today that would take years to fix any other way. Schools could get their books today. Hospitals can train nurses today. Small entrepreneurs can get helpful business books today.

Can you explain in a few sentences exactly on Paperight works?

Any copy shop can join the Paperight network by signing up for free on They then put a small amount of money (say, R50) in their pre-paid Paperight account. Then they’re ready to print for customers. We provide promotional posters they can print for their shop advertising the service. When a customer asks for a Paperight book, they use to download and print it out on the spot. The make their usual printing fee, and we pay the publisher from the copy shop’s pre-paid account.

How many different countries has Paperight been implemented in?

We have a few outlets abroad, in Ghana, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the US – but the vast majority are in South Africa, where we focus our efforts right now. We hope to expand to Kenya and Ghana over the next year.

What will this mean for the future of public libraries for instance?

Libraries are so important for growing reading. So we’re very excited to work with libraries. We’re already talking to library groups about their using Paperight both to stock their own shelves and also to be able to sell patrons books right from the library counter. When you borrow a great book from a library, why shouldn’t you also be able to get your own copy right there to keep?

Do you have a list of outlets that are involved?

The best place to find our 150 outlets is on our site at We’re very proud that the entire Jetline chain of copy shops are Paperight members.


ITWeb interviews Arthur Attwell about Paperight

In the wake of our win at the London Book Fair this week, Christine Greyvenstein interviewed me for an article on ITWeb. Here’s the full text of that interview, where I talk about how we’re changing the way people buy books in South Africa, and where we’re going in the future.

CG: What exactly does Paperight do and how did the website start off?

AA: In short: Paperight enables any photocopy shop to print out and sell books legally. Photocopy chops are ubiquitous in Africa; they’re little hubs of economic activity. But till now they’ve never been used as legal, print-on-demand bookstores. By making this happen, we’ve put bookstores in places where books have literally never been sold before (like rural Peddie or Khayelitsha’s CBDs), accessible to people who can’t get to bookstores and can’t get online themselves to read or buy books.

The website is just our tool: copy shops have a pre-paid account on, and use the site to instantly download books for printing as walk-in customers ask for them. We deduct small licence fees from the shop’s account for each print-out, and pay that to the publishers – less 20% for us.

After three years of research and prototyping, we launched our official site in May 2012. Investment from the Shuttleworth Foundation made that possible.

CG: What benefits does the Paperight service offer?

AA: For copy shops, they get to offer a whole new service to their communities. Already copy shops around the country have earned tens of thousands of rands in extra turnover by using Paperight. For their walk-in customers, the benefits are lower-cost books (on average 20% less than traditional editions) and more importantly, much-reduced accessibility costs: we cut out the travel, delay and frustration of trying to find a book at traditional bookstores, which are often poorly stocked.

For publishers, we offer a new market. People who buy from Paperight outlets are not the same people who buy from Exclusive Books, for instance. We’re creating new readers that will sustain the book industry in the long run. Right now, it’s been estimated that less than two million people buy books regularly in South Africa (excluding school textbooks bought directly by government), and that number isn’t growing fast enough to sustain local bookstores. Our Paperight outlets could reach another 40 million, and that’s just in South Africa.

CG: This is not the first award that Paperight has won, what are some of the others and what are your feelings on the success of the website?

AA: Last year we won a seed grant from the SAB Foundation Innovation Awards, and earlier this year we won ‘Most Entrepreneurial Startup‘ at the prestigious Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York. This week’s Innovation Award at the London Book Fair is a further endorsement of what we’re doing from the international publishing industry.

To be honest, getting there wasn’t easy: I’ve been pitching Paperight to publishers since it was a prototype in 2009, so it’s been a four-year journey to get this recognition. I think, over those years, publishers have become more adventurous, and more aware of their social responsibility to spread the knowledge they curate. And the website we launched last year has made a big difference, too: it’s fast and clear, and we’re improving it all the time.

CG: What are some of the challenges start-ups face in the beginning?

AA: Oh, there are so many and they’re different for everyone. First, it’s hard to literally survive while you’re getting going. Your priorities as founders are very simple: put food on your table, and get sales. Both are hard. It’s lonely making hundreds of decisions every day without any idea of what will and won’t work. Paul Graham has simple advice to startups: “If you can just avoid dying, you get rich. That sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a pretty good description of what happens in a typical startup.” I live by that. We’re not even close to getting rich, but we’re still here, and after all this time the momentum is finally growing.

CG: What are some of Paperight’s plans for the future, building on an already successful concept?

AA: Our first priority is just to get better at what we do, right here in South Africa. We can make a real difference to the delivery and affordability of school and university books, so we’re working with publishers and copy shops on making that happen. And we hope to grow in Kenya and Ghana in particular in the next year.

An old-school ‘photocopier’

Arnie's mini litho press

The earliest photocopiers looked like this. This is a one-colour, mini litho press from the 1970s, still in daily use at Arnie’s Printing, a Paperight outlet in Retreat, Cape Town. In addition to his two photocopiers, Arnie uses this beauty to produce flyers and small posters. He can also use it for old-school litho tricks, like sprinkling gold dust on the wet ink as the pages come off the press to get a golden sheen on lettering.