Paperight in Parliament

Coat of arms of the Parliament of South AfricaWe’re over the moon and deeply honoured to have been congratulated by the South African National Assembly – Parliament – for our recent win in New York. Even more special than the congratulations was Parliament’s support and encouragement, and their appeal to all publishers to join us to make books more accessible to all.

Here’s what was said and agreed to in the Minutes of the National Assembly on 28 February 2013:

8. The Chief Whip of the Opposition moved without notice: That the House –

(1) notes that Paperight, a Cape Town based print-on-demand company received the O’Reilly Tools of Change Start-Up Showcase’s award for Most Entrepreneurial Publishing Start-Up in New York City on 14 February 2013;

(2) further notes that Paperight, a company funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, received this award for its ingenious solution to widespread book shortages in the developing world through a service that allows photocopy shops to legally print books, consisting of more than 200 registered independent outlets in South Africa;

(3) recognises that Paperight was one of 10 finalists, the only company nominated outside the United States of America and Europe and the first ever to come from South Africa;

(4) acknowledges the difficulty that millions in South Africa face in accessing published works;

(5) further acknowledges the importance of making published works easily accessible to millions of people throughout Africa; and

(6) congratulates Paperight and encourages publishers to register with Paperight in making their works accessible to all.

Agreed to.

Thank you, South Africa! We’ll be sure to live up to your expectations.

Marketing 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 put a lot into helping copy shops promote their book-selling services. We need your help to do that more and more. We need to be on the phone to outlets every day, finding out how they work and how we can help, getting them posters and flyers, and working with community media to promote them. We need your help drafting press releases that raise their profiles and ours, speaking to journalists, keeping track of what people say about us in the media, and making sure we are a useful part of the conversation.

You don’t have to have a marketing degree. If you’re gregarious, brave, super interested in the psychology of business, and want to help us make the world a much bookier place, you’ll fit right in.

We offer interns a small monthly payment for internships over two to six month periods (depending on what works for everyone), a wonderful office environment, and the chance to learn loads 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 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.

Our new outlet agreement

When we launched the new in May last year, our terms for outlets were very, very short and sweet. Essentially, they explained briefly how Paperight works, and the two golden rules for outlets:

  • One fee = one print-out  (for each copy of a document that you print out, you pay a separate licence fee)
  • Customer’s full name, every time (provide the customer’s full name each time you buy a licence.)

It worked because it was simple and clear. Since then, over two hundred people have registered as Paperight outlets, and we’ve received loads of feedback and questions about the way we work. And we realised that we needed to be clearer and more thorough in our outlet terms.

So this week we’ve implemented a new outlet agreement that now applies to all outlets. It doesn’t change anything about the way outlets or we work (so don’t worry, no surprises at all), it only explains things more clearly and thoroughly.

Click here to see the latest outlet agreement.

If you work at an outlet, please take a minute to read through it. It’s still quite short as contracts go, and we’ve kept the language as easy to read as possible (we hate difficult legal language). So it won’t take long at all.

And if you’re a publisher or author, you might be interested in reading it, too, so that you know how our network of outlets will be selling your books.

If you want to chat to us about the agreement, we’re always keen to chat and answer questions, just drop us a line.

Our Amazon experiment

The most nerve-wracking part of building something completely different is the experimenting. You never know what will work till you try it. It’s the part that fails as often as it succeeds. It’s also the fun part.

One of our recent experiments is to integrate Amazon search results into the Paperight site. When you search for a book on Paperight, you’ll see books from Amazon listed below the ones from Paperight.

The question is: why the heck would we send people to another retailer? Firstly, just to see what happens. But we have other more considered reasons, too.

Second, while our catalogue is growing, it’s still small compared to the range of books people need and want. If we don’t have the book you’re looking for, maybe we can help you find it somewhere else. It’s like when you go into a shop for something and they don’t have it, but the friendly assistant points out that the shop across the road has what you need. They’ve sent you to their competitor, but you’re grateful for the friendly help, and you’ll come back here again.

Third, we’re curious to know: if you don’t have Internet access or a credit card, would you let your local Paperight outlet buy a book from Amazon on your behalf? In other words, could our outlets be not only print-on-demand stores but also book-buying pick-up points? Maybe we’ll find out.

Fourth, if anyone does buy something from Amazon after clicking through from Paperight, will we earn enough Amazon affiliate vouchers to buy this for the office? We hope so 😉

We’ll let you know how it goes.

Paperight in your pocket

Paperight MobileThe Internet in Africa is all about mobile phones, so it’s important that Paperight customers be able to find our outlets – and find out about great books – on a website that works really well those phones.

We’re going to have to learn over time what about Paperight works best for phones. And to start that learning process, we’ve launched a mobile Paperight site that will work on any web-enabled phone; not just smartphones. It includes an easy way to search for outlets in your city, and short articles on books we think you really should know about.

To see the site, visit

Over time, we’ll make this mobile site better and have it do more stuff. If you have ideas or suggestions, let us know in the comments here, or mail us.

Interview with Suzi Lindquist about Paperight

Citizen journalist Suzi Linquist interviewed me recently for Supernews. News stories can’t ever carry a whole interview, even a brief one like this. So here’s the whole thing.

SL: First, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Schooling, what you did before Paperight?

After a degree in literature at UCT, I got my first job as a copy editor at Oxford University Press Southern Africa. Back then, OUPSA was often called the local publishing industry’s training academy, largely because the MD Kate McCallum poured so much energy into training her staff, particularly in the business of publishing, the financial side of things. I don’t think I’d ever have developed Paperight without that grounding, because when you’re aiming to change the way an industry makes money, you have to know how the numbers work.

I went on to work for other large educational publishers before starting Electric Book Works, where the idea for Paperight was born. EBW is a digital-publishing consulting company. I developed and tested publishing technology that worked for emerging markets.

SL: Where did you get the idea for Paperight?

The idea came in two ways. First, the more I worked in ebooks, the more dissatisfied I was. Ebooks weren’t truly improving access to information as fast as I wanted them to. Among the wealthy, tech moves extremely fast, catalysed by credit card payments and our ability to buy fancy new devices for fun. Among the poor, tech moves much more slowly.

Then we did a couple of studies on print-on-demand in 2008, and it just became so obvious that 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 knew we could make it even more effective, and legal, by offering printable books on a simple website.

SL: Has the process been successful so far? How many Paperight “shops” are there, how many books do you have that can be printed?

Only three months since we launched, we have over 150 Paperight outlets signed up, and more registering every day. Our library includes about 850 items, including books, past-paper packs, and sheet music, and we have hundreds more in pre-production.

SL: How much money can be saved for students? Are they using the resources (like the matric exams)?

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.

SL: What is the impact on lower-income areas? Are they using the technology? Do they know about the technology?

We spend most of our time and marketing money on low-income areas, so most of our sales are there, too. We work with local outlets to put up posters, distribute flyers, and place radio advertising.

SL: For education, has the company done anything, especially in those places that have been affected, to help schools get textbooks or reading materials for less? If not, are you planning on it?

We’ve focused on the Western Cape for the first few months, and we have had a dedicated team member visiting schools. Right now, our outlet team is working directly with schools and their local copy shops to get past papers to matrics, visiting classrooms and taking orders from 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. Any successful student will tell you that past papers are a critical part of their preparation. So we’re working hard to help make them more accessible, and are always keen to work with other organisations who’d like to join us.

Changes to our rightsholder agreement

We have updated our rightsholder agreement to be clearer about some issues that publishers have asked us about.

Firstly, we’ve tweaked the opening line to be clear about what it means to register as a Publisher on Paperight:

By registering as a Publisher with Paperight, you’re accepting the terms of this agreement on behalf of your organisation as provided at registration.

We’ve made it clear that publishers have control over which of their documents are available and where:

The Rightsholder may specify which documents should and should not be made available to outlets at any time, and in which countries.

We’ve added clarity on our revenue split. Till now, revenue splits have been agreed with each publisher individually. From now, this will be consistent for all publishers:

The Rightsholder will determine the rights fee paid by an outlet for each publication in dollars. Paperight will pay to the Rightsholder 80% of these rights fees, as received in its South African accounts.

We’ve added some detail on how we work with outlets:

Paperight will take reasonable measures to monitor usage of its services to spot misuse, such as unlicensed photocopying or redistribution of content. Where evidence of misuse exists, Paperight will take action under the terms of its outlet agreement published on at the time. That action may include suspending the user accounts of offending outlets, and/or providing evidence of copyright infringement to the Rightsholder and relevant authorities.

Paperight’s terms for outlets will include the following requirements:

One fee = one print-out: For each copy of a document that an outlet prints out, it must pay a separate licence fee. (For example, if an outlet pays to make one print-out of The Great Gatsby, it is only allowed to print it out once.) As such, an outlet may only sell this one print-out to one customer.

Customer’s full name, every time: An outlet must provide the customer’s full name (e.g. first and last name) each time it buys a licence. The customer’s name will then appear on each page of their document, along with a unique tracking code. An outlet may not re-print one customer’s document for another customer.

And we’ve included a reference to our privacy policy:

Paperight will gather data about users, including rightsholders and outlets, on its website in the normal course of doing business online. How Paperight uses that data is described separately in the privacy policy published on

According to the terms of the rightsholder agreement, existing registered rightsholders have two weeks to review this before the new terms apply to them, should they have questions or concerns about the changes. For the rest, this revised agreement takes effect now.

Zakes Ncanywa, Peddie, and Paperight

'No Textbooks? No Problem', You magazine, 22 July 2012

Not long after the Mail & Guardian carried our own Nick Mulgrew’s great story about Zakes Ncanywa’s Paperight outlet and computer shop in rural Peddie, You magazine and its Afrikaans sibling edition Huisgenoot have followed up with their own similar story (PDF) on this wonderful entrepreneur. These are two of South Africa’s biggest magazines, and we’ve already seen an increase in Zakes’s Paperight sales since the magazine hit the shelves.

We need an office manager–bookkeeper

Update, 5 August 2012: This position has now been filled. Dezre Little starts at Paperight on 6 August. Welcome, Dezre!

Paperight is changing the way people get books, so that we can put every book within walking distance of every home, anywhere. We need a smart, dedicated, energetic, meticulous, super-friendly person to join us by managing our office and keeping our books.

If this is you, you’re likely to have at least a year or two’s experience in a similar role. (For the bookkeeping, a working knowledge of accounting practices will do, if you’re great in other areas, and you’re always learning new stuff.) You’re so inherently organised, meticulous and efficient that you don’t know how to be anything else. And you tend to solve problems before anyone knows they’re there.

You’re also lovely with people, so you’ll be great at fielding emails and calls. Some of these will be customer-support calls for, so you’ll be a clear communicator, and super confident with websites and web-based applications already. Everything admin-related could fall to you: from travel arrangements to setting up events to liaising with suppliers and more. If anything will help us move faster, it’s up to you to know it first and make it happen. And when our teams need help with getting important stuff done, you’ll always pitch in.

If you’re this person, we are really looking forward to hearing from you.

Apply by emailing team at paperight dot com. Your email cover letter is much, much more important than your CV. So make it count. Be honest and friendly. Help us know why you are the team member we should have hired already. (We’ll be more impressed by a thorough LinkedIn profile than a regular CV, by the way.) 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 or IM chat with people we think may be a good fit.

We’re based in Claremont, Cape Town. This will be a contract position for a few months (same as everyone else on the team). We haven’t decided how much we’ll pay you, because this will depend on your experience, and what energy and expertise you can bring to the team.

When the position is filled, we’ll say so here on this post. Till then, it’s open.