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.

Territory-specific distribution is live!

A new feature specifically tailored for rightsholders is now active on the Paperight website. Starting immediately, rightsholders will be able to set the regions in which their documents will be made available on the Paperight service.

Although we at Paperight usually don’t like the idea of making information and documents available or unavailable by region – mostly because people in many parts of the world already have too many things restricting their access to books – we accept that the practice of territory-specific distribution is part and parcel of the larger publishing industry, and we have to adapt to that in our own way.

On the flip side, however, we feel that this will help publishers, particularly from the Global North where book distribution is already healthy, feel more at ease with putting their documents on Paperight for distribution to new and emerging markets. By reducing rightsholder fears of cannibalisation of sales in markets in which they already operate, we hope that we can improve access to books in places in which those rightsholders usually don’t operate.

Outlets and users using IP addresses in countries in which certain documents aren’t available will still be able to search for, find and view those documents, but will be unable to download them.

If you come across a document that is unavailable in your region and you believe that a mistake has been made, or if you just want to find something about a particular book that isn’t available, simply contact us and we’ll look into it.

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.

Paperight at TED@Johannesburg

Not too long ago, our founder Arthur Attwell traveled to Johannesburg to participate in the Johannesburg edition of the TED Global Talent Search, in order to try earn himself a place to talk about Paperight at TED2013 in California. In this short video he talks about the lack of access to books throughout sub-Saharan Africa and proposes how distributed print-on-demand platforms can help solve our continent’s deficiencies in book distribution.

If you want to vote for Arthur to appear at TED2013, vote for him here!

“No textbooks? I’ll print them for you…” – an article from the Mail & Guardian

Zakes Ncanywa was the man behind Paperight’s first ever registration in the Eastern Cape. With ambitions to open Paperight-powered copy shops and internet cafés throughout the rural Eastern Cape, Zakes has been a valuable resource of knowledge about what the residents of the many resource-strapped towns and villages throughout the country’s poorest province need most urgently.

Sensing a half-decent story, I travelled to Zakes’ maternal hometown of Peddie, and spent some time discovering why millions of people throughout the Eastern Cape – and the rest of South Africa, for that matter – have so much trouble finding access to valuable information that most urban dwellers take for granted, as well as discovering what makes one of the Eastern Cape’s most forward-thinking young entrepreneurs tick.

Given that Peddie is in the heart of Ngqushwa, a poor district of 92 000, deep in what is becoming entrenched as South Africa’s poorest province, I was expecting the problems to stem more from a lack of money or jobs than anything else.

But the problems in Peddie are more about infrastructure than they are about personal economics, with mismanagement and a lack of governmental resources exacerbated by layer upon layer of infrastructural deficiency, which are all vividly illustrated by Ncanywa’s fledgling enterprise.

The story of Zakes Ncanywa is now available to read on the Mail & Guardian website right here.

Paperight’s new explainer video!


Paperight has a beautiful new explainer video. (Woo!) Lovingly crafted by the animation geniuses at Cape Town’s Sea Monster and narrated by the lovely curling voice of novelist, poet and dramatist Sindiwe Magona (in both English and Xhosa), our little 38-second clip aims to explain our sometimes-complicated business in a way that anyone can understand.

So, here it is. We hope you enjoy it.

A technical overview of Paperight site architecture

This is an unusually technical post for us: a description of what the Paperight website is made of. We’re very proud of the fact that Paperight is built from scratch using open-source technology, in part so that we can publish the code openly one day. (When we have the capacity to manage a public open-source project). I asked Shaine Gordon, lead developer at Realm Digital, to describe how the site is built.

From the outset, was designed with the goals of efficiency, scalability, speed and security.

This lead to the decision to use Java/JSP (GPL) as the starting point.

Apache Tomcat 7 (Apache Licence 2.0) was selected as the Java container, being the industry standard when it comes to ease of setup, and performance.

For the architecture, SpringSource’s Spring Framework (Apache Licence 2.0) was selected. This again was chosen due to its industry standard performance, efficiency, and large support community.

The front end runs on Spring MVC 3.1, using Apache Tiles for layout management. This is secured using Spring Security 3.1.

For domain object management and persistence, we chose to use JPA (Java Persistence API), backed by Hibernate, using JTA (Java Transaction API) transaction management to ensure data can be retrieved and persisted reliably.

For indexing and searching content, Apache’s Lucene was the framework of choice. This was then seamlessly integrated with Hibernate, using Hibernate Search (LGPL 2.1).

One of the core requirements was the ability to alter and watermark PDF documents on the fly. For this we chose Apache’s PDFBox (Apache Licence 2.0). Its ability to process documents quickly and it’s free, open licence made it the natural choice.

The backend management system requires large amounts of data to be processed, for example for product imports. This should be relatively transparent to admins, and also provide sufficient feedback on failed jobs and errors. To this end, we again chose SpringSource projects: Spring Batch and Spring Integration. Spring Integration is a Java “Spring-way” implementation of the famous “Enterprise Integration Patterns”.

The result is that runs on a stack of 100% free and open-source software, without in any way compromising reliability or performance. It could be argued that our choices actually increased reliability and performance, relative to proprietary alternatives.

Paperight 1.0 goes live!

Paperight are proud to announce the launch of their 1.0 site, which went live at 00h00 on Thursday 10 May.

This marks the end of’s beta stage, and the beginning of advanced and quicker functionality, including new user dashboards for outlets, instant PDF creation, and a streamlined credit top-up system.

Paperight 1.0 was developed by Cape Town-based firm Realmdigital, who have managed to create a stable, yet lightweight framework that can work efficently on low-bandwidth internet connections.

Not that we’re sacrificing aesthetics for functionality: Paperight 1.0 has all the obligatory curves and graphics, in addition to making the potentially tricky job of managing copy-licences and customer payments as simple and intuitive as possible. It’s as pretty as you’d want it; as hard-working as you need it.

This, of course, only really marks the beginning of Paperight’s proper growth, as we’ll be working non-stop to make sure Paperight grows in functionality and richness of content as our customers need it. Over the next few weeks, Paperight will grow with hundreds of documents added every week; from classic literature, to educational resources from FundZa, Siyavula and SAIDE, manuals for nurses, doctors and midwives from EBW Healthcare, and some of Africa’s most celebrated literary and scholarly works from the African Books Collective.

It’s exciting times at Paperight Towers, and we hope you’re also along for the long haul. You can check out Paperight 1.0 here.

Paperight and FundZa Literacy Trust Join Forces

Paperight is excited to announce its partnership with the FunDza Literacy Trust in bringing affordable, exciting educational material to learners and teachers across South Africa.

FunDza’s aim is to boost literacy levels among teens and young adults by making great relevant content available in book format as well as via cellphones and social media. In this way, FunDza encourages and facilitates reading for pleasure and building communities of young readers.

The stories FunDza commissions are exciting and take place in familiar South African settings, dealing with many of the issues that teens face on a daily basis. The chapters are short, understandable, and loaded with twists and cliffhangers to keep readers wanting more. The books are written specifically for the low-income youth market.

Already, through its various mobile channels, FunDza is reaching thousands of young people, promoting reading as a daily pleasure and leisure activity.

The deal with Paperight takes this a step further. Readers will now be able to print, keep and share FunDza’s short stories in paper format. In addition, schools can print out copies of the stories for use in the classroom. FunDza is also creating teacher resources to accompany the stories so that they can be used effectively in a learning environment to further literacy development and language acquisition.

Mignon Hardie, managing trustee of FunDza says: “We believe that it is profoundly empowering for young people to recognise their own worlds in the books that they read, and to feel that their stories are worth telling.”

“From our early feedback, we see that by making relevant reading material accessible to young people, we can start to build a culture of reading,” Hardie adds.

This new deal with Paperight will enable young people to have access to affordable print copies of FunDza’s short story titles anywhere in South Africa, as well as allowing schools and teachers to access new, relevant literature for use in the classroom.

“We will only see a rise in literacy rates and reading when children and teenagers have easy access to stories they really enjoy,” said Paperight Director Arthur Attwell. “By partnering with the FunDza Literacy Trust, we’re thrilled to be able to offer them that. In addition, you’ll be able to get FunDza stories – with teacher resources – just as easily and affordably, from any Paperight-registered outlet.”

The Outlet Liaison Super Team

The Paperight team just doubled! Joining us this week are our three energetic (and hilarious) outlet champions. They’ll be seeing to it that Paperight spreads far and wide, while offering excellent customer service to boot! They’ve slotted into our team like old friends, and it honestly feels like they’ve been here all along. As far as introductions go, please welcome:

The Awesome Zimkita

Zimkita’s spark, energy and passion for people make her an invaluable addition to the team. We are really looking forward to learning from her six years experience working with one of South Africa’s top mobile providers.


The Epic Yazeed

Yazeed is a mover and shaker. Having run his family business for years, he knows how important preparation is – and he’s not afraid to bring his A-game.


Zukisani the Great

Zukisani is our education expert. Having spent 5 years selling selling books to schools, he knows the needs of teachers and learners on the ground.