A snapshot of content on Paperight: February 2012

We just finished up the first phase of our Paperight project, and are very excited to be moving forward! This is our internal report on the status of content on the Paperight site, and how we hope to grow it in the coming months. As always, we value your thoughts and feedback – so feel free to leave us a comment and say that you stopped by! 

Project summary

In the first phase of Paperight’s development, Project Dagobah, the broad goal of the Paperight content team was to have 1000 products listed on Paperight.com in four months (November 2011-February 2012). The aim was to source and provide valuable product items, which would not only be of value to the Paperight customer, but which would also make the concept of Paperight more tangible to publishers.

The “victory condition” for this aspect of Project Dagobah, then, was that 1000 valuable product items be available on Paperight.com by the 29th February 2012. This goal was officially met on the 28th of February 2012, with 1001 product items (Woo!).
Reaching this target required research of product leads, sourcing of documents, compilation of metadata, and the listing of each product on Paperight.com, in addition to the prepping of documents for sale via the site. A visualisation of the total time spent on each of these tasksets, relative to each other, is provided below.


Research & analysis of product items now listed on Paperight.com

The product items currently listed on Paperight.com are predominantly works that are in the public domain, but do include some exclusively licensed items that we have acquired a license to distribute. The decision to source from free and available content online was one borne out of the need to acquire a substantial database of products within a short timeframe. The table below roughly illustrates the composition of the current Paperight products database, based on year of publication.

The majority of these works were sourced by combing through lists of “popular/top”, “most downloaded”, and “most purchased” lists on various websites which sell or offer free access to public domain works. Other resources used for sourcing product leads included public domain curation and review websites, as well as compiled lists of the “best books of all time”, setwork lists, and the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners’ list (links to each of these resources can be found on the Paperight Wiki). Given that Paperight is only beginning to flourish, it was not practical to attempt market research with bonafide Paperight users. Thus, these online resources have been used as a proxy for potential Paperight users, and have given us a clearer indication of the genres and authors that online buyers have shown interest in. While the Paperight service is an offline one, we believe that there will be similarities and significant overlap between the preferences of Paperight users and those of online buyers.

Continue reading A snapshot of content on Paperight: February 2012

Incentivising honest printing

A soon-to-be outlet manager, Terence, mailed me today with a common question:

I think [Paperight] is an excellent idea , just wondering how one would control the dishonest [outlets] who would buy one pdf and print many. I am sure you have seen the case of the copyshop in Durban central where they had hundreds of thousands of rands worth of textbooks they had copied. I think it was the fraud squad who arrested them.

Terence is right that dishonest photocopying of books is a common problem. (Sometimes it’s not deliberate dishonesty, but just copyright ignorance.) However, I think publishers have been approaching the problem in a one-dimensional way. The fact is, copy shops are meeting a customer demand that publishers and booksellers aren’t meeting. To me, copy shops should be publishers’ distribution partners, which is what Paperight will enable. So, the question then is, “How do we make it worthwhile for copy shops to play by the rules, rather than break them?” Technical restrictions and dire threats alone won’t do the trick – we can only do this by offering incentives.

When we provide a PDF for an outlet to print for a customer, we watermark each page with the outlet’s name, the customer’s name, the date, and a unique URL. Visiting the URL (on a computer or mobile phone) takes the customer to an online help-and-discussion forum for their book. For instance, students can talk to other students about the book or subject they’re studying. Entrepreneurs reading ‘How to start a business’ can talk to other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges. We can also use this online space for prizes and special offers. For some books, only the original purchaser of the document will be entitled to these services. That way, customers are incentivised to request their very own print-outs, discouraging copy shops from making multiple dishonest copies.

By offering this feature, we provide value to the customer. And we also get valuable feedback. We can track and analyse where our documents are from customers’ visiting the forums and offers, providing feedback for the publisher, and showing up potential trouble-spots where piracy might be happening. (E.g. if ten people use the same URL in an area, there are likely to be illegal copies there, and we can trace that back to the original copy shop.) This is simply not possible in conventional book distribution.

Will it eliminate dishonest copying entirely? No, there will always be a measure of that. The important thing is to offer a sensible, attractive alternative that’s as convenient as and more useful than piracy. iTunes did that for music, and Paperight can do the same for books.

We’ll also send a catalogue of the best content we have each month to all registered copy shops that we believe are playing by the rules. This will be in the form of a poster for their shop window to help draw foot traffic and, therefore, more printing customers. On the one side, a large headline grabs the attention of passersby, and on the other, we show the top fifty books on Paperight that month. Our first catalogue will go out in February. If you’d like to get one, register on Paperight for free.

An update to our rightsholder info and agreement

We’ve just made our first changes to the standard rightsholder agreement on paperight.com, based on feedback from publishers and legal advisors. We’ve added some wording to clarify important points.

We answer the question: Who’s granting what licences exactly? We’ve made it clear that rightsholders authorise Paperight to enable a very limited licence between the rightsholder and the outlet. Then we’ve added more detail on what an outlet’s customer is likely to pay in total for a book, compared to buying a publisher’s edition in a bookstore. And in the “Term and termination” section of the rightsholder agreement, we’ve clarified that during a termination notice period, documents may still be available for outlets to print.

Here are the exact additions:

  • In the Q&A info section, we’ve added: “What about my copyright? You retain full copyright in your content. You’re only allowing Paperight outlets to acquire a very specific licence. Each time a registered outlet requests rights for a book or document that you are offering through Paperight, the outlet is granted a very limited licence to print the number of copies of the document requested. If an outlet does not comply with the licence terms, its account with Paperight will be suspended.
  • In the agreement, we’ve added this to “Term and termination”: “Watermarked documents may still be available to print through the Paperight system during the notice period.”
  • And we’ve added a “Licences” section, stating: “When a registered outlet requests a copyright work (e.g. a book or document) on paperight.com, they are automatically granted a license by the Rightsholder to reproduce and distribute the requested copyright works which the Rightsholder has made available through Paperight. The Rightsholder authorises Paperight to exercise any of the exclusive rights granted by law to the Rightsholder in order to enable Paperight to make the copyright works available to registered outlets in terms of this agreement, including but not limited to reproduction, distribution and transmission of the works.”

All in all, no changes to the way things work – just important clarifications. As always, we love feedback.

Drafting a rightsholder’s agreement

I’ve worked as a client and consultant with a range of distributors, retailers and publishers, and they all have standard legal agreements to cover their relationships with each other. Reading any of them is like slogging through a Canterbury Tale, but without the ribald payoff.

I’ve recently had the tricky task of writing Paperight’s standard agreement with rightsholders. My aim is to make it as short and simple as possible, without including anything dumb or being reckless by omission. It will change over time I’m sure. You can read it here. I hope others will help me find its many faults and vulnerabilities, and we’ll fix them by making it simpler and shorter, and never more complex.

Development road

Yesterday the Paperight site went live. I could (and often do) say it’s just an alpha launch with a small, pilot-testing selection of titles, but that doesn’t do the moment justice. It’s very, very exciting to be up and running, even if there is loads still to do.

So here are some of the key developments and additions we have lined up for the medium and long term.

  • While the current site runs (probably for several months), and we learn from user behaviour, we’ll be building a much faster, lighter version from the ground up. Our users will be busy copy shops often in low-bandwidth areas, and every second will count. We want to make point-of-sale transactions absolutely painless.
  • Currently you can pay for documents by EFT or by using PayPal. We’ll add a prepaid account, which will make it easier for copy-shop staff to pay for rights instantly.
  • We’ll reduce the document-delivery time from 24 weekday hours to minutes or less, at any time, by automating more of the backend PDF processing.
  • We’ll add a lot more content. At the moment, we’re preparing every document manually. We’ll start fetching and preparing PDF content by API in bulk.
  • For rightsholders, we’ll add automated sales reporting, and allow territorial distribution restrictions.
In addition, we’ll be learning from our customers and reprioritising accordingly. If you’re a Paperight user, remember that every single suggestion you send us is valuable. Don’t hold back, send us your feedback or pop it in the comments below.

Competing with piracy

I don’t like talking about piracy and Paperight in the same sentence. I didn’t found Paperight to tackle piracy. But since publishers wince every time they hear the word ‘photocopier’, I face the association in every meeting. Then I explain how Paperight should be part of any publisher’s anti-piracy strategy. It takes about twenty minutes to sink in.

Whether book piracy is casual or professional, the customer’s motivation is the same in every case: it’s cheaper. Cheaper not just in money, but in time and energy too. Piracy happens when the total resource cost of acquiring a book – in time, money, and physical and emotional energy – is greater than the cost of acquiring a knock-off.

One businessman I spoke to recently explained how he pirates X Box games: he used to drive across town to buy blank DVDs, spend hours searching for a quality torrent, then download it over two days. In money, this cost about R30 (petrol, DVD, data) – but he couldn’t be bothered any more: adding his time and energy, the total cost was too high. So now he buys pirated copies for R60 from a guy down the road. (A new, legit game would cost about R400.) The total resource cost of making copies himself is higher than the cost of the copy from the guy down the road. But not as high as the legit copy. Three choices, and he picked the one that costs him less overall.

The way to beat piracy is the same way you take on any business: you compete with it by offering an alternative with a lower cost overall. But how do we get the total resource cost of a book below that of a knock-off?

First, we make it cheap. Then, even more importantly, we make it easier to find legit books than to find knock-offs.

In traditional book and ebook publishing, consumers pay about 20% of the retail price for creativity, 10% for packaging, and 70% for availability (shipping, storing, displaying). That’s because the retail price of a book is made up of hundreds of small costs. For the publisher: shipping, warehousing, sales commissions, and the risk of printing copies that won’t sell. For physical bookstores: the opportunity cost of not stocking something that’ll sell better, and the cost of renting space in an accessible, and therefore expensive, location. For the online bookstore: more shipping, web development costs, competitive discounting on other titles (something’s got to pay for big online discounts), and online advertising.

Pirated copies come with far fewer overheads. With Paperight, publishers can start to compete with that. Then, by turning any business with a printer into a bookstore, we drastically reduce the time and energy required to find books as a consumer. Every copy shop, Internet café, and post office is a bookstore.

If you aren’t convinced yet, give it twenty minutes.

Paperight gets a boost

Till now, Paperight has been a labour of love built beside the day-to-day work of Electric Book Works. The site’s never been live, except in rudimentary, pilot-test form for a few weeks in 2009. We were very close to live around the end of 2010, but a bad strategic decision on my part meant we burned too quickly through the last of EBW’s development cash and couldn’t finish. Paperight had to stand quietly while we regrouped. I learned some hard lessons.

From September, though, Paperight’s development will be steaming ahead faster than ever, thanks to the generous support of the Shuttleworth Foundation. I’ll be leaving my day-to-day role at EBW to work full-time on Paperight and its rights engine as a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. I’m incredibly excited and privileged to have this opportunity, and thrilled to be working with the Foundation: they’re as committed to Paperight’s social bottom line as I am, and fully supportive of Paperight’s financial and environmental aims too. And their emphasis on openness fits well with the transparency Paperight needs in order to be useful and effective.

Paperight will formally become a separate company – not an EBW project – and the Foundation will own a minority stake in it. Over the coming months, I’ll be assembling a team and meeting with potential partners – content owners, universities, printing and copier businesses and others – with the aim of rolling out a working Paperight service within months.

Here’s my (rough but sincere) Shuttleworth pitch video:


Original designs

We’ve been talking about Paperight for a long time and still haven’t shipped. We’re impatient, but building this alongside day jobs means we’re vulnerable to bottlenecks and running out of cash to fund the time we need to finish. Still, we could get a lot of useful feedback if we could show you what we’re working on. So, to start, we’ve put a few original designs up at paperight.com/design. These show what we’re aiming for, although our pilot and beta sites won’t look like this yet.