This is Angelo: rugby player, DJ, and shop assistant at Aloe X, a copy shop and Paperight outlet perfectly situated near Rhodes University campus on High Street, Grahamstown.
Angelo (and Aloe X) likes Paperight. Dozens of students come into Aloe X every week to look for – and print out – textbooks that they need for their studies, but can’t afford from the town’s only academic bookstore (which, by the way, is just down the road.)
Because of this, Aloe X is one of our most active Paperight outlets, and probably the most active outlet in South Africa relative to the amount of people who live in its immediate vicinity. Word spreads fast here: students walk into Aloe X with their smartphones in hand to message their friends to come along if the books they need can be located on the Paperight website.
“It’s gotten to the point where people come up to me in the club and ask me if I can get them the books they need,” Angelo says. “It’s crazy how many people can’t afford books in the book store here, but I’m happy we can do them a service.”
Having a large percentage of people who can’t afford books is typical of many places in South Africa, even in places (like university towns) where people are supposedly well-off. (After all, only 1% of South Africans are regular book buyers, according to the South African Book Development Council.) Paperight outlets not only provide access to books, but also affordable books.
It’s not the first time that students have been walking in here in their droves to look for books. Last year, Aloe X was inundated with students wanting to scan and copy textbooks for their friends. Unfortunately, however, someone in the store decided it would be a good idea to comply with students’ wishes, and began to photocopy high-value textbooks for sale at a fraction of their book store price. Within a week, the shop was visited by anti-piracy authorities. The staff underwent a large overhaul.
“It was bad,” Angelo says. “I wasn’t working here when it happened, but everyone knew about it.”
Angelo, it turns out, was working at the academic book store. While his sales figures were good, when he moved to Aloe X, he recognised that the majority students needed an affordable print alternative. When Aloe X signed up with Paperight near the end of last year, he and the rest of Aloe X’s management saw an opportunity.
At the beginning of this year, Aloe X and Paperight started marketing English and Classics setworks to Rhodes students. Sales have been good, and interest has been booming. A year ago, 15 students a day coming into the store to print out books would have been the stuff of nightmares for Aloe X’s management. Now, with Paperight, it’s the stuff, perhaps not exactly of dreams, but definitely of increased turnover.
“With Paperight, there’s no need for piracy or doing things illegally,” says Angelo.
The only problem right now is that some of the most prescribed books at Rhodes – primarily for accounting, law and statistics – aren’t yet available through Paperight. On the basis of how well Paperight is working for English students, however, it should be a no-brainer.
“If publishers will give Paperight the opportunity to let outlets print out accounting and law textbooks, they will sell like hotcakes”, Angelo says. “There are students who go months – even the whole year – without books because they can’t afford them.”
“Publishers are missing out on a lot of money, man, but it’s worse that students are missing out on books”, he says. “Hopefully soon we can put that right.”