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 paperight.com. 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 paperight.com 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 paperight.com/outlets. We’re very proud that the entire Jetline chain of copy shops are Paperight members.