Wrapping up the Paperight journey

Six years ago, I began work on an experiment: if there are copy shops in every corner of the world, what if they could legally, easily print out books for their customers? We could put every book within walking distance of every home.

I still believe in that idea, but I’m sad that we couldn’t make it viable at scale. This month, we’re closing Paperight. Our particular implementation hasn’t worked out: we just couldn’t sell enough books to keep our doors open.

There are many reasons for that, some we’ll never fully understand. In the months to come I’ll be writing and talking openly about the lessons we learned, in the hope that others will keep working on distributed print-on-demand. We’ve kept an open archive of our team’s plans and discoveries, as our team’s internal story. And if you’d like to run your own Paperight-like website, the code’s all open on GitHub.

Some housekeeping: we’ve begun contacting partner outlets and publishers to finalise accounts. If you want to check in, mail team@paperight.com. The paperight.com service will work till the end of December 2014.

Many people joined me on this journey, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. In particular, my team at Paperight, the magicians at Realm Digital, the champions who funded our early pilots, my endlessly patient and supportive wife Michelle, and the incredible individuals at the Shuttleworth Foundation, whose generosity opened the road.

I remain dedicated to reimagining publishing for emerging markets. I’ll be focusing on Bettercare, my open-access healthcare publishing, and nurturing the Book Dash children’s book initiative. And my former team are finding new homes in innovative ventures around South Africa and beyond. We’ll bring to them everything we learned at Paperight.

Keep in touch: there is still much we can all do to put every book within walking distance of every home.

One last time, then:

Free credits for new international print shops

mmp4 (805x1280)Right now, there are over 200 Paperight-member print shops around South Africa. They’ve sold thousands of books. We’d love to see Paperight print shops in other countries, too.

Twenty dollars in free credit to the first five print shops that register in any new country.

So, till the end of the year, we’re offering 20 free credits (worth US$20) to the first five print shops that register in any new country.

This is enough to print out several books in your store before paying a cent. No credit card details required, no lock-in: absolutely zero risk.

To qualify for your 20 free credits:

  1. Register as an outlet on paperight.com (it’s free and takes 2 minutes)
  2. Send a photo of your store to team@paperight.com.

To find out more about being a Paperight outlet, check out our outlet guide or contact us.

Instant photocopy-licensing: an important step for publishing

This week, we’re adding a new service to Paperight: we want to make it really fast and easy for anyone to make a legal photocopy of a book.

Why is that important?

Every single day, in thousands of institutions worldwide, teachers and students photocopy books. Ask almost any author or publisher, and they’ll tell you it’s terrible, and that photocopying is illegal and shouldn’t happen.

But still it does. All the time. Why?

Photocopying is easier, faster and cheaper than almost any other way to get a book.

Photocopying is easier, faster and cheaper than almost any other way to get a book. It’s easier, faster and cheaper than buying online, phoning or visiting bookstores, and waiting for delivery. Have you ever tried to buy a copy of a slightly obscure book? Or been the last student to get to the campus bookstore? Then you know that the books you need are often nowhere to be found.

Aren’t ebooks supposed to fix this? If you factor in the overheads of ereading (device, data, electricity, credit card), photocopying can even be easier, faster and cheaper than ebooks – and that’s assuming the book you need is available as an ebook in the first place, and that you’d be happy to study from a screen.

The photocopier may be the single biggest distribution mechanism in the world of books.

The photocopier may be the single biggest distribution mechanism in the world of books. It’s almost certainly the most widespread. Photocopying is not going to go away. It’s a big, old elephant in the room.

Collecting agencies

‘So, what if I really want to stay legal,’ I hear you ask, ‘or I really want to pay the author for their work – can’t I just pay someone a fee and make a legal photocopy?’

Sure. But you have to track down its rights manager and ask for permission first. That might take a few days or weeks. At which point they’ll ask you what you’re going to use the copy for. Then they’ll put you in a pre-defined category, tell you how much to pay and send you a contract to sign. So, basically, it’ll take you an indefinite amount of time and effort to pay an unknown amount of money. That’s if anyone replies to your mail.

Right now, many publishers choose not think about this, because it gives them a headache. If you ask a publisher, many will tell you they already have a plan to make legal photocopying possible: collecting agencies. A collecting agency is an organisation that collects licence fees from people making photocopies. They collect the fees then pay them on to publishers (keeping a reasonable commission). In South Africa, our collecting agency is DALRO.

Collecting agencies are ingenious, and run by lovely people. The problem is, collecting agencies have some big problems.

There is almost zero diversity in the way that copying licences are sold. As a result, there is almost zero innovation, and no competition.

Firstly, they are a monopoly. Most countries have only one collecting agency for books (there are others for creative works like music), and most of those collaborate under the IFFRO banner. The intention is to make things easy: copiers and publishers can all use the same service. The problem is that this has resulted in a licensing monoculture. There is almost zero diversity in the way that copying licences are sold. As a result, there is almost zero innovation, and no competition.

Second, working with them is full of delays: admin, correspondence, contracts, and a fair amount of legalese that slows you down. Almost nothing is instant – and we live in a world of automation where we expect transactions to be instant. These days, by the time we know we need a book, we’re out of time to find it. We need it now. And so the photocopy room is our friend.

Let’s say you know you’re going to be doing a lot of photocopying. You can have an ongoing agreement with DALRO, where every few months you send them a list of everything you’ve photocopied, and they bill you. That’s called a ‘blanket licence’. It involves a long, complicated legal contract and ongoing billing and reporting requirements. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Only big institutions like large universities are really set up to handle it. And then the university has to have lots of internal rules and processes for making sure everyone uses the system correctly. (Anecdotally, we’ve been told that lecturers at local universities often don’t follow these processes when they prescribe photocopied readings.)

On the other hand, let’s say you just want to make one or two photocopies, and your institution doesn’t have a blanket licence. Maybe you’re a teacher at a primary school, and you want to make twenty quick copies of a novella for your grade sevens. You need a ‘transactional licence’: once-off photocopying permission. For that, you have to contact DALRO each time you want to photocopy, and wait for an email back.

…they’ll only give you permission to copy up to 10 per cent of the book

Oh, and there’s this: they’ll only give you permission to copy up to 10 per cent of the book. As DALRO’s website explains, ‘DALRO may not allow the reproduction of whole books, either by a transactional licence or under a blanket licence. It’s unlawful to reproduce a whole book instead of buying it.’  You really need to copy more of the book? Elsewhere on their site, they elaborate: ‘If the book was published by a local publisher, DALRO will contact the publisher and request a licence for the larger portion. If the book was published by a foreign publisher, DALRO cannot process it but puts the licensee in touch with the foreign rights holder.’ That’ll take a while. The 10 per cent restriction is a real pain.


Almost no one knows all this. It’s complicated stuff made worse by its grey areas. Look around online and you’ll struggle to find anything really clear about copyright and photocopying.

For instance, this common FAQ: ‘Am I allowed to photocopy part of a book for my own personal and private use? Copyright [in South Africa] is not infringed by any fair dealing with a literary work for the purposes of the personal or private use of the work by the person making the copy.  What is “fair” in any given situation will always depend on the circumstances of that situation.’

Is it fair that I can’t complete my studies because I can’t find or afford the textbook I’m prescribed?

So who decides about my circumstances? Is it fair that I can’t complete my studies because I can’t find or afford the textbook I’m prescribed? Depends what you mean by ‘fair’. ‘Fair dealing’ is actually a technical legal term whose uncertain meaning differs from country to country, and which laypeople can’t be expected to understand.

Grey areas attract legalese, because no one can really explain in plain language what’s going on. And if something can’t be made plain to laypeople, it will be ignored as if it were never there. If publishers want people to care about copyright, they’ve got to simplify the way people encounter it.

Easy, fast and cheap

Publishers could grasp the massive opportunity that photocopying represents: a huge book-distribution industry that should be generating revenue from licence fees, but doesn’t because licensing is absurdly complicated and slow.

…school teachers, college lecturers, librarians, church secretaries, HR managers, government officials. They and their institutions are legally exposed

I’m not talking about students queuing at the local copy shop, they’re not going to start paying licence fees any time soon (there are other ways to tackle that issue). I’m talking about the people who work at institutions: school teachers, college lecturers, librarians, church secretaries, HR managers, government officials. They and their institutions are legally exposed, and don’t want to get into trouble for breaking the law. Many of them would really like to do the right thing.

The only way forward is to make it easy, fast and cheap for them to make a legal photocopy of an entire book. ‘Fast’ as in ‘instant’ by today’s standards. ‘Easy’ as in:

  • I can be anyone
  • I open a website
  • I pay a fee by card or EFT
  • I print a licence to keep with my photocopy.

If it can’t be done in five minutes, then it’s not fast and it’s not easy.

Paperight and beyond

That’s what we’ve built: buying a once-off photocopy licence on paperight.com is genuinely fast and easy.

We don’t have many books listed yet: that will be up to publishers. We’re talking to them, and we hope they’ll list their books with us very soon. It’s simple for them to do, and takes almost no effort. (Existing contracts with authors allow reprographic rights deals – the same ones they make with DALRO – and collecting agencies don’t require exclusivity.) It’s also the best way to give out-of-print books a new lease on life, especially at colleges and universities that want to prescribe them.

So is this really just a long pitch for your business? Yes and no. I’d love for everyone to use Paperight for photocopy licensing (and for print-on-demand, our original service).

Competition would raise the bar. And to prove we’re serious, we’ve made the entire paperight.com website engine open-source.

But I’d love even more to have competitors offering the same thing. Competition would raise the bar. And to prove we’re serious, we’ve made the entire paperight.com website engine open-source. That means that if anyone else wants to run their own version of paperight.com under their own brand name, they can go ahead. (Grab the code here. It doesn’t include the books we list, we’re not allowed to share those.) And for anyone who wants to bring Paperight to their country, we’ll split revenue equally, so that we can grow this initiative together.

Updating our publisher and outlet agreements

UPDATE, 21 August 2014: Read more here about why we’re making these changes.

In a short while, we’ll be rolling out a major new addition to our service: the ability to get a licence to make a legal photocopy of a book. We’ll say lots more later about why that’s a huge step for publishing.

For now, we’re updating our standard agreements with publishers and outlets to accommodate the new service. Importantly: if you don’t actually use our photocopy-licensing service, nothing changes for you. The updates to the agreement only add some wording to cover the use of the new service. But of course we hope you will use it.

I’ll explain in detail what exactly we’ve changed in each agreement. I’ll quote the paragraphs we’ve changed, strikeout words we’ve removed, and put new wording in bold.

Outlet agreement

Our first update is to the opening section where we describe how Paperight works:

Paperight acts as an agent between publishers and outlets. Its website paperight.com creates instant printing and photocopying licences between publishers (or rightsholders of other kinds) and outlets, which are printing businesses and other organisations such as copy shops.
As an outlet user (e.g. a member of staff at a copy shop), when a customer asks you for a book from Paperight:

  1. find the book on paperight.com
  2. fill in the customer’s details and what you’ll charge them in addition to our licence and service fee
  3. click ‘buy now’ to get your licence
  4. click ‘download’ to download the PDF or photocopying licence and print it out
  5. for photocopying licences, stamp and sign the licence page and bind it with the photocopy
  6. delete the PDF from your computer to prevent unauthorised distribution.

This is pretty obvious: we’ve added references to photocopy licensing.

Because we expect photocopy-licensing to be used mostly by schools and colleges, we’ve broadened the description of outlets to include ‘other organisations’, not just copy shops.

The most important addition is step 5: you must print, stamp and sign the photocopy licence page and bind it with the photocopy. That way, each photocopy comes with original proof that it’s a fully legal photocopy.

Next, we’ve made small changes to the ‘Definitions’ section:

Publishers (or other rightsholders) have appointed Paperight as an agent to provide specific printing licences to outlets to print or photocopy the books listed on paperight.com.

In the ‘Termination’ section, a one-word change, since now licences might be for printing or for photocopying:

You may close your account from your dashboard on paperight.com, either by disabling the entire account, or by removing your agreement to these outlet terms specifically. While your account is closed or while you have removed your agreement to these outlet terms, the terms of this agreement still apply to existing print licences (i.e. licences you have already acquired) and any monies owing between the parties.

In the ‘Licences’ section, we’ve changed a few words:

All documents on and from Paperightlisted on paperight.com are subject to copyright. That means you cannot make any extra copies without a new licence (unless specified otherwise on the document itself).

That change was just for clarity, it doesn’t change meaning. The next few changes to wording are also just for clarity:

When you download a Paperight document or a photocopy licence, by default you have a licence to print that document once. If one customer needs multiple copies, include multiple copies in your licence when you buy it. Then you are allowed to print the document that number of times for that customer. (E.g. if when purchasing you select ‘Number of copies: 3’, you may print that document 3 times for that same customer.)
You must provide the customer’s full name every time you buy a licence. If the customer is an institution, include the name of their representative (such as the person placing the order with you).
On PDFs from paperight.com, the customer’s name will then appear on each page of their document, along with a unique tracking code. We recommend including the customer’s phone number as well, so that you can contact them if needed, and uniquely identify them among other customers with the same name.
You must not reprint one customer’s document for another customer.
Each licence only allows you to print out a document once, and to sell that print-out to a customer. Once you have printed a document, you must delete all copies of the digital files you have downloaded. You may not give or sell the digital files to anyone.

In the ‘Credits’ section, a tiny change for clarity:

Credits are pegged in value to the US dollar, but are not necessarily converted at a 1:1 rate. Any amounts shown on paperight.com in your local currency are approximate currency conversions for that day forfrom credits to dollars and from dollars to your currency. The actual amounts that your bank or credit-card provider charge you may differ slightly, and may include service and currency-conversion charges.

In the ‘Marketing’ section, we’ve made a small change to accommodate our new, broader service:

An outlet may advertise its book-printing Paperight-related services, and it may refer to Paperight in its marketing messages and materials. The word ‘Paperight’ must be correctly spelled. You may not use the Paperight logo, or try to reproduce it in any form, without the written permission of Paperight.

That’s it. As you can see, we like to keep things simple.

Publisher agreement

Our first change is to add a reference to photocopy-licensing to the ‘Definitions’ section:

Paperight is a service that lets publishers sell licences to registered outlets. These licences allow the outlets to print and sell copies of the Rightsholder’s documents, which Paperight provides to them as watermarked PDFs, and/or allows them to legally photocopy the Rightsholder’s documents under license. Paperight is only one of the channels that a publisher might use to make its works available, and does not claim to be exclusive.

In the ‘Term and termination’ section, some small changes to accommodate photocopy-licensing:

Either party may suspend or terminate this agreement by notifying the other in writing with 14 days notice. If that happens, outstanding earnings owed to the Rightsholder will still be paid according to the Compensation terms below. Watermarked documents and photocopy licences may still be available to print through the Paperight system during the notice period.
Paperight will take reasonable steps to ensure that the Rightsholder’s documents are not available for licensing, download or purchase by outlets or their customers by the termination date.

The main changes are to the ‘Operating policies and procedures’ section, where we now make clear distinctions between our existing print-on-demand service and our new photocopy-licensing service, and explain how you choose to use each one.

Paperight provides print-on-demand distribution and photocopy licensing.

  • Print-on-demand distribution: The Rightsholder will provide documents and document metadata to Paperight for distribution via paperight.com. For distribution to registered outlets, Paperight will resize these documents and place them on new page sizes (such as A4), along with fineprint containing selected details of each licence, including the names of the Rightsholder, the outlet, and the outlet’s customer, and the date of the licence. The Rightsholder may specify which documents should and should not be made available to outlets at any time, and in which countries.
  • Photocopy-licensing: The Rightsholder will provide document metadata to Paperight for listing on paperight.com. The Rightsholder may specify which documents should and should not be made available for licensed photocopying to outlets at any time, and in which countries.

In the metadata for each document, the Rightsholder will elect to allow print-on-demand distribution and/or photocopy licensing.

In the ‘Responsibilities of Rightsholder and Paperight’ section, we’ve added some wording to reflect the difference between print-on-demand and photocopy-licensing in the outlets’ responsibilities:

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. When printing on demand, 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.

In the ‘Licences’ section, a phrase for clarity that includes photocopy-licensing:

When a registered outlet requests a licence to print or copy a copyright work (e.g. a book, journal 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.

All done. Thanks for trawling through that. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know.

Matrics: get exam practice more cheaply, more easily

If you’re in matric, or have a child in matric, you’re getting nervous about exams. We’d like to help:

1. Zero licence fees on past-exam packs. This means Paperight outlets can now print and sell past exam papers from 2008 to 2012 without paying us a cent. This will mean cheaper exam practice, and no need to buy credits before downloading.

2. Order by email. Find the exam pack you want, pick your nearest and cheapest outlet, and click the ‘Order by email’ button. That will launch an email message in your default email program, prefilled with that product’s details. Just hit send and the outlet will get your request by email.

'Order by email' button screenshot
Click ‘Order by email’ to open a pre-filled email message to the outlet

Good luck to all matrics! If you have any questions, email us or find us on Facebook.

Paperight welcomes Open Book Publishers

Peace and Democratic SocietyOpen Book Publishers are reinventing academic publishing, making it fairer, faster and more accessible. Their ideals are our ideals, so we’re thrilled to be working with them.

You can now get their wonderful books from any Paperight outlet, including Peace and Democratic Society, edited by Nobel Prizewinning economist Amartya Sen.

Click here to see the full list.

200 top South African books hit Paperight

The+Shining+GirlsWhen I set out to build Paperight, I imagined having best-selling, new South African fiction and non-fiction in our library, so that South Africans everywhere could get their hands on it.

Even though it took several years to get there, I’m ecstatic that we’ve just released over 200 books from leading publisher Random House Struik, including showstoppers like The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human, and Of Cops and Robbers by Mike Nicol. There’s loads more, have a look here.

As I write this, I’m sitting at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, a highlight of the South African literary year. An underlying – and often openly expressed – anxiety at the festival is our industry’s dependence on perhaps two million wealthy book buyers, who buy their books from glitzy stores in suburban malls. By working with Paperight, the team at Random House Struik have taken an important step towards real change. We sincerely hope others will follow in their footsteps.

Talented, young designers showcased in our cover art competition

As this year’s World Design Capital, Cape Town has been painted yellow. Designers and creatives around the city have been showcasing their transformative design work. As a WDC-aligned project, we wanted to inspire talented young creators around the city to try their hand as book cover designers. We launched a Cover Art Competition, and were not disappointed. The winner’s covers will be used as the official cover art for the Paperight editions of classic literature books, with the designers’ names appearing on the imprint pages. These will be available for sale from over 200 Paperight registered copy shops across South Africa. CAC_NeillKropman_3bookcovers_reduced_20140404 Neill Kropman’s gorgeous water-themed cover set came in 1st Place. He hails from Red and Yellow School of Logic and Magic, and submitted three cover designs that work together as a conceptual triptych. According to Neill, his concept stemmed from the following: “Each story tells a tale of travelling via water. I chose to connect all three books by this idea. A river flows from the first book (Huckleberry Finn) through the series, into Heart of Darkness and finally resolving into Robinson Crusoe.” The runner-ups are: 2nd Place: Lucelle van der Linde (Stellenbosch University) for To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf 3rd Place: Ivan de Villiers (Stellenbosch University) for Walden by Henry David Thoreau Congratulations to you all! We will be in contact with you soon about your prizes. For more images, scroll down. huckleberry-finn_kropman_cover_20140513 heart-of-darkness_kropman_cover_20140513 robinson-crusoe_kropman_cover_20140513to-the-lighthouse_lucelleVDL_full-wrap-cover_20140513 (1) walden_Ivandevilliers_full-wrap-cover_20140513 walden_devilliers_cover_20140513 to-the-lighthouse_lucelleVDL_cover_20140513

The #textbookrevolution hits Twitter!


"Twitter" by Flickr user Andreas Eldh. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Licence
“Twitter” by Flickr user Andreas Eldh. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Over the first two weeks of March 2014, Paperight hosted two LIVE Twitter debates for students, publishers, teachers, lecturers, booksellers and all interested parties to share their views on the subject of textbook availability and high prices. With the help of Kelsey Wiens and Eve Gray from UCT, the #textbookrevolution gathered a fantastic cross section of opinions and criticisms to help us move the campaign forward.

Our first debate, held on the 6th of March 2014, attracted mainly industry players who steered the debate towards how prices can be cut and what restraints exist that are preventing this becoming common practice. We also welcomed teachers, a smattering of students and a variety of student welfare organisations to the mix. The following points were raised and debated:

  • The need for more SA academics to chip in and write textbooks for their students rather than relying on expensive foreign equivalents
  • When SA lecturers write textbooks, there is a tendency to prescribe the same textbook even long after it is out of date which needs to be addressed
  • Digital or paper resources? On this point, the opinions were equally divided with most conceding to fall into the middle ground that both need to exist to be most effective
  • The high cost of the supply chain (printing, storage, transport and waste)
  • How students manage when they can’t afford to buy their prescribed textbooks

The success of the first debate necessitated a second one, held on the 13th of March 2014. This time around we pushed for more students to take part and we were not disappointed! Particularly by University of Pretoria students who chipped in en masse to share their personal experiences of buying their textbooks. The Tuks SRC started the debate with a bang sharing a photo of a textbook that costs R1035.95 and asking students to comment – shew! What a kicker to get students talking about downloading .pdf’s of textbooks, paying extortionate prices, sharing textbooks with friends, dealing with library short loans and even relying on student loans that don’t actually cover the cost of their textbooks. Even Van Schaik’s weighed in to explain the bookseller/publisher side to the students. Having them involved kept the debate moving along, and meant that the results are multi-faceted and really illuminating.

Tweets flew in thick and fast over the hour of the debate – so fast in fact that we struggled to keep up and even managed to get the hashtag #textbookrevolution to trend in South Africa! Amid all the tweets about Oscar Pistorius, South Africans were also debating a better future for school and university students. This is not the last of the #textbookrevolution. You can get involved too: simply log into Twitter, search for the #textbookrevolution, and have your say.

So keep tweeting about it, share the petition and sow the seeds of debate among those you know because every #textbookrevolution supporter carries this campaign even closer to success. As a collective of individuals eager for a better option, we can help countless future South Africans achieve their full potential. Viva la #textbookrevolution!

The #textbookrevolution hits UCT!

As the third week of Paperight’s #textbookrevolution draws to a close, we have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of people to thank. All in all, we managed to gather over 400 signatures from Stellenbosch University students and over 600 signatures from students from the University of Cape Town – that’s over 1000 students who love what Paperight is doing for them.

On Monday 17 February, the Paperight team visited UCT’s Upper Campus to speak to students about the campaign. We had a lot of smiles and thumbs up. We handed out #textbookrevolution drinks coasters and found out what cheaper textbooks would really mean to students.

Overwhelmingly, students insisted that they would buy all their textbooks if they could only afford them. Most students get by with either borrowing from friends who have the book they need, or by photocopying sections that they need at different intervals of the year. Some buy second-hand books – if the previous year’s edition is still prescribed, that is. And who can blame them when the prices are so high? We spoke to a 5th year medical student who has to buy a R2800 textbook, and a future chemical engineer who will be forced to fork out R3000 for one of her 6 prescribed textbooks for their first semester alone.

It’s helped us to hear that students agree with the #textbookrevolution campaign, and acutely feel the problems it hopes to solve. Students are desperate for some kind of alternative.

Of course, not all the feedback was positive off the bat. Some students expressed a concern for the future of bookshops – we were happy to explain to them that bookstores have nothing to fear from Paperight. (Bookstores can use Paperight too!) Similarly, some Law students were curious about the legality of the Paperight model – in the end they were convinced by the simplicity of the idea.

In the end, everybody wins with Paperight. More supporters are joining the ranks of the #textbookrevolution every day. But don’t just take our word for it! Watch our campaign video to see for yourself.

Put an end to unaffordable textbooks. Join the #textbookrevolution. Show your support by liking us on Facebook and Twitter, signing our petition, and using the #textbookrevolution hashtag.