Home / All News

Paperight: Print-on-demand around every corner

The real challenge of bookselling in South Africa is that about 45 million people are not buying books according to Arthur Attwell, founder and CEO of Paperight. Outside of the schoolbooks they might receive, most South Africans simply can’t buy books of their own. Even if they could, it’s unlikely that they’d have a flourishing bookshop around the corner from where they live. So they photocopy, borrow, or just go without.

Several exciting projects are trying to change that by delivering books to people’s phones, or by making e-readers cheap. For instance, over 200 000 young people use Siyavula’s Mxit portal to revise science and maths. Tens of thousands read fiction from FunDza, also on Mxit. Non-profit Worldreader has been giving out Kindles to rural school children for years, and now distributes books for free to their mobile phones in several African and Asian countries (most recently three South African schools have benefitted from this program – for more information see www.sabooksellers.com).

But while they are successfully equipping hundreds of children with basic e-reading devices, the problem they’re tackling is much bigger than that. The e-book ecosystem is intricate, and expensive: it has to include devices, data, electricity, know-how, support, and most crucially of all, a way to pay for books that doesn’t involve a credit card. If there’s no good business model, sustainability becomes a problem, as charity can only go so far. So as it stands, they’re not going to reach enough people before an entire generation grows up without books, again.

At Paperight, we’re putting e-books back on paper, because for most people, paper is just easier and cheaper. We do this by setting up regular photocopy shops with the necessary technology and connections to print them out quickly and legally.
Most print-booksellers know well that paper is special, and that in the mad rush to digital there’s a terrible irony: while they democratise publishing, e-books also widen the gap between those with Internet access and those without. That gap in turn becomes a widening education gap, an economic gap, and a healthcare gap. How bad is that problem here? According to our recent census, over 65% of South Africans don’t have any Internet access at all.

How do we get books to people with no Internet access? Print-based booksellers do what they can, but the costs of stocking bricks-and-mortar bookstores are so high that they simply can’t survive in poorer areas.

What we do have everywhere already, though, are copy-printers. Most of them are connected to a computer, which is connected to the Internet. Why not print books out there? Most of us are within a short walk of this rudimentary book-making machine – and for most students, a rudimentary book is just fine, if they can get it right now at a good price. Imagine selling a range of books that require no shelving, no stock, no wastage, no returns, and no up-front purchases.

If your store already has a good copy-printer and broadband Internet, the only costs of selling print-on-demand books are printing, ring-binding, and Paperight’s licence fee. For example, let’s say a customer wants a 300-page set work novel. How do the numbers work?
On many copier leases, the cost of printing a double-sided A4 sheet, including paper, is about 25 cents. Since a 300-page novel will be printed two-up on A4, it’ll fit on 75 sheets. That’s R18.75. Let’s say the Paperight licence fee is R50 and it costs R5 to ring-bind the book. So your total costs come to just under R75. If you sell the book for R115, you’ve made a 50% mark-up with zero up-front costs. The customer’s probably saved 20%. And the publisher’s earned R40 (Paperight keeps 20% of the R50 licence fee), which is the same gross margin they’d make on their traditional edition. Everyone wins.

So is it working? Since launching in May 2013, over 200 photocopy shops have joined the Paperight network, selling study materials, set works, textbooks, and even romance novels. They are in cities, towns and villages, from Mdantsane to Polokwane, Peddie to Petrus Steyn.

The challenge for copy shops, however, is that they don’t yet know how to sell books. Bookselling is a science on its own, involving clever marketing and savvy staff. So it’s critical that booksellers bring their smarts to the print-on-demand revolution, too. Already Caxton and Juta bookshops have joined Paperight: they now offer over 1700 titles on-demand, printed on their existing office copy-printers as needed. If print-on-demand is the future of bookselling, they’re setting the trend.

Crucially, publishers are joining in, too. O’Reilly Media, Random House Struik, Pan Macmillan SA and Oxford University Press Southern Africa are among over 80 publishers with books on Paperight. They’re joining because Paperight is a simple way to tackle a complex problem, a model the Parliament of South Africa recently described, when congratulating Paperight officially, as “[An] ingenious solution to widespread book shortages in the developing world”.

Arthur Attwell is the founder and CEO of Paperight, and a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. Before Paperight, he co-founded Electric Book Works, developing and incubating new and better ways to publish in emerging markets.

Bookly: A new platform for reading on Mxit

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that at the end of 2012, there were 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide (compared to 5.4 billion in 2010). That is equivalent to 96 percent of the world population (7.1 billion according to the ITU).
Mobile subscriber rates in the developed world are reaching saturation point, while in developing countries there is still room for growth. This is important because a 2013 study by ComScore (American Internet analytics company) reports that approximately 82 percent of time spent with mobile media happens via apps. Apps (mobile applications) are clearly the future, and South African marketing agency Native knew all about that when they developed Mixit’s new app, Bookly.

In the previous edition of Bookmark we reported that approximately 20% of South Africans now own a smartphone (about 10 million active smartphones, compared to about 30 million smartphones in the UK, and about 1 billion worldwide and the numbers are growing fast). Mobiles went from brick-sized in the Nineties to just bigger than lego-size in the Noughties, but now the reverse is happening. With today’s smartphones, screen size is no longer a barrier to extended reading and that is where the biggest numbers are if we want to tap into mass digital reading. Bookly for example, gives access to books to 7.3 million active monthly users.

Bookly is the most sophisticated e-reader app available on the Mxit platform. Native began development of the app in early 2013, and was eager to bring suitable partners on board as quickly as possible. Publishers Random House Struik and Modjaji Books stepped up, creating an appropriate focus on serialised South African novels.

Native’s Head of Inventions, Levon Rivers, explains how it all works. “Bookly creates a virtual library on a cell phone, allowing users to browse books by name, author or genre. It has all the features of other electronic readers on more advanced devices. It saves your progress after each session, and you can create your own virtual bookshelf of favourite reads.”

While offering a wide variety of books is important, Rivers is adamant that Bookly will appeal to educators more directly by providing access to books that pertain to the school syllabus. “From an education viewpoint, we are starting with the classics and planning to extend to set works and textbooks in the future,” he explains. “The most effective way to address South Africa’s poor literacy rates is to ensure that school children have access to books. Imagine every child had their own library on their phone? Bookly will elevate general reading and literacy rates in South Africa,” says Rivers. “It is the cheapest and most accessible way to get books. We’ve also added a layer of gamification to encourage reading amongst the youth.”

Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books said it was an easy decision supporting the bookly app. “We are thrilled to join Mxit via bookly,” she said. “It’s a new way to read and be read.”

While most people know Mxit as a chat and mobile gaming platform, it now affords users with ordinary feature phones access to a vast library and the opportunity to read books with ease anywhere, at any time – all they need is a cell phone and some airtime. Also, by utilising open source platforms such as Project Gutenberg, the list of available books is growing by the minute.

“We wanted to create an app that could accommodate unlimited reading material,” says Rivers. “At Native we create work that has a meaningful impact on people’s lives and we are very much invested in South Africa’s future. We feel that smart phone functionality shouldn’t be limited to the rich, especially when such technology could influence the lives of millions of people.”

This is also particularly true in a country where e-readers and tablets remain a privilege of the elite few. In this context, Native has found a way for South Africans to access hundreds of books, be the first to sample a novel by an established author and exercise a basic human right – the right to read.

What the Barnes & Noble news is really telling us about the future of digital content, www.digitalbookworld.com

Visit our Social Networks


Member Login
Reset Login
Contact the SA Booksellers office to advertise in this space
Subscribe to our newsletter