Paperight: TOC Startup Showcase Finalist

Why haven’t copy shops been able to legally print books for years?

We wanted to give our readers a chance to get to know our TOC Startup Showcase Finalists a little bit better before the big showdown in NYC. Since the three winners of the showcase will be presented on Valentine’s Day, and as the showcase itself is not unlike a startup speed dating session, we decided to stick with the matchmaking theme and asked each of our finalists to complete a personality profile. We’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks in the countdown to TOC NYC.

Our first profile is from Paperight founder and CEO, Arthur Attwell.

I’m really good at … 

The Paperight Crew

The Paperight Crew

Building a network of independent print-on-demand bookstores out of ordinary copy-shops. African countries have very few bookstores, and ebooks are spreading slowly. But copy shops are ubiquitous.

Copy shops sign up on (free and quick), and can then legally purchase and sell print-outs of books. The publisher keeps 80% of their rights fee.

We have over 200 registered outlets in South Africa, and a few abroad, since launching in May 2012. We’re already paying rights earnings to publishers.

What is the first thing that people notice about you?

We’re a simple, low-tech solution that, once you see it, seems blindingly obvious. Why haven’t copy shops been able to legally print out books for years already?

The three things your friends say you are…

Open: Any business large or small (even an individual working from home) can register and start selling immediately. And we’re entirely open-source.

Committed to social change: We’re a for-profit social enterprise that makes books genuinely accessible, and empowers entrepreneurs to grow printing businesses.

Tenacious: Our dogged determination keeps us focused on the prize – cheap, accessible books for all – and responsive to our users’ needs.

What are your three BEST life skills?

Opening new markets: Traditional print distribution is too costly for new bookstores to grow, and ebook revenue is still low in Africa. The industry has to find new readers, and Paperight can reach them.

An honest alternative to piracy: Publishers will never stop photocopying by blunt force. Paperight is a better way. Our copy-shop managers want to run honest businesses, and are excited to have a viable, legal alternative to illegal photocopying.

Real sales data: We share far more transaction data with publishers than most distributors. Publishers can also add a trackable URL to their books’ watermarks (e.g. pointing to a mobile-optimised value add), providing samples of reader data and enabling feedback.

What are you most passionate about?

Conventional print distribution is too costly to grow; and it’s a myth that ebooks will become accessible to all any time soon. (Even in well-off South Africa, only 35% of people have any Internet access, mobile or otherwise.)

Our vision is to put every book within walking distance of every home. Our industry can only do this if we get the world’s countless little book factories – copy-printers – churning out books on every street corner.

What is the one thing that people don’t notice about you right away that you wish they would?

Paperight can seem regressive at first: why sell paper in an age of ebooks? Actually, Paperight evolved from years of experience with ebooks at Electric Book Works. Ebooks are not spreading as fast as we like to believe, because data and device costs are too high for most people in Africa.

While researching existing POD solutions (like Lightning Source and the Espresso Book Machine), I realised that any copier business could run its own instant book machine. I’d just have to automate the licensing on a simple website, using existing ebook best-practices.

Your best (and most sincere) VC pickup line reduced to the length of a tweet…

Paperight is a movement of POD bookstores that sell books in places the industry has never reached before—simply, cheaply, and effectively.

Complete this phrase: Valentine’s Day is for _______________.

… loving your local copy shop. They’re rarely pretty, but they have great inner beauty.

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