Readersforum's Blog

March 4, 2013

The Future For Bookshops Is To Pave The Cowpaths

arthur-attwell_toc_disruptive-innovations_20130211-paperight-charts2By Suw Charman-Anderson

Paperight, a South African start-up, could be clearing a path for bookshops internationally to expand their reach without having to open new bricks-and-mortar stores. The Shuttleworth-funded operation acts as a facilitator for publishers in South Africa to get their books printed, on demand, in copy shops, which are ubiquitous and more accessible than bookshops.

Founder and CEO Arthur Attwell, explains Paperight’s background:

South Africa is like two different countries: about 2 million wealthy people who support the publishing industry (excluding schools publishing, where the state is the largest client by far), and about 48 million people who could never afford an ereader, don’t have credit cards to buy things online, or can’t afford to physically travel to a bookstore. So to make it possible for most people to read books, we need to totally rethink how we sell books. And that’s going to take some disruptive innovations.

So instead of trying to get more South Africans online or using ereaders, Attwell saw that it was cheaper and easier to improve access to printed books. Copy shops were already being used to photocopy books illegally, so it was clear that there was already demand for such a service. Attwell told Ventureburn:

African countries have very few bookstores and ebooks are spreading very slowly. Photocopy shops, however, are everywhere, and in most places in Africa, they provide an important social function by photocopying books that people need, but can’t find or can’t afford to buy. Paperight was started to help legalise that process.

Publishers have embraced the idea, writes Kevin Anderson* on Knowledge Bridge:

Before Paperight, publishers would see the copy shop activity as piracy and lost sales. Paperight delivered a way for them to convert illegal activity into legal sales. With this compelling case, Paperight has already signed up 40 publishers and offers 1400 titles, including text books, study materials, literary classics, magazines and even sheet music. The start-up first approached copy shop chains to grow their distribution network as quickly as possible. The barrier to become a Paperight outlet is low. Copy shops only need to go to and register their shop. Paperight is now available in 145 outlets in South Africa.

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