Innovative startup gets around problem of cheap pirated copies
Reproduced with permission from IP Watch, 17 March edition
By Linda Daniels
An innovative South African startup is offering local university students a way around buying cheap pirated books with a legal print-on-demand service that slashes the price of expensive academic textbooks.
Paperight turns copy shops – usually a thorn in publishers’ sides due to illegal copies of books being printed on site – into legal print-on-demand bookstores.
Paperight lets publishers earn licence fees from legal print-outs of their books, cutting out distribution and printing costs, resulting in a cheaper book. A customer pays the copy shop for their print-out, and the outlet uses Paperight to pay the publisher.
By registering with Paperight for free, copy shops anywhere in the world have access to an online library from which they can legally print out books, magazines and other documents for their customers.
Paperight founder Arthur Attwell explained in an interview that the business is focused on South African university students who often cannot afford the academic textbooks needed to study.
Attwell, who is a former textbook publisher, said that publishers have over the years been desperately trying to recoup their losses due to illegal photocopying of books. He said that the average price increase for academic textbooks in 2011-2012 was over 14 percent “because second-hand books sales and photocopying have reduced the cost of books.”
“My vision for the next five years is that a student arrives at a university during orientation week and by the time they have left the registration hall, the book orders must be at the campus copy shop so the next morning or that afternoon the student walks down and picks up the textbook,” he said.
“Why do students get a place to live if they are in residence, food, access to the library, teaching tutorials and extramurals, but they have to buy their own textbooks?” he asked. “You get everything except the thing you need for learning … the one thing that will make up for missing lectures or a bad teacher.”
“Logic would suggest that at some point universities would have to start providing textbooks for students, but in a traditional supply chain you will have to predict what students are going to register for so you can order in time for the books to be there,” said Attwell. “Now we don’t need prediction anymore, now with print-on-demand you can just wait for the student to register. In theory, e-books are the same but e-books have all those overheads. And at the moment students prefer a printed document.”
Paperight have convinced 150 publishers to agree to licence some of their publications to copy shops, and 200 copy shops are described by Attwell as “active copy shops”.
The pickup of paperight stores beyond the borders of South Africa has not materialised in a significant way. There is one copy shop in Botswana and another in Ghana and it is unclear if it is still registered.
Attwell has over the years been actively engaging with publishers to sign up with Paperight and allow copy shops to legally print their books. But it’s been slow progress and Attwell attributes their reluctance to the “emotional anxiety” of allowing copy shops to print their books, when traditionally copy shops have been the main cause of pirated books.
“Oftentimes I think maybe South Africa is the wrong place to be building this,” he said, as “it’s over-regulated, [and] it’s very, very conservative.”
“One of the big challenges we have is that everyone is a little obsessed with digital right now and I never have enough time in any one meeting to explain to people why it’s a bit of a myth that digital will solve your problems,” he said. “There’s a lot of wishful thinking around mobile – otherwise people wouldn’t be photocopying.”
In conclusion, he said, “We’re a deeply unsexy product, running a photocopy business, but it’s also nice to solve real problems.”