South Africa’s Paperight Finds a New Approach to Publishing: On-Demand Printing

By Cornelius Fortune AFKI Original Published: January 23, 2014, 9:47 am

If you look close enough, you’ll see a special relationship being forged between paper and digital, however subtle. It’s symbiotic and constantly changing. On the surface, it would seem that the move towards a paperless society will eventually make printing seem, well, redundant at best. Why print when mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can give instant access to books, magazines and newspapers?

Here’s the good news: print is very much alive. But the transmission and distribution methods are evolving. Take Paperight, for example. Arthur Attwell, CEO and founder, has a nose for print innovation of a different sort.

With Paperight, if your business has a printer and an Internet connection, you can start printing books, magazines, or documents for your clients. Students, especially, can benefit from the savings (sometimes up to 40 percent, according to Attwell). And publishers can still make a profit by earning a license fee for the printing of their books.

A Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow — a foundation that offers fellowships for those interested in developing innovative ideas for social change — Attwell started Paperight in 2009. He has more than a decade of experience in publishing as a writer, editor, publisher and director. He’s also the co-founder of Electric Book Works, which according to his LinkedIn page, “develops and incubates new and better ways to publish in emerging markets.”

Named one of the most innovative companies in South Africa by the Accenture Innovation Index in South Africa, and a recent first-place winner of the Contec Startup Showcase in Germany, the Paperight concept is gaining worldwide respect.

Attwell took some time out with AFKInsider to discuss the printing world and how South Africa can benefit from these new and innovative strategies.

AFKInsider: You grew up in South Africa. What was that experience like? In what ways did it prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

Arthur Attwell: I was lucky that – unlike many young white South Africans – my parents made sure I knew what was going on: we were living a safe and privileged life compared to most South Africans, and we all had to work hard to fix it. White guilt is often unfairly maligned; it’s one of the most powerful forces for good in South Africa, and I’m very happy to say that I work hard at building businesses with positive social outcomes because I owe it to my fellow South Africans.

AFKInsider: Where did you get the idea for Paperight?

Arthur Attwell: I was a textbook publisher for many years, and it depressed and frustrated me that something as important as a book was absurdly expensive only because it was inefficiently produced and clumsily distributed. In my first company, Electric Book Works, I tried to tackle these problems with technology and ebooks. We could make ebooks cheaply, but we couldn’t distribute them, because very few South Africans are in a financial position to buy and read ebooks — they need devices, data, electricity, credit cards, and know-how.

During a research project in 2008, I was looking for cheaper ways to print books, and as I looked for smaller, local book printers, it became blindingly obvious: copy shops are the most ubiquitous book printers around. We just need them to print out the ebooks on demand.  There is nothing magical about the idea, I’m no genius. I’m just the guy who decided it was worth trying, and found great partners to help.

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