Creating new indie booksellers: the Paperight model
In many parts of the world, readers may find themselves a long way from a bookshop – and even further from a bookshop carrying a large range of titles. This is especially the case in Africa, the continent in which Paperight – the subject of this post – is based.
Book distribution in Africa has long been a concern (see, for example, Charles Larson’s study, The ordeal of the African writer (Zed Books). A doctor or a nurse may want to learn more about a particular treatment: there may be a book that could provide the necessary information and guidance – yet there may be no realistic way of matching them up.
This is where Paperight’s model comes in. Say you already run a business using an internet connection and a printer. You may, for example, be a stationery or print shop. Suppose you could – legally – download and print a book for your customers on request. That way, you could add on-demand bookselling to the range of services you offer.
Paperight’s business model is designed to turn that idea into a reality. Publishers provide Paperight with content in the form of e-book files, in return for a royalty on sales. Outlets of the type discussed above can buy from Paperight a license to print books as required (they do so by buying credits, as one does with mobile phone providers).
Paperight encourages publishers to set the price of each licence at a fraction of the retail price. The price of a license to print a heath care text may be set at, say, US $1 or less. (That is how we price licenses for our ‘53 interesting ways to teach‘ titles for those territories, including Africa, for which we own the rights.)
The social benefits of this model are clear. It offers a cost-effective way to disseminate knowledge. One can see why The Shuttleworth Foundation, which supports innovative social investment models, decided to provide funding.
What’s in it for publishers? Probably, only very small amounts of money. But then the marginal cost of license sales is virtually zero: the publishers just need to sign an agreement with Paperight and send the e-book files.
The risk of cannibalising sales at a higher price is in most cases minimal. Indeed, Paperight’s service may be more likely, by providing a low-cost legal alternative, to displace piracy. And authors may be pleased to hear that their works are reaching new audiences.