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.


5 Responses to “Creating new indie booksellers: the Paperight model”

  1. In my naivete, I was shocked recently to read of the difficulty of obtaining books in Africa. Indeed Paperight seems like a wonderful distribution model. Socially beneficial although not a revenue generator.

    • Thanks for the article, Anthony. It’s wonderful to see word about Paperight getting around outside of our home continent. I really enjoyed what I saw of your books while I was laying them up onto our “e-book” template, and it’s great to be able to see them on our site.

      Kristine, if you are at all interested, you may want to read an article that appeared in one of South Africa’s biggest weekly papers about an entrepreneur who uses Paperight in a very rural and poor part of South Africa: It might give you an idea of the scale of the problem, but also about how, while publishers might not always attract huge royalties from print-on-demand, the potential for revenue generation for both publishers and especially entrepreneurs who use Paperight is surprisingly high (in South African terms, at least).

    • Thanks, Nick. I suppose I could have guessed that the general population in Africa has access problems — the shocking thing for me was that academics there also often cannot access needed materials. I can see how entrepreneurs could be tremendously successful with initiatives like Paperight.

    • Interesting. When I taught a unit about entrepreneurship at Anglia Ruskin’s Publishing Studies course earlier this year, I gave Paperight as a god example of enterprise with clear social benefits.

  2. […] 12 July 2012: One of our champion publishers in the UK, Anthony Haynes, blogged about Paperight again. […]

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