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The rebirth of the photocopy shop

Digital distribution start-up Paperight is bringing books to under-resourced areas in Africa through a forgotten resource – the photocopy shop.

Founder Arthur Attwell describes Paperight as a “rights clearing house”.

“We negotiate printing rights with copyright owners and offer a payment mechanism that allows any copy shop, NGO, school or library with a printer/copier to distribute legal copies of books.”

Realmdigital, a developer of large-scale content distribution platforms, partnered with Paperight to develop a Web-based system that hosts a library of textbooks, study material, fiction and other content.

The first version of the site went live in May and was developed in just two months. “We've tried to make it as easy to use as possible for everyone involved,” says Murray Gough, Paperight's account manager at Realmdigital. “Printers can buy prepaid Paperight credits, then search for and download books for their customers on request."

Co-operation from publishers

One would expect authors and publishers to be reluctant to waiver their copyrights, but according to Attwell, most were keen to support the project. “Creative publishers and authors are always looking for ways to reach new markets, and our model allows them to make sales in places where no bookshops exist, and online retail doesn't reach,” he says.

Publishers have total control over their earnings, as they set the fee the printing outlet will pay to print the book. “We also share more sales data with publishers than many other retailers do, to keep publishers fully informed about how the system is working for them,” Attwell adds.

To protect publishers from illegal copying, each book is watermarked with the name of the buyer and the print shop, with a unique URL for a Web site where readers can find additional content.

Going green

So what do environmentalists have to say about all this extra printing? Attwell asserts that the project has received no criticism at all. “Our approach is much greener than traditional books and possibly greener than e-books.”

As they only photocopy what is needed, this cuts out any unnecessary printing, which is common among traditional publishers. The use of photocopy shops also lowers the carbon emissions involved in transporting the books around the globe.

“The carbon footprint of e-books is a matter of debate, mostly around the environmental impact of producing and retiring tablets and e-readers. There is very little data on this at this stage. As the data emerges and we gather our own data, we'll watch this closely to see how we compare,” Attwell says.

The company's ethos is pro-book-sharing, and Paperight is working on a campaign to encourage readers to recycle the books once they no longer need them.

Future plans

Although Paperight has no plans to develop an app until it knows more about how people are using its service, it is planning a mobile Web site for consumers to find books and their nearest outlet.

“I've worked in digital for five years and I truly believe it is the future. But I've concluded that we need a solution that works for everyone today. Paperight is that solution,” Attwell concludes.


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