In February, Arthur Atwell's Paperight was recognized at the Tools of Change conference as the "most entrepreneurial" among a set of ten finalists in the event's "Startup Showcase" competition. Paperight works with publishers to secure rights to print books from digital files at remote copy-shop locations throughout South Africa.
In "Why I publish eBooks on paper for South Africans", a recent post that appeared at Publishing Perspectives, Atwell explained the thinking behind Paperight:
The irony of the digital revolution is this: as it democratizes publishing, it widens the gap between those with Internet access and those without… That gap in turn will translate into an education gap, an economic gap, and a healthcare gap.
As is the case in many markets, South Africa lacks a robust way to sell print books at retail, so Paperight set about acquiring rights and selling books where they'd never been made available before. By focusing on a single problem – "how do we get books to people with no Internet access?" – Atwell came up with a solution that capitalized on an existing network of copyshops that are able to print a book in minutes.
At least two things about the Paperight solution stand out for me: their resource-driven use of available infrastructure to make "distribute, then print" a reality; and their ability to leverage the promise of an untapped market to get publishers to license their books.
After Tools of Change, Paperight was recognized by South Africa's parliament as an "ingenious solution to widespread book shortages in the developing world." Although much of the publishing conversation in the United States does focus on digital, international markets offer both opportunities and extended life in both established (print) and emerging formats. I wouldn't be surprised to see Paperight's model grow well beyond its base in South Africa.