Category Archives: Finance, grants and awards

Innovation Prize for Africa submission

We entered for the Innovation Award for Africa. This was our submission.

Innovation description

Everyone needs books to learn, imagine and explore. But in most of Africa, bookshops and libraries are rare and often poorly resourced. Most projects today are focusing on ebooks and mobile devices to solve this problem, but sadly, the ecosystems required to support these devices – and that includes the cost of devices, internet access, and electricity – mean that for most people, ebooks are many years away.

Paperight solves this problem today. Already, in every city and town in Africa, countless copy shops produce printed material for their communities. We empower those same copy shops to use Paperight’s online library to legally print out and sell books. Paperight instantly turns copy shops, schools, churches, and NGOs into print-on-demand bookstores.

Paperight acts as an instant rights marketplace where registered outlets can purchase licenses to print out books, quickly and easily, from a pre-paid account. This fee pays the publisher. The customer pays the copy shop one price, which includes the license fee and the copy shop’s printing cost.

A Paperight edition of a book is usually around 20% cheaper than a traditional print copy. So, Paperight helps to make books more accessible to customers, while also boosting the business of small entrepreneurs and publishing houses.

Most importantly, they are easier to find. Outside of wealthy suburbs, readers must travel long distances to bookshops to find books – and then those books may not even be in stock. With Paperight, any business could be a bookstore, only a short walk from home.

Level of advancement

Paperight is well into its start-up phase, and entering market phase. Early research and prototypes have been built and tested since 2009, and in May 2012 we launched our fully operative site. Within our first year we signed up over 200 outlets around South Africa, and have made our first revenue.

We are now looking to grow South African usage and then expand into other African countries.

In early 2012, Paperight (Pty) Ltd became a registered company based in South Africa. It is owned by Arthur Attwell (70%) and SF Isle of Man (the Shuttleworth Foundation, a Non-Profit Organisation, 30%).

How our innovation meets the IPA requirements

  • Paperight enables other entrepreneurs to grow their businesses (by acting as bookstores copy shops increase printing turnover; and authors and publishers can reach new readers). These entrepreneurs and business owners can be reached through franchise associations, franchise head offices, copier dealers and paper suppliers, and they can be identified in standard consumer-facing directories. We provide promotional material to these copy shops to attract customers.
  • More importantly, as soon as a consumer hears that their books and other documents can be easily acquired from any copy-shop business, the consumers themselves become our ambassadors.
  • Paperight is also making revenue, and is actively building a business model around offerings its platform to institutions to replace postage with Paperight: where end-users collect documents from their nearest Paperight outlet rather than relying on the post to receive those documents (e.g. a distance-learning student could get customised study materials this way, rather than relying on the post).
  • Paperight is the first instant-delivery rights-marketplace like this for books. Similar concepts have been tried by specific companies in other sectors (NewspaperDirect for newspapers, and National Geographic Map Machine for US tourism agents), but these focus on wealthy markets. Paperight meets a need for affordable, offline content on a continent where most people still struggle to find or afford Internet access, data and electricity.
  • We also believe wholeheartedly in the value of openness: transparency and sharing is built into our team’s DNA. This openness many benefits: we waste no resources trying to keep secrets; we are forced to confront our failures bravely; and others share with us and trust us.

Since any organisation can register for free to use Paperight anywhere – copy shops, churches, schools, NGOs, Internet cafes and more – the system is massively scalable. From the ground up it is built to work in any country in any currency.

Social Impact
  • As a social enterprise, Paperight Creates entrepreneurial opportunities for printing businesses and local authors, increases revenue and growth opportunities for existing businesses, increases access to educational material and boosts literacy, increases access to legal and healthcare information, provides a legal and affordable alternative to photocopy piracy, and reduces the carbon footprint associated with shipping books.
  • The Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology uncovers and celebrates new writing talent in South Africa’s high schools in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Afrikaans.

  • Our adopt a school campaign has also facilitated a number of sponsorships and partnerships between schools and Paperight outlets, allowing entire matric classes to affordably or freely get hold of Paperight exam packs and other educational resources on our system. These partnerships resulted in increased turnover for the copy shop entrepreneurs, and increased and more affordable access to matric learning resources for struggling schools.

Utility/technical aspects
  • The Paperight system protects publishers by offering copy shops a practical, legal alternative to piracy, while making books accessible to anyone with any printer and a basic Internet connection. No special hardware or skills are required.
  • has been designed to be fast and easy to use, so that it’s simpler than photocopying books manually. The site is built using only open-source software libraries.

Paperight’s primary users

Target market segment
  • Paperight’s primary users are copy shops in low-income areas in Africa, who can then offer a valuable bookselling service within their local communities. Copy shops are ubiquitous in Africa: existing in nearly every town and village. Imagine we turned every one of them into a bookstore. Our service caters for everyone; and the more economically distressed and remote the community, the more they benefit from Paperight.
  • Paperight’s clients include several publishing companies and over 200 outlets, most of which are copy shops in South Africa (see The publishers among these include Oxford University Press, Random House Struik, Jacana Media, and Modjaji Books.
  • We began Paperight because most people in the world – perhaps six or seven billion – cannot afford to buy books. Many South Africans live their entire lives without owning a book. We founded Paperight specifically to address that problem, with the vision of bringing every book within walking distance of every home.
  • Paperight has been built to scale. This means that it works in any country, and with any currency. In order for Paperight to have real efficacy around the world, however, we felt that we needed to build a strong foundation. We decided to focus on South Africa, creating a solid base from which to work. Outlets in the Paperight network stretch over the whole of South Africa, with loci around Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal, and Gauteng.
  • We have been endorsed by Parliament and our footprint in South Africa is growing rapidly. We have plans to also focus on other areas in the future including Kenya and Ghana.

Why our project is innovative and might lead to breakthroughs

  • Paperight is the first instant-delivery rights-marketplace for books. On a continent where access to information – and books in particular – is severely lacking, Paperight revolutionises the way books can be traded. This is especially important in places where Internet access, data, and electricity are expensive or hard to come by.
  • Traditionally, publishers and copy shops have been mutually distrusting. Paperight allows them to work together, in a simple manner, with a single purpose, for the first time. Never before have copy shops and publishers been able to enter into a legal licence agreement at the click of a button.
  • The potential impact is immense. By turning copy shops into book shops, we’re making books available and affordable in places they’ve never been before, boosting literacy and education, and powering entrepreneurial printing businesses.
  • Within a year of launching in 2012, over 200 copy shops and bookstores joined our network as outlets. And over 100 publishers from around the world are distributing books with us, including leading US firm O’Reilly Media, and the South African branches of Pearson, Oxford University Press, Pan Macmillan, and Random House Struik.
  • Our member outlets have delivered thousands of books, many in places where no bookstores exist, like Peddie in the rural Eastern Cape, and the CBDs of Khayelitsha. It is difficult to gauge how many jobs these Paperight outlet sign-ups have created directly, although we have had a number of entrepreneurs base their businesses fully or partially on Paperight’s services. We will soon spend time on completing a full quantitative survey on the jobs created by Paperight in our outlets.
  • Our model has been built with the view in mind of being able to expand its services in the future to ticket sales, 3D printing and similar initiatives.

Long term effects/impacts of your innovation on the primary users

  • Boosting literacy and education by making books genuinely accessible
  • Creating simple and low cost entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals.
  • Boosting existing printing and publishing businesses, while still earning the same licence fees.
  • Reducing the environmental impact of transporting, shipping books and documents, and the wastage caused by unnecessary printing and returns.
  • Saving the costs of travel and risk of stock shortages.
  • Bringing the world of books to anyone’s doorstep: rich or poor, rural or urban.
  • Selling print-outs which are on average cheaper than traditional books.
  • Reducing delays in textbook and student material delivery.
  • Protecting the publishers, individuals by reducing illegal copying.
  • Increasing business opportunities for existing copy shops throughout Southern Africa.
  • Promoting past matric exam papers and additional study material to students.
  • Sustaining the marketplace for publishers and authors.
  • Opening the market to international copy shops and book stores.
  • Assisting educational institutions and distance learners in South Africa and internationally to receive study material.

Collaboration partnerships and ownership

  • Paperight (Pty) Ltd: Independent company registered in South Africa.
  • The Shuttleworth Foundation: Currently funds the development of Paperight through Arthur Attwell’s Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship.
  • Electric Book Works (Pty) Ltd: Paperight began as a project of EBW’s. EBW is a digital-publishing consultancy founded and owned by Arthur Attwell.
  • Realm Digital: A software development company contracted by Paperight to build much of the Paperight software.
  • Paperight (Pty) Ltd is owned by Arthur Attwell (70%) and SF Isle of Man (30%), the Shuttleworth Foundation is the primary funding entity.

Paperight sites:

A selection of articles about Paperight:

Video links

Link to relevant photos