Print-Your-Own Book May Be the Answer for Emerging Markets

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

By Kassia Krozser,

As publishing great and small struggles to see into the future—will it be ebooks? Will mobile phones or the mythical Apple Table save publishing? How are we going to put all these pieces together? Discussions of the implications of the Google Book Settlement make for intellectual fodder, but out there in the real world, people are solving practical publishing problems.

The Paperight Project

At Tuesday’s O’Reilly Media “Tools of Change for Publishing” conference one application in stood out: Arthur Atwell, of Cape Town-based Electric Book Works (, introduced a project called Paperight (

The goal of Paperight, said Atwell, is to “turn anyone with a computer, printer and internet connection into a book shop.”
The digital publishing infrastructure is being established in fits and starts. While some of us agonize over Amazon and worry about the future of e-readers, we lose sight of the fact that many around the world are dealing with entirely issues of distribution: how to bring books to locations where bookstores do not exist. How to meet the needs of local consumers when the existing infrastructure is lacking. How to bring the right books to the right readers—Atwell noted that leisure reading is trumped by educational and business reading in the communities he works with in South Africa.

Lack of Infrastructure

Atwell also pointed out that it’s very easy to sell South African books in the international marketplace, but local distribution remains problematic. The infrastructure simply isn’t there.

So, instead, Atwell’s project leverages existing infrastructure, i.e. the local copy shop, to create a book delivery ecosystem. Books are transmitted digitally to local copy shops where readers can purchase printed copies on the spot. Whole books, partial books, pieces that meet specific needs. The stores where the commerce takes place are already in the communities they serve, they already have the machines in place to print books. Cost savings are realized throughout the supply chain. And people who want and need access to books are able to legally purchase what they require.

He noted at the beginning of his talk, “Applying Publishing Technology in Low-Income Economies”, that his observations are based exclusively on his experiences in South Africa. One item of note is that most publishers do not live in developing countries, and that devices like e-Ink readers cannot be expected to catch on outside of wealthy first world readers. Accordingly, the future of publishing includes digital, but that doesn’t necessarily mean e-books.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.