Cape Town publishing startup Paperight to close

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Cape Town-based publishing startup Paperight, which has won a host of international awards and is funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, is to close this month after failing to find a viable business model.

Launched in 2008, Paperight provides a library of books that could be downloaded and printed at any copyshop affiliated to the company, seeking to lower the cost of access to books in South Africa.

Arthur Attwell, Paperight’s founder and chief executive officer (CEO), said in a blog post the company simply had not been able to sell enough books to make it viable.

“Six years ago, I began work on an experiment: if there are copy shops in every corner of the world, what if they could legally, easily print out books for their customers? We could put every book within walking distance of every home,” Attwell said.

“I still believe in that idea, but I’m sad that we couldn’t make it viable at scale. This month, we’re closing Paperight. Our particular implementation hasn’t worked out: we just couldn’t sell enough books to keep our doors open.”

He said he would spend the next few months writing and talking openly about the failure in the hope others will keep working on distributed print-on-demand.

“We’ve kept an open archive of our team’s plans and discoveries, as our team’s internal story. And if you’d like to run your own Paperight-like website, the code’s all open on GitHub,” he said.

Paperight has started contacting partner outlets and publishers to finalise accounts, with the service set to remain live until the end of the month.

Attwell paid tribute to the many people who assisted in Paperight’s journey, incuding his team, early funders, and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

“I remain dedicated to reimagining publishing for emerging markets,” Attwell said.

“I’ll be focusing on Bettercare, my open-access healthcare publishing, and nurturing the Book Dash childrens’ book initiative. And my former team are finding new homes in innovative ventures around South Africa and beyond. We’ll bring to them everything we learned at Paperight,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent’s most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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