After five years running EBW, an ebook consultancy, I’m often asked: why am I investing my time in Paperight, a business focused on printing out books on photocopiers? Surely mobile Internet – and ebooks generally – are making paper reading redundant?
Sure they are, for people with web-capable phones, reliable electricity, and the money for data. Where there really is 3G coverage. Who aren’t trying to learn architecture or mechanical engineering on a 3-inch screen.
It’s possible, even likely, that that will never be everyone.
Ebooks and mobile are a big part of Africa’s future. But after five years working on the solutions of the future, I really wanted to work on a solution that works for everyone today. And the humble copy shop is one helluva tool.
In fact, I believe copy shops are the bookshops of the future, they just don’t look like that yet. Right now they’re kind of bare and clinical. Their machinery prints mostly in greyscale, and most offer ring-binding at best. But that will change. Every product gets better over time. Today, the grand Espresso Book Machine sets a catalogue-and-quality benchmark (in markets that will pay for litho-like quality) that eventually most copy shops will match using any company’s printers, and a content feed from a service like Paperight.
And this ecosystem is, technically speaking, just an extension of the ebook infrastructure I’ve been working with. Except it’s simpler. And cheaper to use. And works almost anywhere, today.
That isn’t to say mobile isn’t important at Paperight. On every page of every Paperight document, there’s a URL shortcode. Readers can visit that address on their mobile phones to meet other Paperight readers, and get more value online.
The answers to Africa’s access-to-info challenge lie in integrating every possible distribution method, and empowering small businesses – like photocopy shops – to do the last-mile groundwork of reaching people everywhere.