There is a vast array of ideas to improve literacy and access to books in Africa. Paperight has been one of the most interesting that I have come across in the three decades I have been involved in literature and publishing on the continent. Sadly, Paperight founder Arthur Attwell had to pull the plug at the end of 2014. Here is the post in which he gives his reasons. Let’s hope that this is not the end of the project, but rather a time out and that we will see a similar, invigourated initiative in the not too distant future. We need it!

arthur-attwell-u3a-greyton_2014050112-1024x576Six 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.

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.

There are many reasons for that, some we’ll never fully understand. In the months to come I’ll be writing and talking openly about the lessons we learned, in the hope that 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.

Some housekeeping: we’ve begun contacting partner outlets and publishers to finalise accounts. If you want to check in, mail team@paperight.com. The paperight.com service will work till the end of December 2014.

Many people joined me on this journey, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. In particular, my team at Paperight, the magicians at Realm Digital, the champions who funded our early pilots, my endlessly patient and supportive wife Michelle, and the incredible individuals at the Shuttleworth Foundation, whose generosity opened the road.

I remain dedicated to reimagining publishing for emerging markets. I’ll be focusing on Bettercare, my open-access healthcare publishing, and nurturing the Book Dash children’s 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.

Keep in touch: there is still much we can all do to put every book within walking distance of every home.