The Modern Print Shop
In the days before publishers the Print Shop played the same role as a publisher. Authors brought books to printers and they worked together to produce the book. Printers often used their own product as capital investment in the author. Hence the slow evolution to the publishing industry.
Today copy shops have more book producing technology than the old school print shop and they are used in the same way. People from all sectors of society (students being an obvious example) go to Copyshops to make books by either photocopying paper books or printing out a book from a digital version (these are becoming much more common now books are becoming electronic). Ironically while the print shop gave birth to the publishing industry, publishers now condemn the activities of their modern ancestors. Allowing books to be made this way is participating in copyright theft in their (and the laws) eyes. Better to stop it than encourage it. In a slow historical turn around Publishers are biting the hand that once fed them.
Enter Arthur Attwell and Paperight. In their own words Paperight “Turns anyone with any printer into a print-on-demand bookstore”. Paperight has had a close look at each part of this defacto component of the publishing industry and worked out an ecology to meet the needs of each player – publisher, copy shop, and buyer. Its a pretty ingenious and extremely practical idea.
The core of the idea lies in making legal copying sensible to all involved. Arthur has been to publishers and argued that photocopiers and printers are an extension of their distribution chain and one they do not currently have a role in. It makes no sense to throw away money trying to stop illegal copying, instead Publishers should provide services and generate revenue streams from these activities. How do they do this? Simple – make PDFs available to copy shops to print at a low price and under a legal license agreement.
These PDFs are formatted by Paperight onto A4 for quick copyshop printing. Customers of Paperight registered Copyshops can buy one of the books and the copyshop downloads the PDF and prints it out. Its legal, quicker and less hassle for copy shops and their customers, and publishers get a return.
The fantastic additional outcome is that Paperight can also offer out-of-copyright and freely licensed books through the same mechanism. Infact Paperight already offers a lot of this content – you can source many out-of-copyright classics from their service already.
On the ideological level Paperight is also arguably a pro-literacy and pro-education strategy since it is bringing works to people who would not otherwise afford the full cover price, cannot not otherwise access the material locally, or cannot afford an electronic reader such as an iPad. Paperight is expanding the channels for book content and getting to places an iPad will never get to in the next 20 years.
One of the questions is – does the publishing industry understand the value of this proposition? The proposal is not just addressed at publishers finding sensible ways to facilitate processes that are currently out of their control. The proposal is a future proofing strategy. Digital books are forcing the prices of books down and it seems pretty well accepted that books will go the same way as music. Either live with decreased sales of material products like CDs or printed books while everyone pirates your content or make it cheap and easy to get this material in a digital form. Publishers, like the music industry, are starting to realise they need to make money from services and a greater number of individual sales at a lower cost per unit to the customer. Make it cheap, legal, and easy is the answer to illegal content sharing.
Additionally there is great value for Publishers that adopt this service early since suing your customers (people that photocopy books) is never a good idea, but getting on their side makes for good PR. Add the pro-literacy argument to the mix and Publishers can make very good positive marketing material from such an alliance.
Paperight is offering exactly the service that could end up being of enormous value to the enlightened publisher. It would not be the only distribution channel – digital books in themselves need to be offered in the same way – but the Paperight approach is a strategy publishers would be wise to explore. However I fear that Paperight might be seen as more an antagonist at the moment than a positive move forward. It might take some time before publishers are forced into more of a crisis than they currently are to fully comprehend the value of a service such as this. Hopefully this is not going to be the case and we will see Paperight and similar strategies flourish quickly.