Arthur Attwell

Delivering wide-reaching access to reading materials

“Come and work with us! We're nice and we're doing important work that makes the world a better place.”

The Big Idea

Access to books is the key to successful reading development, a high-quality education, and knowledge of the world around you. But if you live in one of the many remote towns and villages in South Africa, bookshops and libraries are a thing of rarity. There are, however, plenty of copy shops.

Arthur spent his Fellowship between 2011-14 working on Paperight, a rights clearance house for literary and educational works that enabled on-demand book printing in copy shops and any other location with a printer. His experiment aimed to make books available within walking distance of every home in South Africa, widening access to reading in remote, underserved areas.

Why We Funded

Highlights and outcomes:

We supported Arthur because access to books is essential for both formal and informal learning. This was a beautifully simple idea that could substantially increase access to reading materials to people who might have to travel hours to the nearest bookshop, and also give an entrepreneurial opportunity to copy shop owners to become book sellers in their own right.

Paperight showed enormous promise to deliver social change, but digital access was not yet universal and endured some of the same challenges faced by print, specifically around distribution and legal access. Arthur and his team enjoyed plenty of successes, but ultimately, struggled to persuade publishers to grant licenses for books that would actually sell. Paperight closed its doors for the last time in 2014.

While his three-year Fellowship did not result in a viable business model for Paperight, Arthur introduced new and important thinking and conversations in the publishing industry. Most importantly, he is still driving the change he saw was needed in 2011 with his current ventures. Today, Arthur heads innovative publishing companies Electric Book Works, Better Care and Book Dash, and offers his invaluable experiences to fellows as a Shuttleworth Alumni.

Arthur on lasting impact:

“Even though things didn’t work out, it was an opportunity to learn in ways that you just don’t get anywhere else. The real fruits of the fellowship are still happening now, long after the project finished.

“So many of the lessons have been used in other businesses I started. A lot of technical and strategic learning from Paperight goes into what we do now - and we’re still putting good things into the world.”

Flash Grants

Isaac Sesi
Bridget McNulty
Daniella Moosajie
Emma Dicks
Mixo Ngoveni
Robyn Farah
Regina Kgatle
Greg Kempe
Hugh McGuire
Deb van Dyke
Matthew Brown