Let students buy textbooks (legally and cheaply) from licensed copy centres.
This petition had 89 supporters
"Dear publishers, as students with limited funds, we cannot afford your traditional textbooks. We don’t want to go without, and we don’t want to steal by photocopying. Please give us the option of buying them legally and cheaply from Paperight outlets."
There are a million university students in South Africa. Their textbooks are very expensive, because the supply chain for textbooks is bloated: including printing, the supply chain accounts for 70% of the retail price of most paper textbooks.
In theory, ebooks would solve this problem, but ebooks present many challenges of their own, including high setup costs, poor reader software, clumsy DRM, the need to buy with a credit card, and device and data costs. And many students simply prefer paper.
We can shorten the supply chain by replacing traditional retail, printing, shipping, warehousing and wastage with a simple copy-shop print-out. This could save most students up to 40% off their textbook bill – that’s thousands of rands every year per student.
And South Africa is only the beginning.
For example, consider an 800-page crown-format textbook that normally sells for R500. Traditionally:
- The retailer, printer, shipping companies, warehousing, and wastage provisions eat up about R350.
- The traditional supply chain pays the publisher about R150, which covers all their costs and the author’s royalties.
In a copy centre (using Paperight for legal licensing):
- The copy shop pays a licence fee of, say, R200. The publisher earns R160 after Paperight’s 20% commission.
- The copy shop prints out and ring-binds the book, shrunk very slightly and laid out two-up on 200 double-sided sheets, for R120.
- The copy shop charges the student the total, R320, saving them R180 (36%).
Why are these print-outs better? There are never stock shortages, ring-bound books lie flat while studying, and they’re easier to mark up with notes and highlights.
It’s time for a #textbookrevolution: textbooks don’t need a bloated supply chain – they can and should be cheaper.
WHAT ARE SOME REAL STUDENT EXAMPLES?
Yazeed Peters works full-time and is studying part-time through UNISA. He’s studying economics, accounting, customer service and marketing. He needs six textbooks that together cost at least R2240. If they were available from licensed copy centres, he’d pay only R1310, and save R930 – a saving of over 40%.
Tshegofatso Masha is studying first-year civil engineering at UCT. He’ll do twenty courses this year, for which he needs to buy 7 textbooks. In a store, he’d pay about R7175 for these. If they were available from licensed copy centres, he’d pay R5126, saving R2049 – 29%. And that includes the cost of printing out a 1000-page, full-colour, A4 textbook. Plus he’d only have to print the pages he needed from it, saving even more money.
Philippa Dewey is studying final-year law at UCT. The seven books she’s prescribed would cost R4300 normally. From licensed copy centres they would cost her only R2500. She’d save R1800, 42% of her textbook bill.
In every case here, using Paperight licensing, the publisher still earns the equivalent of 30% of the retail price of the traditional book, which for many publishers matches current gross margins including equivalent royalties in rand terms.
HOW DOES licensing and printing WORK IN STORES?
A student walks into a copy shop, asks for a textbook, and the copy shop prints and ring-binds it within hours or even minutes. Every page includes the names of the student, copy shop, and publisher, and the date of purchase.
How is this possible? Licensors like Paperight work with publishers to provide an online library of books that copy shops can legally print out. For each print-out, they pay a licence fee from a pre-paid account. The copy shop makes money from the printing.
Publishers can set their licence fees to make the same gross margin they’ve always made (about 30% of the retail price for most publishers). The license brokwer (such as Paperight) gets a 20% commission on the licence fees.
So, by replacing traditional printing, warehousing, shipping, wastage and retail with a simple copy-shop print-out, licensed copy centres can reduce final cost of a textbook by 40%, with no loss to the publisher.
This is nothing short of a revolution in textbook delivery, dramatically reducing the overall cost of tertiary education.
If, starting today, we could save every university student in South Africa R1000 a year, then at current inflation and enrolment-growth rates, by 2030 we’d have saved them a total of R52 billion.
WHAT ARE OUR CHALLENGES?
To make this saving a reality, we are up against four key challenges.
Publishers mistrust copy shops after years of rampant piracy. Even though licensed copy-centre distribution is logically better than having your books photocopied anonymously, publishers struggle to overcome their long-standing unease. As a result, they are reluctant to put core textbooks on copy-centre licensing platforms like Paperight.
Copy shops have to learn new tricks, especially how to promote books. They also have to train their staff members on how to use paperight.com. Organsations like Paperight do broad PR and provide promotional materials and support, but ultimately the store must promote the service locally and provide great customer service.
University bookshops have exclusivity on campus. Usually, only one retailer is allowed to sell textbooks on campus – potentially preventing copy shops on campus from selling licensed print-outs. In theory, this secured market should help bookstores give better service to students. In practice, it creates a sheltered monopoly with no competition effects.
Lecturers don’t enjoy changing the books they prescribe. But to make textbooks much cheaper for their students – to improve purchase rates and student performance – they need to choose books that are available from copy centres, or pressure publishers into putting their books on platforms like Paperight. Lecturers are the most powerful customers in the textbook industry.
WHAT ARE WE ASKING OF PEOPLE?
Each player in the textbook ecosystem has a part to play in the #textbookrevolution.
Lecturers who prescribe books are the most influential people in publishing – they have tremendous power to change things for the better. We want them to ask publishers to sell their prescribed books through Paperight-like networks, too.
Students are at the heart of the #textbookrevolution, it matters to them more than anyone. So we’re asking them to spread the word that there’s a better way.
University administrators can grease the wheels by getting campus copy shops and book shops to join networks like Paperight; they can distribute tutorials through the network; and use their mailing lists to tell people about the #textbookrevolution.
Authors want more people to read their books for less (while still earning royalties). We want them to ask publishers to sell their books through licensed copy centres, too.
THE BIG PICTURE
The #textbookrevolution is bigger than any one organisation. There are many ways that publishing can reduce its bloated supply chain to cut the cost of tertiary education.
We’re deeply grateful to the publishers and copy shops that have already joined the #textbookrevolution, even though many have only taken baby steps so far.
We need many, many more allies to make this a reality. Please spread the word: it’s time for a #textbookrevolution.
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