Jetline comes on board

Our most valuable product at this stage by far was our past matric exam packs. We determined that we needed to focus on encouraging the sales of our exam packs. To do this, Nick designed our first school order form which was to be used by outlets for approaching schools and selling exam packs.

During this month, I had a meeting with Saki at Jetline Tygerberg to discuss the possibility of an outletwide partnership between Jetline and Paperight. This meeting was a success with Jetline informing us that they intend to register their entire network with Paperight and providing printing at highly reduced prices.

After three months of the outlet team working together, it became clear that we needed to reorganise in order to improve communication and productivity. After consulting with the rest of the team, Arthur decided that the best way to do this was to narrow the team down to the originally intended single outlet manager, as Outlet Development Manager.

We were asked to draw up proposals for what we would do in the coming months if we were to be granted that position. After all the proposals were submitted, I was fortunate to be given the position as the Outlet Development Manager. This meant that all activities related to outlets were now solely my responsibility.

Setting up the help site and content leads list

We began the month with a quality control of the African Books Collective documents to double check them before uploading, archived the files, and uploaded them via CSV bulk upload. By the end of July we had 829 titles listed on Paperight.

By the end of July we had 829 titles listed on Paperight.

Ra’eesa (in the pic here) and Diann finished their time at Paperight by working on a list of content leads, and setting up the help site, respectively. I created a spreadsheet for Ra’eesa and began by sending her the emails and notes we had been keeping about potential content leads, and she spent time capturing all of these as part of maintaining an ongoing database (this is a task that Oscar would pick up later, when he joined us). Arthur set up the Paperight Help site, and Diann used the manual Nick and I wrote earlier in the year to create posts to assist outlets in using the Paperight service.

Having a help site was the preferable option as it allowed us to link to posts on specific issues in an email, rather than having to explain each time, or expect busy outlet managers to read through an entire manual to find the solution to the one problem they were having.

We’d learnt that outlets were not downloading and printing out the manual for reference, as we had expected them to. Instead, they would call or email us each time they had a query. Having a help site was the preferable option as it allowed us to link to posts on specific issues in an email, rather than having to explain each time, or expect busy outlet managers to read through an entire manual to find the solution to the one problem they were having. The help site itself had step-by-step instructions, and screenshots, on things like registering as a Paperight outlet, buying a license, or boosting your business with Paperight.

We also spent time prepping Communist University modules, OUP study guides, and Paperight Editions. Caitlin split some exam packs as per Silulo’s request. We tested the splitting of exam packs with seven subjects: Accounting, Life Sciences, Maths, Maths Lit, Physical Science, Business Studies, and History.

I wrote and submitted a research concept note for a joint EBW and Paperight project, but we were not selected for funding.

Publishers registered

  • Burnet Media (13/7/2012)
  • Kebooks (16/7/2012)
  • ZIM-BUKS (21/7/2012)
  • BookBox Inc (23/7/2012)
  • MSED (25/7/2012)

Project 1: core team and beta site: closing report

This project was to hire a core team, and build and launch a minimum-featured beta site with automated content licensing and acquisition.

General report-back

There were two major parts to this project:

  • get 1000 publications on, and
  • build a basic working site to replace the working demo site, adding instant document delivery.

We achieved the 1000-publications target on time (see the report on our blog for details). Reaching this target required research of product leads, sourcing of documents, compilation of metadata, and the listing of each product on, in addition to the prepping of documents for sale via the site. Our content manager Tarryn did a marvellous job of planning and driving this process. We brought in an intern, Michal Blazsczyk, who helped a lot with the legwork of getting this done.

We did not hire a software developer. During the recruitment process it became clear that we would build a better product faster if we contracted a software company rather than an in-house developer. So Arthur spoke to several software companies, discussing the project in detail with them. These were narrowed down to two companies – Realm Digital and Double Eye – who had built large book-selling sites for major clients before, and had a range of applicable in-house experience with the book industry and with automating PDF manipulation.

This process took three months. Ultimately, Realm Digital were chosen. Based on extensive interviews and discussions with contacts who’d worked with them, they offered better front-end design expertise and a more impressive track record.

We completed a functional specification for with them, based on which they drew up a full development costing. The costing was based on the fact that all code would belong to Paperight or be GPL-compatible. This meant Realm could not use proprietary tools they normally relied on, which raised development costs well beyond our project budget.

Depsite the high cost of developing with Realm, the process of finding them and developing the functional spec – which showed we had a good team understanding with them – convinced us that they were still the best way to get a slick, solid product built quickly. So we decided to close this project and apply for the software-development budget in a separate pitch document.

This means a large part of the funds in this project were not used, and can be released back into the pool.

Objectives achieved

1000 publications available for sale on

An important first stage of software development was achieved: a thorough functional specification for Paperight 1.0 was created, along with UI designs, briefing documents and UX flow diagrams.

Objectives not achieved

We did not build software for instant PDF delivery.

To keep us going without this, we refined the existing site so that we could trade with it, and designed back-office workflows that allow us to manually deliver print-ready PDFs to clients within 24 hours.

Measures of success

Before: “We expect immediately to see our pilot-testing outlets respond positively to improvements in speed and ease of using the beta site over the prototype (WordPress-based) site”

After: We do not have the new site to do this comparison. This measure has been included in our Project 3 pitch.

Before: “we’d like to see them using the site on their own for buying content for customers, for content we haven’t explicitly told them about, and visiting more often per month than they visited the prototype site.”

After: As above, we cannot make a comparison yet, since we’re still using the original site. We did have two unassisted licence requests from unsolicited outlets. This small sample showed that the existing site can be used to run Paperight while we build instant document delivery in Project 3. The site visits by registered outlets cannot be measured with the current site, and we have not yet had repeat sales from those outlets that have bought licences.

Before: “we’d love to see more than a dozen new outlets registering and using the site based on word of mouth, without our active promotion and guidance.”

After: Running the original site, we have had 15 outlet registrations, of which:

  • 11 were unsolicited
  • 6 are consumer-facing copy/print businesses
  • 4 are school teachers
  • 5 are private individuals (publishing/education professionals and parents of school-going children)


Original budget: R257000

Actual spend: R92500

Returned to pool: R164500

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Senior developer 160000 20520 139480 Spent on functional spec for Paperight 1.0
Content manager 48000 54720 -6720 VAT incurred since this was paid through EBW, who are VAT registered
Office space 24000 5760 Worked from Arthur’s home. Budget shifted to interns.
Interns 18240 Used office space budget to pay interns R4000 × 4 months: Michal Blazsczyk (Jan–Feb) and Nick Mulgrew (Mar–Apr)
Register Pty (Ltd) 6000 681 5319 Used a cheaper registration agency
Computers for 2 15000 7299 7701 Computer for Tarryn, but no developer
Software 0 Provided by EBW as planned
Printing costs at testing sites 4000 0 4000 Not used, since we didn’t have the new site to test.
TOTAL 257000 92500 101 460 155540


Outputs and deliverables

IP Author Owner
Metadata for and online listing of 1000 publications Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Prepared PDFs for same 1000 publications Varies by document Content is public domain or content-specific rightsholders, packaged presentation owned by Paperight
Site design for Paperight 0.5 (WordPress) Original design by Elegant Themes Inc, heavily modified by Arthur Attwell Original design Elegant Themes Inc (licenced under GPLv2), modifications Arthur Attwell
Site code for Paperight 0.5 (WordPress) Auttomatic and others, modified by Arthur Attwell Various, licensed under GPLv2
UI, wireframes and briefing documents for Paperight 1.0 Arthur Attwell Arthur Attwell
Functional specification for Paperight 1.0 Realm Digital Arthur Attwell (in IP agreement between Realm Digital and Shuttleworth Foundation)
Cover thumbnail designs (220 as of 13 Mar 2012) Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Workflow/process documents (hosted on the Paperight wiki) Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Blog posts, including content report on first-1000-items Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight



Regarding content, the surprising thing was how smoothly it went. This was largely due to Tarryn’s dogged determination and meticulous planning and execution. It’s also unlikely we would have made the deadline if it hadn’t been for intern Michal Blazsczyk. Michal approached Arthur out of the blue for an internship, and this was fortuitous. We’re glad that we had the opportunity to bring him on: in an industry where skills are rare, it’s important to be able to bring in talent when you see it.

Much of our content-related learning was operational: we learned a lot about the mixed quality of open sources of content, PDF technology, workflow best practice, and getting new team members up to speed fast using wiki-based ops manuals.

Regarding software, we learned from research early that hiring a software developer in-house is a huge risk: their productivity is impossible to predict, and all your eggs are in that one basket. Then we learned how long it takes to be sure you’ve found the right software development company. If we’d known it would take so long, Arthur would have pushed harder earlier, but the process is underpinned by a myth that ‘tomorrow we can start writing code’.

We also learned that the cost of building open software can be significantly higher than building software on proprietary platforms, where the development industry has come to rely on proprietary platforms for fast rollout and licence-based annuity income.

On the side of this project, we learned that – with the exception of a handful of small businesses – it is very difficult to get commercial publishers to agree to provide content until the business is trading with a proven footprint. This led us to focus on a great open-licensed and public-domain-based catalogue.


This project was the first step in a series of projects leading to overall sustainability for Paperight.


We definitely achieved our content objectives and we’re extremely pleased about that. We now have a great starting catalogue with which to promote Paperight (see project pitch 2). We also have a growing list of sources of further open content.

We didn’t get far enough with software development in the time we planned. While we’re very happy with the foundation we’ve laid (great suppliers, UI plans and functional spec), we didn’t get a chance to achieve and test some of our key software-related objectives. Those have now been transferred and refined in a new project (pitch 3).

Next steps

The next steps are to build the Paperight 1.0 software planned and specced in this project, and then to promote Paperight to outlets. Project pitch 3 continues the software work. Project pitch 2 is all about promotion, while continuing to build and refine the content catalogue.


Zakes Ncanywa and Peddie

About a month into my time at Paperight, we hired three outlet managers, Zukisani, Zimkita and Yazeed. Their job was – and in Yazeed’s case, still is  – to promote Paperight to photocopy outlets and to support them in their Paperight-related operations.

One day, Zimkita met an old friend by chance while visiting an outlet. His name was Zakes Ncanywa, and he had, until very recently, worked in a Big Pharma company. When Zakes asked Zimkita what she was up to nowadays, she explained that she was working for Paperight, and looking for outlets to sign up. Zakes was on his way back to his hometown of Peddie, in the rural Eastern Cape (a good couple hours’ drive from any major city), to set up an internet café/computer store, to serve what he saw as a huge, untapped demand for technology in the town. He bought old computers in Cape Town, had them refurbished, then brought them back to the Eastern Cape to sell for affordable prices.

We all met in Arthur’s kitchen one afternoon to discuss how we might help him set up a Paperight outlet. There were problems, however: there was no Telkom interchange in Peddie, and where his house was didn’t fall under a 3G coverage zone, so a USB dongle was ineffective. We thought that this would make a great success story if we could make the outlet work. We made tentative plans for me to meet up with him.

In May 2012, I was scheduled to go to Grahamstown to meet with some outlets and see if we could set up a pilot Paperight project at Rhodes University. While I was there I thought I would go through to Peddie to meet with Zakes. He agree to take me on his rounds – selling computers, visiting schools, and the sort – one Wednesday. I borrowed my girlfriend’s car and drove on the windy N2 for an hour and a half until I came to Peddie. Zake’s house was across a still-being-constructed highway, along a network of very confusing dirt roads and over some worryingly steep hills. I arrived at his house a little worse for wear after getting stuck on a steep incline near a field of very skittish sheep. He stayed in large rondawel connected to his mother’s home. Inside was the most eccentric collection of electronics and materials: computer towers stacked ten-high, photocopiers, CRT monitors, and stacks of Paperight matric exam packs.

Zakes-in-PeddieFrom there we traveled to a school, Nathaniel Pamla High School, where the teachers seemed overworked but received us relatively warmly. Zakes chatted to them about matric exam packs, and I explained Paperight. I don’t think they really understood what I was explaining – my fault more than theirs, as I was tripping over my words – but they seemed enthusiastic. They wanted to buy a computer from Zakes, too, so Zakes and I travelled back to his house, brought a computer back and set it up for them. They explained they were promised a computer lab from the local government, but it never materialised. He figured that, in the meantime, the school could buy some computers from them.

Afterward we went into Peddie’s small town centre to have a look at some potential premises. I was shouted at by an elderly man for taking photographs inside an arcade. There were many Chinese shops, selling the most bewildering ranges of foreign bric-a-brac. It was a strange experience. Zakes and I we chatted more about technology challenges in the rural Eastern Cape, and then I went back to Grahamstown.

On my return back to Cape Town the following week, I started writing up the experience as a wiki post. I had the idea to pitch the story as a feature on rural technology and entrepreneurship to the Mail & Guardian – and they took it. My piece, which backgrounded Paperight and focused more on deficient ICT infrastructure and Zakes’ own tenacity, was eventually published and made a good impression. So much so that a certain South African weekly magazine plagiarised it, but that’s another story.