All posts by Philippa Dewey

Philippa Dewey was a content manager till April 2014. She prepared content and metadata for our network, and managed our policies and terms relating to intellectual property.

The Blaze of Glory begins

I went away over Christmas time and came back to the office a couple of weeks later recharged and ready to start the Blaze of Glory. Our funding was due to run out at the end of August so this was the last main spike in the academic book buying cycle available to us and we needed to make it count. By this time our focus had shifted from the high school market to the university market as we had realised that Paperight could make the biggest price reduction in this area. My part in BOG was to hack away at the reformatting of all A4 documents on the site, and then to reformat all Paperight novels, prioritising those on the University Prescriptions list.

The look of the Paperight PDF saw a few improvements over the years, first reducing the ad-space that had seemed like a good idea at the time but was never used, and then by removing the lines above and below the watermarking. The final product looked so much better after these improvements were made. But once the changes had been made on the site I needed to update the PDFs that had already been created using the old format. To do this I used the new PDF-PDF converter tool on the Paperight server. This tool had been in the pipelines for a long time and took quite a bit of testing and bug reporting to get it working properly, but when it was ready to go it worked like a dream. I simply had to select the PDF I wanted to convert, click convert, and wait.

I feel really lucky to have worked in such a sharing environment and to have had so much training.

I then moved on to the reformatting of the university setworks. In fact, I was reformatting some, but also adding many books that were not yet on the site. The list was 157 titles long. First I needed to learn how to use the HTML-to-PDF converter which had also just become operational. I was excited to learn how to prepare books from HTML using this shiny and much awaited tool. Tarryn, the fearless trainer, taught me how to scrub HTML, a process that at first sounded exotic and turn out to be a little less than. Before I arrived at Paperight I hardly knew what HTML was and I certainly didn’t know what CSS was, nevermind how they related to one another. But Arthur has such a great philosophy of training his staff on all aspects the company and I gained skills beyond what were necessary for my day to day job. I feel really lucky to have worked in such a sharing environment and to have had so much training.

I began scrubbing those books prescribed at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University as we were carrying out targeting marketing campaigns at these institutions, and I found that I quite enjoyed it as long as I wasn’t scrubbing Tristram Shandy or The Tragedie of Mariam. And I was able to listen to podcasts while I worked so I listened to a lot of ThisAmericanLife. (I mean like a whole lot.)

It struck me that these students were Paperight’s target market, but this was the first time we had really spent any time with them, on their turf.

This task, interspersed with our #textbookrevolution outings to Stellenbosch University and UCT, has been my ongoing task to date. Our outings to the Universities were fantastic and challenging. We handed out specially designed beer coasters to students and asked them to sign our petitions for cheaper textbooks (see Marie-Louise’s blog post for more on this). It struck me that these students were Paperight’s target market, but this was the first time we had really spent any time with them, on their turf. It was tiring approaching groups of students and getting them excited enough about the idea to sign the petition, but it was incredibly rewarding when they ‘got it’ and were genuinely enthusiastic about it.

OpenAIR and Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest

In December 2013 I was really lucky to be able to attend the OpenAIR and Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest, a 5 day conference held at the UCT Graduate School of Business, hosted by the UCT IP Unit. I was really excited to meet a group of people who were talking about intellectual property in a way I hadn’t previously experienced. The attendees were mostly academics and Creative Commons affiliates. This group is opposed to maximalist protection of intellectual property rights, and they are all about open access and sharing culture. It was certainly a stark contrast with my experience at the US Copyright Office, and made me seriously consider doing an LLM in intellectual property law.

Tackling the content backlog

When I returned from the States there was so much to get done. Firstly I had to prepare and upload the backlog of content that had accrued in my working folder. This included over 100 erotica titles from Accent Press, which in the end we didn’t make available for download on the site due to a controversy in the UK over erotica titles on Amazon and Kobo. (See Marie-Louise’s blog post for more on this). I didn’t have InDesign on my laptop and my free trial had run out so I was having to borrow Tarryn’s laptop in order to get this done. The PDF-to-PDF converter tool that the developers were working on was not ready yet so the process was a bit slow and it took quite a while to get through this backlog.

Then, the Dropbox content folder needed streamlining; there was a whack of content to be archived and the content leads list which Oscar had been building needed fleshing out. For this I needed to make sure that all of the entries had the basic information (title, ISBNs, author name, publisher) necessary for Tarryn to be able to use it to approach publishers and ask for their content. After learning the archiving process I wrote the process up as a wiki post, along with other a few other posts relating to the content teams duties, for future reference. This system of writing up processes in wiki posts was great as it served as a reminder if you forgot how you had done something, and it served as instructions to someone else who had never done the process before.

We get the fright of “A Life”

a-life_ramphele_cover_20130311_72dpiIn May we were named as the Second Respondent in a law suit initiated by Mamphela Ramphele. She claimed she had not given permission for the re-release of her autobiography, a project being lead by New Africa Books, the First Respondent. We had been working with NAB to get the autobiography, A Life, onto Paperight, and Nick Mulgrew (Paperight’s in-house designer), had designed a spiffing new cover to replace the old one. Originally, A Life had been published by David Phillip publishers in 1995, and DP was later acquired by New Africa Books.

Ramphele claimed that NAB did not have the right to re-release her autobiography, and thus that Paperight had no right to distribute it. When NAB signed up with Paperight they signed our publishers agreement which includes a clause in which the publisher warrants that they are the owner of, or are authorised to license, all of the content they give to Paperight, and indemnifying Paperight from any third party claims arising from a breach of this warranty. So we were covered, but it was certainly disturbing to get served. I was able to digest the legal documents we received and liaise with our lawyer to assist with the drawing up of an affidavit. Thankfully, NAB and Ramphele settled the matter out of court fairly quickly and amicably, and we agreed to remove the book from the site. It was a big wake up call to us all.

Matric exams update 2013

In May I facilitated the update to the matric past exam papers. These were the best selling items on the site. One of the best ways to prepare for the matric exams is by going through past papers to get an idea of how the questions were asked. Sometimes entire questions are simply transplanted from an old exam into the current one, so it is a fantastic tool for students. On the site we had single year packs and multi-year packs available for each subject. These would need to be updated each year as the papers became available on the Department of Basic Education’s website. I downloaded all of the 2012 papers and began working on creating the single year packs, while the freelancers worked on adding the 2012 papers to the multi-year packs. Tarryn trained me on how to use Acrobat and InDesign and before long I was churning out matric exam packs and other books. The metadata for the updated exams also had to be updated to reflect the fact that they now included papers from 2012. This had to be done on the site as well as on the master metadata sheet.

At the end of May I left Paperight to take up an internship at the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC for eight weeks, and to visit the Copyright Clearance Center in Boston. I had an absolutely amazing time researching foreign copyright law for the Register’s Office, and exploring DC. After what felt like ages I was excited to come back to Paperight in mid September.

Tarryn goes to London, and we discover “The Hits”

While Tarryn and Oscar were away at the London Book Fair I took over most of Tarryn’s duties, such as receiving new publisher registrations from the team email account and creating wiki posts for them, gathering the information from HeidiSQL, creating dropbox folders for them, and sending out welcome emails. I also assisted publishers who had queries and facilitated transfer of files. She was a fantastic mentor to me and it was a bit nerve-wracking having her leave for three weeks, but I learned a lot in her absence. Tarryn is a good teacher and I am grateful for her patient, straight-forward, clear manner.

post_20131008It was around this time that the Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology judging process was underway. This was a team effort, lead by Oscar, with all of the Paperight team members dedicating days of concentration to pouring over each and every entry and rating them on a system Oscar had designed. We were bowled over by how many entries we received. It was clear that South African teenagers are keen on writing. The quality varied greatly (to be honest much of it was terrible), but it was incredibly heartening to get such a volume of entries. And while much of the writing was not amazing, some of the themes were truly revealing. South African teenagers are going through a lot. Many giggles, groans, and a few tears emanated from our little office on the 3rd floor. I really enjoyed this experience as we were able to feel a real connection with South African teenagers who, at the time, were our main target market. It was one of those special moments that only a start-up can really provide, where the entire team is so intimately involved in one project.

I think one of my most memorable moments will be the first time I heard “The Hits”, one of our poetry entries, read out loud. It was such a striking and strange poem, that we didn’t know whether it was genius or madness. Here it is, read aloud by Hedley Twidle at the launch of the anthology.

CAPS outlines project

Yet another curriculum change has been rolled out by the Department of Basic Education to come into effect for grade 12s in 2013. The DBE has been doing this for a while with limited success. The new curriculum, called CAPS (which stands for Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements) is a revision of the National Curriculum Statements. The idea is that the policy statement for each subject will act as a comprehensive guide for teachers, showing them what to teach and how to assess their students. However, this means that textbooks need to change to reflect the new curriculum, and the past matric papers we have collected may well be redundant.

We decided it would be a good idea to have a list of the CAPS outlines for each subject in a spreadsheet, and were thinking that we may write a textbook for Information Technology using open content (such as Wikipedia entries) because there wasn’t a CAPS aligned IT textbook available yet. This was a very time-consuming process as the lists were in PDF form and required typing out. I completed the outlines for IT and a few other subjects, but had to put this project on the backburner for a while as other things became more important. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to come back to this project.

Lessons learned from updating the help site

I began updating the help site early in 2013. In order to make using the site easier for our copy shops, I created a few videos demonstrating how to sign up; how to top-up their credits; how to download a document etc. I then updated the written help posts to reflect some changes that had been made to the user interface. This was a great way for me to learn about how the site works and to understand some of the difficulties copy shops might have with it.

Going through this process definitely helped me handle customer queries more adeptly. I began to realise that most of the copy shops who were using our site had only a basic understanding of how to use websites. We may have thought we were making everything as straightforward as possible, but still we would get calls asking us the most basic things. It made me think how important it is to understand who is going to be using your website, and what their technological understanding is.

Relying on copy shops to be our bookstores and expecting them to be able to work the site was perhaps one of our biggest mistakes/learning curves. In my mind, one of the best things about being a small start up is the kind of customer service and attention to detail you can afford to give. However, on this model, we were not able to give that kind of service because we relied on copy shops to do this. This resulted in a few distressing phone calls from customers that had been turned away from a registered copy shop who said they “didn’t print books” even though we had been through the process with the shops on the phone. We expected that copyshops would be excited about Paperight as it offers them a way of increasing their printing load, which is how they make their money. However, the relative difficulty of using the site (i.e. they had to learn something new) combined with bad customer service meant that we lost quite a few potential customers.

Philippa starts at Paperight

I arrived at Paperight in November of 2012 fresh out of my final LLB exams. I had seen Arthur talk about Paperight at a TEDxCapeTown event in June and felt compelled to get involved. I decided the law could wait and that I would see what I could learn from a start-up. Sitting on an exercise ball in the meeting room with the colourful stripy wall meeting the team for the first time, I felt that I had made a good decision.

I was hired as an intern so I bounced around for a while doing various tasks and getting to know the different aspects of the company.

My first task was to do some research into the Creative Commons license suite with the aim of determining whether or not we could add works carrying the Non-Commercial licence (CC-NC) to the Paperight site. Creative Commons licences allow copyright owners to specify which types of uses of their works they are okay with. The Non-Commercial license stipulates that the work may be used in the ways normally reserved for the copyright owner, as long as the use is “non-commercial” in nature. Although Paperight had a strong social mission, to improve access to books, it was a commercial entity. Arthur had chosen to make it a company very deliberately. He didn’t want to run it as an NGO. He wanted it to exist in the world and support itself and prove its usefulness. But being a for-profit company didn’t necessarily mean that we couldn’t use CC-NC works. It is the use that is important, not the nature of the user. In the past there were many materials in the Paperight library that were available for free download. However, by the time I arrived at Paperight a policy had been put in place that a minimum fee would be charged for each and every download. Although the minimum fee was low – only $1 – the fact that we were going to charge at all, to me, made the use commercial and thus we weren’t going to be able to put these works on the site. I don’t think this was quite the outcome Arthur was looking for, and perhaps it was due to my being so fresh out of law school, but I couldn’t really get around this outcome.

At the same time as I was working on the CC research I was gathering content leads and adding them to the content leads list. This involved searching for information about popular books that we would want to put on Paperight. I began looking for books that were CC licensed or in the public domain, and gathered some general metadata about the books. I also gathered metadata for books that were in copyright and sorted them according to publisher so that Tarryn could see which publishers we needed to approach to get them signed up, and what books to ask them for. This process was a mixed bag of interesting finds and tedious data collection. But I did come out of it with a long “to-read” list.