Category Archives: Design

Highlights from the first nine months

Every three months, I sum up what I’ve been doing during my Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. At the time of writing this, I’m also reapplying for another year as a Fellow. In particular, I wanted to talk about lessons I’ve learned, what we’ve built over the last nine months, and where we’re headed. This post is the brief summary. In related posts I go into more detail about:

  • lessons learned
  • speaking events
  • website development
  • team and infrastructure
  • partnerships
  • a personal take.

screenshot_20120510After nine months, we’ve reached some big milestones for Paperight. Most importantly, the instant-delivery rights marketplace we set out to build is a reality, now that the Paperight 1.0 site is live. We have over 50 outlets registered – including copy shops, schools and NGOs – and have made our first revenue.

Innovative publishing companies have joined us, including Cover2Cover (youth fiction), Modjaji Books (acclaimed fiction and biography), the Health and Medical Publishing Group (publishers of the South African Medical Journal and a dozen others the and SA Medicines Formulary), and the African Books Collective, a renowned agency representing over 140 small and medium publishers from around Africa. (There are also several very small publishers signed up.) We are in advanced talks with several large educational and trade publishers in South Africa, too.

Promotional partnerships with Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a fast-growing chain of Internet-cafe-copy-shops, and copier-printer companies Canon and ITEC are kicking in now, too.

We’ve also made some shifts in our promotional strategy as we’ve learned through trial and error where time, energy and money are best spent.

So, listing the key milestones:

Lessons learned:

  • The human story is more powerful than the financial one (even when both are good).
  • Spending lots of time chasing big publishers isn’t worth it. There are many smaller, more interesting fish.
  • We needed to focus more on how we make it legal to print books.
  • We’ve learned to blend patience and impatience in software development.
  • Too much choice for our customers is paralysing. Simplify the offering.
  • Making our own content is hard work, but very important.

Speaking event highlights:

Other highlights were hiring our outlet team, co-branding promotional material with ITEC Innovate, a forward-thinking local copier company, and spending time with Zakes Ncwanya, who is moving back to his rural hometown to set up an Internet Cafe and Paperight outlet. (This later became a story in the Mail & Guardian written by our communications manager.)

A personal note: The Fellowship is not just a great way to build and nurture valuable projects. It’s a personal- and professional-development drag race that produces tougher, smarter, more effective people. It’s also addictive.

The very first Paperight Poster

By January we were nearing completion of the content list for the first 1000 titles. It included popular classic fiction, open access educational material and matric exam packs for 2008–2011. The majority of these works were sourced by combing through lists of “popular/top”, “most downloaded”, and “most purchased” lists on various websites which sell or offer free access to public domain works. Other resources used for sourcing product leads included public domain curation and review websites, as well as compiled lists of the “best books of all time”, setwork lists, and the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners’ list (links to each of these resources can be found on the Paperight Wiki).

We also started brainstorming ways to market these titles to outlets, and met to discuss values, pitches, and posters. These were important initial discussions where we began the process of creating the Paperight brand identity. We decided to design a poster that we could send to registered outlets, and take with us when pitching to new outlets and publishers to make the concept more solid. It included a set of featured products that we felt would sell well to matric students and first year university students. Each product was assigned a three letter tag so that they could be found easily.

In hindsight this was a lot of work for one poster to do. We printed out 1000 posters and distributed them, but never received and visible indication that they were increasing sales.

The poster was meant to function as both a catalog and an advertisement, and assist with product discoverability. In hindsight this was a lot of work for one poster to do. We printed out 1000 posters and distributed them, but never received and visible indication that they were increasing sales. More on the poster here.

Publishers approached

  • Kotobarabia (introduced by Arthur)
  • Publisher Registrations
  • Just Done Productions (27/1/2012)