Category Archives: Tech

The #textbookrevolution and hints of a pivot ahead

In our shift to focus on universities, we created and launched our #textbookrevolution campaign. This meant creating detailed messaging and plans: one liners, elevator pitches, detailed back stories, a manifesto, a petition, outlet advertising posters and marketing briefs, novelty coasters, and videos; campaign website (; doing lots of PR work (emailing journalists and stakeholders personally); and organising a Twitter debate on the high price of textbooks. This was the main focus of Nov, Dec and Feb.

Much of this was written up elsewhere:

On the technical side, we finalised much better automation of book preparation prep (mainly tools to use online PDF layout tool DocRaptor to create better-looking books). And in finances, completed our audit with a clean bill of health.


I went to Johannesburg for pitching meetings with publishers (Pearson, Van Schaik, UNISA Press), UNISA, and PostNet, and our outlets manager Yazeed attended the ActivateSA event in Joburg, a conference of young leaders, to talk about Paperight and the #textbookrevolution.

Speaking out

I’ve had a bit to say, too:

  • 22 Jan 2014: A post by me on Medium, “Not Yet for Profit”, arguing that well-funded, as-yet-unprofitable startups represent an whole new industry, much of it in social impact, and that’s a good thing.
  • 24 Jan 2014: Interview on Paperight’s story with AFKInsider, a US website on African business.

Mainly I’ve been telling the #textbookrevolution story over and over again in meetings (with publishers, university administrators and journalists). E.g. interviews during Jan and Feb on SAFM, Rhodes Music Radio, UJfm (University of Joburg) and Jozi Today.

The focus of the #textbookrevolution campaign is to (a) highlight the fact that 70% of the cost of a textbook is the supply chain (printing, shipping, warehousing, wastage and retail), and that (b) print-on-demand on university campuses could save students and South Africa as much as a billion rand a year. See our blog post for the detail, and the #textbookrevolution site for the manifesto, video, petition and supporters.

Joining our thinking

SHAWCO (UCT’s acclaimed social-welfare organisation) and Boundless (open textbooks) are official supporters of the #textbookrevolution. See all the supporters here.

We’ve also had ongoing discussions about closer collaboration with RISO (copier manufacturer), Mega Digital (SA’s biggest short-run book printer) and Loot (online retailer).

We’ve counted 21 media mentions that we know about, of which the highlights are:

Big wins

We had a great response from students at Stellenbosch and UCT where we collected over 1000 signatures on our #textbookrevolution petition. In addition to the paper petition, students have left great comments on our online petition.

we’ve long underestimated the importance of putting people on the ground talking to potential customers

Students are highly sensitised to the issue of high textbook prices. Also, we probably reached more students in the 20 hours we spent on campuses than we would have in months online. A big lesson was that we’ve long underestimated the importance of putting people on the ground talking to potential customers (even if we don’t have the books they need yet).

We’ve also had big losses. More about that in this separate post.

Our favourite apps

Highly recommended programs

  • Thunderbird: open-source, free mail client. Install at least these addons:
    • Quicktext (for inserting quick templates of text and HTML)
    • Nostalgy (for quickly filing mail and jumping between folders)
    • A spellchecker (and always have spell-checking activated to run before you send email)
  • Google Chrome for web browsing, testing, and great extensions.
  • Mozilla Firefox for web browsing, website testing, and its awesome array of useful addons.
  • Safari for web browsing and website testing
  • Skype for instant messaging and phone calls
  • LibreOffice for text documents and spreadsheets (
  • Notepad++ for quick text files and simple code edits (on Mac, try TextWrangler or Sublime)
  • Adobe Reader for opening PDFs
  • AVG antivirus (the free edition)
  • Irfanview for quickly cropping and resizing pictures
  • Filezilla for getting files on and off remote servers via FTP
  • Trello, a web-based project management program
  • Sage Pastel My Business Online, a multi-user accounting application
  • Youtube, for video sharing online
  • Vimeo, for video sharing online
  • WordPress, an open sourced blogging tool
  • OpenOffice, an open source office software suite
  • Base, an online CRM management program
  • Quicktext, widget for Thunderbird
  • Trovebox, for online storage of information
  • Bitly, an online URL shortener
  • Textwrangler, a text editor for Mac
  • Irfanview, an image editor
  • CamStudio, for creating screencast videos
  • Any Video Converter, file size converting

Highly recommended software

  • Dropbox, either for your own files or for syncing withthe company shared files (be sure to read up about how Dropbox works, especially before deleting any files, or syncing with the company share).
  • HeidiSQL for viewing MySQL databases
  • EpubReader, as a Firefox addon, for reading DRM-free epubs
  • Kindle for PC for reading Kindle ebooks on your computer
  • 7-Zip for extracting and compressing files (especially ones the Windows built-in unzipper can’t handle, like .tar)
  • PDFCreator for printing to PDF
  • Evolus Pencil for creating screen wireframes for user interfaces or even things like quick poster or flyer design drafts
  • VideoLAN (aka VLC) media player, for those occasions when Windows Media Player won’t play your music or video
  • Sigil, if you ever have reason to edit or look inside epub files.
  • Github, for building software online
  • EasyFile-employer, for your emp501 returns


Strategy and requirements to be VAT compliant in 2013

One of my first assignments at Paperight was to meet with our accountants, Wolfsohn and Associates, to establish whether we needed to register for VAT and whether our grant income received from the Shuttleworth Foundation would be zero-rated or not.

After many discussions and meetings we confirmed that Paperight should in fact be registered for VAT as the grant income from the Shuttleworth Foundation should be recorded as income, but that the income would be VATable at zero percent. We also established that we could claim 14% of input on VAT charged. We needed to be registered for VAT for 1 January 2013, and we agreed that the best method for Paperight was to act as an agency and not a principal.

The grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation comes from an overseas base and is received for specific projects which are monitored.  All grant income received from within South Africa would attract VAT at 14%.

This meant that our website needed to be updated to take VAT into consideration on all documentation, sales calculations and reporting.

Our Paperight VAT strategy for updating our website was  as follows:

Paperight as an agency: the financial accounts perspective

  • Acting as an agency, only our 20% commission received is recorded as income in our books.  The top-up and publisher earnings will be monitored with control accounts.
  • The turnover will then be 20% of the sales made inclusive of VAT as per our agreements with publishers/rightsholders.
  • The suspense accounts will be reconciled on an ongoing basis.
  • The suspense accounts must agree with rightsholder statements.
  • Output VAT will only be applicable on Paperight’s 20% commission.
  • All commission is VAT inclusive and 14/114ths must be paid to SARS.
  • All invoices will be automatically generated on based on the information received from rightsholders and outlets.
  • Statements will be drawn which reflect the all invoices and commission earned in one month.  The commission income earned from each rightsholder, and the licence fees earned by each rightsholder is captured in the accounting system at the end of the month.

Paperight’s relationship with publishers

  • As the agent we prepare all invoices on behalf of the publisher.
  • The invoices are created from the publisher (the principal) to the outlet (the customer) for 100% of the value of the licence payment in rands.
  • The currency will reflect in Rands and USD.
Scenario 1.: Local publisher invoices local outlet
  • Paperight issues an Agent Sales/Tax Invoice on the rightsholder’s behalf.
  • If the publisher is VAT registered then the invoice includes 14% VAT on the total licence fee. If no then it doesn’t include VAT.
  • Our rightsholders need to give us their details in order to reflect this correctly.
  • Paperight attracts 14% VAT on commission earned from the licence sales.
Scenario 2:  Local publisher invoices overseas outlet
  • Paperight issues an Agent Sales/Tax Invoice on the rightsholder’s behalf.
  • If the publisher is VAT registered then the invoice includes 14% VAT on the total licence fee. If no then it doesn’t include VAT.
  • Note: the same situation applies to this case as it does when Paperight invoices overseas Publishers.
  • Paperight attracts 14% VAT on commission earned from the licence sales.
Option 3:  Overseas publisher invoices local outlet
  • Paperight issues a Agent Sales/Tax Invoice on the rightsholders  behalf
  • No VAT is charged unless the rightsholder requests it. This information must be according to their tax and advised within their agreement
  • Paperight attracts 14% VAT on commission earned from the licence sales.
Option 4:  Overseas Publisher invoices Overseas Outlet
  • No VAT is charged. This information must be according to their tax and advised within their agreement.
  • Paperight attracts 14% VAT on commission earned from the licence sales.


  • All Invoices made to outlets are done in the name of the Rightsholder/Principal.
  • Invoices include or exclude VAT dependent on publishers’ VAT registration details being supplied.
  • Paperight will provide the rightsholder with an Agency Sales Statement/Tax Invoice for sales made during the month and the corresponding commission earned by Paperight at 20% inclusive of VAT.
  • The invoices clearly state Tax Invoice as well as Agent Sales Statement.
  • We act as an agent on behalf of all publishers/rightsholders.
  • Our contract includes a clause that says that the publisher gives Paperight a non-exclusive license to deliver the PDF to the copy shop and to collect the rights fee in return. Separately it says that Paperight will pay 80% of that rights fee to the publisher. It also notes that we are VAT registered and that the commission invoice is inclusive of VAT.
  • Rightsholder earnings are held until the publisher requests that they be paid out. This is done through the website.
  • The length of time that that money is held does not change the value in Rands.
  • The exchange rate is calculated and recorded at the time of purchase and not at the time of withdrawal of credits. Important where the outlet and the publisher’s working currencies differ.
  • Existing publishers are updated on the changes and information received.
  • The commission invoice to the publishers includes Rand values, inclusive of VAT.


The most relevant regulations that govern this:

the legislation has been clarified further to the effect that services supplied to a non-resident may only be zero-rated if the services are supplied directly to that non-resident, or any other person, AND both the non-resident and the other person are not in South Africa at the time the services are supplied.

Only when your Publisher and your Outlet are both overseas at the time of the transaction can your commission invoice be zero-rated

54(3) The agent must maintain records of sales and purchases he makes on behalf of his principal

Because an agent may not want to disclose to his  principal who he sold to, or who he bought from, (or how much profit he made) he may keep copies of the tax invoices he made out for the sales or the tax invoices he received for purchases on behalf of his principal.

In such case, the agent must send a monthly  statement to his principal giving details of the goods or services sold or bought, the quantity of the goods or services bought or sold, the selling or purchase price and the amount of VAT charged or paid. This statement can also constitute a tax invoice for the agents commission.  In such case, it must state “statement for agency sales/purchases” and “tax invoice”. It must also show the VAT registration numbers of the agent and the principal

Things to keep in mind

  • The exchange rate is not shown but is based on the Yahoo! exchange rate which has been built into the website.
  • Our 20% is currently inclusive of VAT for all rightsholders local and international.
  • We are not paying for VAT on the full amount but on 14% of the 20% commission earned. For each R20 rand out of R100, that would equal R2.46.
  • We are making 17.5% on every book purchase that is not Paperight owned.

Paperight’s relationship with outlets

  • The outlet registers, VAT number and address required.
  • The topup is received and voucher value is recorded on their accounts page.
  • No tax invoice or invoice is issued when receiving credits.
  • Only actual downloads are invoiced for the outlets will receive an invoice upon downloading a printable document.
  • The invoice will be downloadable directly from the website.
  • The invoices contain 100% of the sale, include the Publisher’s details.
  • The invoices include VAT based on the VAT status of the Publisher and not Paperight.
  • The credit value and the exchange rate value in rands will be stipulated on the invoice.

Publisher registration page

  • When a publisher registers they must provide their VAT registration number and liability start date if applicable.
  • This information will be pulled through on the the valid tax certificates created for each sale.

The outlet dashboard

  • When the outlet downloads a book, a copy of the invoice is  available on the outlet’s dashboard to download.
  • When an outlet downloads a book they receive an invoice from the Publisher.
  • Outlet invoices are saved on the outlet dashboard and available to download at any stage with applicable VAT, depending on the Publisher’s details, for the full value of the transactions.
  • Paperight has access to all the invoices that have been made.

Administrative access to website data

  • The invoices and statements sent to outlets are accessible to the Paperight accounts team.
  • The accounts team have access to the  server and are able to search by outlet or publisher for the total invoices issued over a month.
  • The data can be exported in csv format.
  • The most significant cells for importing data into accounting programs are the date and currency format.
  • Admins are able to log in and download copies of invoices where necessary.

The publisher dashboard

  • The rightsholders each have access to their own dashboard so that a copy of their monthly statement is available to download. They can also view the  balance of the money due to them.
  • The rightsholders are also able to request a payment for earnings from their dashboard on the website and forwarded through to accounts.
  • Paperight’s accounts administrators are then able to mark a publisher’s request for withdrawal as paid and the balance is updated on the website.

Currency issues and solutions

  • Payment in a foreign currency will always need to be converted into rands for the accounting system. The Yahoo! exchange rate used is recorded for each transaction.
  • The exchange rate is captured on the date of the first time the document is downloaded (the effective date of the final licence payment), to show the ZAR value at the time of sale. This information is reflected on the statement between Paperight and the Publishers to show them how the rate has been calculated. The rate  used in capturing the Publishers commission received and balance off the entries in the accounting program are also reflected.

The Paperight Help Video: version 2.0

When Shaun Swingler joined the team as a video intern, he was tasked to update the help video to include elements that we missed when the first video was made and to improve the overall quality of the end product.

1461816_10151841276613785_103333600_nA script was drawn up to reflect the changes necessary and Dezre was chosen to be the sultry Paperight help voice. With the old video in mind, the team deliberated on what was necessary to make an improved version. These edits included finding music to carry through the entire piece, ensuring there are no gaps in dialogue, slotting in title and end slides featuring the Paperight logo, and particular focus on the overall tone of the video – it needed to be far more jolly to better reflect Paperight’s brand image.

We decided that it would be best to split the help video into four shorter videos to make the information more easily accessible and user friendly.

The videos were released through the newsletter, and uploaded to the Paperight blog and help site. The completed videos were:

 Copy shop registration

Topping up

Printing a book

Account settings

Project 6: Software phase 2.1 and 2.2: closing report

Project 6, aka Software Phase 2, was written up in three parts:

  • Phase 2, the original pitch
  • Phase 2.1, which was a significant change to the original Project 6 Software Phase 2; and
  • Phase 2.2.

In Project 6 (Software Phase 2), we originally set out to add several new features we believed would be crucial or valuable for

  • automatic PDF layout (to cope with the increasing load of incoming content)
  • mobile-optimised catalogue/browsing site with white-labelling feature
  • integration of major retailer affiliate-link feeds
  • publisher dashboard for sales figures and ability to edit own content
  • incorporate tracking URLs that enable single-sign-on forum access.

Between that pitch and briefing the developers, we changed our priorities based on user feedback and strategic considerations. This resulted in a significant change, where we revised our priority features as follows, referring to them as Software Phase 2.1:

  • 3rd Party Product Integration
  • Product Ownership
  • Publisher Dashboard: Transactions, Payments, Credits widget
  • Find-outlets call to action
  • General Improvements
    • Show PDF file size
    • Country to currency mapping
    • Average default print costs
    • Licensee details capture
    • SEO friendly URLs
    • Suggest a book
    • Licence search
  • PDF Automation
    • HTML to Paperight PDF
    • PDF to Paperight PDF

In 6B/Phase 2.2, we pitched to develop additional, closely related features, referred to collectively as Software Phase 2.2:

  • Site-content management (admins can change text on the site)
  • Preview-document downloads
  • Company User Management: separate ‘company’ registrations form ‘user’ registrations
  • Paperight Staff User Management (different user privileges)
  • Ability to Close/Reopen Accounts
  • Removal of advert space in PDF
  • Hide product-ordering and pricing details from non-logged-in users
  • Revised home page layout
  • HTML to Paperight PDF: further dev on epub imports

General report-back

Overall, this project went very well, thanks to good preparation on our side and great professionalism by Realm Digital. We did change priorities for development during the project, but this was understandable since we need to respond to user feedback as it comes in, especially if it affects our development roadmap while we’re developing.

As with other projects, our only concerns are that we and Realm should find ways to do more testing on older versions of IE (7 and 8) under different circumstances — but that can only really be achieved by seeing the site working on the field and responding.

All of the features developed in this project work well, and almost all have already proven useful or critically important in practice.

Objectives achieved

Planned: “These are important improvements to our product and our infrastructure. In particular: they reduce confusion and uncertainty for users (preview docs, find-outlets); they enable us to refine our messaging continuously in response to user feedback and context (e.g. emphasise topical content, or test different calls to action); they speed up prep of and improve the quality of our documents (epub-to-Paperight PDF); they make clear the distinction between individual users and the companies they represent — companies, not individuals, register on Paperight and deal in licences, and we must make this clear for user clarity and for legal clarity. We want these improvements to lead to higher conversion rates (more copy shops completing transactions, more customers going into Paperight outlets) as a result of clearer messaging, confidence from previews, and more content availability (as a result of our faster content-prep workflow).”

These objectives were all achieved and have proved very important to our work and strategy.

Objectives not achieved


Measures of success

Original pitch

Planned Outcome
Are all our features implemented on time and do they work as planned? Yes.
Do they enable us to learn the lessons we want to learn, particularly around revenue streams? In part. We moved white-label site functionality to a later development phase (phase 3), and have not seen revenue increase there because Postnet are still delaying head-office-level signup. And we’ve now tested and proven that affiliate income (Amazon links) is not a revenue source. So while we have no positive outcomes from the experiments, the lessons have been valuable.
Expect: Ten-fold increase in the rate of adding new content (currently about 50 books a week); Reports from outlets of increased consumer-initiated interest; Some revenue from affiliate links within two months of that feature being live; Publishers updating their own metadata (e.g. descriptions and pricing). As explained further below, increase in rate of adding new content has been closer to two-fold.

We have seen greater consumer-initiated interest at outlets.

No revenue from affiliate links.

We decided not to allow publishers to update their own metadata, and have not seen demand for that feature anyway.

Like: In addition, an increase in rate of outlets and small publishers signing up abroad Outlet signups abroad have not been significant (two or three outlets abroad). However, we’ve seen several small and medium publishers sign up abroad, which has been great.
Love: One large South African publisher contribute a range of books (or a single major text prescribed at a major college or university) because of the availability of single-sign-on tracking URLs. This has not happened yet.


Project 6B pitch (revised original pitch)


Planned Outcome
Are all our features implemented on time and do they work as planned? As with Phase 1 there was some delay over original planned schedule. All features work as planned.
Expect: Ten-fold increase in the rate of adding new content (currently about 50 books a week); Previews being downloaded, and leading to some full purchases; Increased rate of purchased material We have not seen a ten-fold increase. The increase is likely a doubling of speed, which is still very useful. This is largely because it has proved near impossible to automate dealing with the technical differences between content sources, and some human intervention is still required.

Previews are being downloaded; it is not yet clear whether they directly lead to more sales, but anecdotal evidence suggests they do prevent sales of the wrong documents, reducing our customer service burden.

We see an overall increase in purchase rates that may be in part attributed to these software improvements, but can’t be separated from improvements in other areas of the business.

Like: In addition, an increase in rate of outlets and small publishers signing up abroad; Some revenue from affiliate links within two months of that feature being live We’ve seen one or two overseas signups, but no significant increase.

We have seen no revenue from affiliate links. This was not a good use of our resources, though it seemed a very good idea at the time. Worthwhile experiment, though, since we can now exclude affiliate revenue as a revenue source.

Love: One large South African publisher contribute a range of books (or a single major text prescribed at a major college or university) as epubs, and these books being purchased in outlets. The large publishers that have signed up have only given us PDFs so far, because they do not have EPUBs of the books they are giving us. This may still happen in future.



Original budget: R592160.00

Actual spend: R553 641.00

Returned to pool: R38519.00

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Software phase 2.2 572609.00 534090.00 38519.00 Software expenses up until October 2014 to be carried over to a new budget
Legal expenses 19551.00 19551.00 0
TOTAL 592160.00 553641.00 38519.00


Outputs and deliverables


Planned Outcome
Phase 2.1
3rd Party Product Integration Done. Search results show affiliate links to Amazon products. Has proven that this is NOT a source of revenue, and not as helpful as we hoped.
Product Ownership Done. Critical piece of the puzzle, allows us to link sales to publishers’ earnings automatically, in real time.
Publisher Dashboard: Transactions, Payments, Credits widget Done.
Find-outlets call to action Done.
Show PDF file size Done.
Country to currency mapping Done.
Average default print costs Done.
Licensee details capture Done.
SEO friendly URLs Done.
Suggest a book Done.
Licence search Done.
PDF Automation: HTML to Paperight PDF Done.
PDF Automation: PDF to Paperight PDF Done — extremely useful, and means we no longer require Adobe products in our workflow (except for rare and tricky exceptions)
Phase 2.2
Site-content management (admins can change text on the site) Done. Extremely powerful, has allowed us to fine tune wording from overall messaging to tweaking phrases on tooltips and buttons to increase site usability.
Preview-document downloads Done. Very useful and important feature.
Company User Management: separate ‘company’ registrations from ‘user’ registrations Done.
Paperight Staff User Management (different user privileges) Done.
Ability to Close/Reopen Accounts Done.
Removal of advert space in PDF Done. (Docs can now either support ad space or not.)
Hide product-ordering and pricing details from non-logged-in users Done.
Revised home page layout Done — crucial change, this, reduced dud registrations on the site from dozens a month to almost zero.
HTML to Paperight PDF: further dev on epub imports Done, but epub imports still present problematic issues, related to the wide range of epub structures, so we do not use this feature as much as we thought we would, preferring to work with the HTML extracted from the epub instead where possible.



We and Realm should find ways to do more testing on older versions of IE (7 and 8) under different circumstances — but that can only really be achieved by seeing the site working on the field and responding. But Realm give us two weeks after going live to do final testing, after which most bug fixing is charged for over and above the project fee. The problem is that some problems (esp those with IE) only arise in the field months after release. This is an issue we’re discussing with Realm to find good compromises.


This was a once-off development phase that builds towards Paperight’s overall self-sustainability as a business.


This project went well overall. Some of the features we developed were experiments, and we learned valuable lessons from them even if they weren’t the lessons we were hoping for. We’re pleased with the changes as made midway due to user feedback received at the time.

Next steps

At the time of writing: for software, a phase 3 has been completed and phase 4 is starting.

Project 14: Software Development Phase 3: closing report

The third major phase of software development on

  • adding support for VAT (now that Paperight is VAT registered),
  • A5 document downloads and PDF generation,
  • high-res cover downloads (for outlets who want to produce high-end products and their own marketing materials), and
  • improved product workflow and management features.

General report-back

This project went smoothly although there were delays on our side and Realm’s, mainly in the testing stages, where we had to test some complex VAT-support issues around invoices and statements and couldn’t allocate proper time to this. However, the delays did not have a noticeable impact on our business.

Objectives achieved


Objective Aim Outcome
A5 printing Books that are easier to read, leads to greater customer and PR enthusiasm for the end product Done. This has been just as important as we hoped, greatly simplying outlet’s lives. Lots of positive feedback in discussions with users.
High-res cover downloads Lets high-end outlets create attractive front covers and promotional material We’ve seen some take up of this, particularly for promo material (e.g. Juta used these covers for a store poster), not so much for covers (outlets actually find it too much hassle to print a separate jpg as the cover; so we’re addressing this in a future dev project).
VAT support Provide automated VAT-compliant invoices and statements between us, publishers, and outlets. Done. This is a major statutory requirement. No user feedback yet.
Improved PDF generation Speed up the content team’s ability to get documents online, and reduce the file sizes of downloads Done. The new PDF generation workflow is a huge improvement, drastically cutting doc creation time, and resulting in consistently smaller file sizes than in our old InDesign-based workflow.
Improved document management Ability to control a book’s visibility on the site

Ability to change the 80/20 earnings split between Paperight and rightsholders for specific documents



Objectives not achieved


Measures of success


Planned Outcome
First: do the new features function as expected? Yes.
We expect to see A5 documents outselling A4 documents (with the exception of matric exam packs) by 2 to 1. This is hard to measure because we have sold no documents that are available in both A5 and A4 simultaneously. That said, A5 is outselling A4 overall, even though there are far fewer A5 books than A4 available. This is in part because we’ve changed many of our bestsellers from A4-two-up to A5, and removed the two-up option completely.
We would like to see a noticeable increase in revenue, and as importantly, an increase in the number of outlets actively promoting the service to their customers. Our revenue continues to grow on target by over 40% per month on average.
We would love to see traditional booksellers register as outlets, given that we now offer products that ‘look like books’. All of Juta’s 10 stores and Caxton Books (a major supplier to the schools market) have registered. We can’t attribute this directly to A5, but our pitch to them generally is stronger by being able to offer A5.



Original budget: R139080.00

Actual spend: R139080.00

Returned to pool: R0.00

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Functional specification 6840 6840 0
Software build 3.0 84360 84360 0
Theme support, purchase notification emails, registration form improvement, record and timestamp all logins, company account closure improvments 34200 34200 0
Read only PDF’s, listed publishers titles, outlet GPS locations 13680 13680 0
TOTAL 139080 139080 0


Outputs and deliverables

Functional specification and working software code on


When working on something as complex as multinational VAT support and automated documentation for three-party agency sales (Paperight, publisher, outlet), it’s important that you:

  • write everything down very clearly as you go
  • keep one master document of current thinking in as concise a form as possible (multiple docs or outdated notes are unhelpful and even misleading)
  • work quickly while the discussions and decisions are fresh in the mind.


This was a once-off project. Ongoing maintenance and support will be done on an ad hoc basis with Realm. A future project will move all code to an open-source repository, increasing our options for involving other developers for future maintenance.


Great project, despite some delay (as much ours as Realm’s) and testing issues.

Next steps

We have conducted further development projects with Realm Digital, and will continue to build on an excellent working relationship.

Project 3: 1.0 Software Build: closing report

This project is to build the first release of the current Key technical outputs planned:

  • Complete basic frontend components: landing, registration and profile pages; account-credit-top-up page; catalogue page; licence-purchase page; manage-licences page; manage-metadata page.
  • Complete basic backend components: account-credit management; user-search-and-manage page; doc-search-and-manage page; licence-search-and-manage page; PDF-watermarking (shop name, customer name, date, URL ID).

General report-back

After a great deal of careful planning and briefing, this project went extremely well. It ran a couple of months late, which is not unusual for software projects of this nature. Importantly, we built what we needed and achieved our objectives.

Objectives achieved

Planned: “… contract Realm Digital to build a revenue-generating site that will sell instant, automatic licences with content. … ensure that the site is built to accommodate a database of millions of titles, and a range of future enhancements, including devolved user-management, publisher self-service, and API plugins.”

This was achieved.

Objectives not achieved


Measures of success

Before: “We expect immediately on launch to see outlets respond positively to improvements in speed and ease of using 1.0 over 0.5.”

After: Achieved. Getting outlets to sign up with Paperight at all was much easier after the new site launched.

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 0.5. (Outlets have already used 0.5 without guidance for content they’ve found themselves.”

After: This did happen, and has continued since.

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. (We’ve already had half a dozen registrations on 0.5. So we are confident of far exceeding this number with 1.0.”

After: We actively signed up 117 outlets within four months. In addition, 15 signed up by word of mouth, slightly exceeding our planned measure.


Original budget: R510000

Actual spend: R509238

Returned to pool: R762

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Realm Digital Build 510000 509238 762 All done on budget.
Total 510000 509238 762


Outputs and deliverables

Planned: “…the 1.0 site described in supporting documents: the Realm Digital quote and solutions architecture document. The site (a) is faster and lighter than our WordPress prototype, (b) automates a one-click licensing and PDF-delivery process. The IP created will be the designs, code and related documentation that make up the site, and workflow/process documents (hosted on the Paperight wiki,”

This was all completed as planned.


Crucially important to keep regular, clear communication with developers, especially about timing. This project ran late because we let that communication slip early on and had to claw back time later.

Realm Digital is superb at creating clear documentation about agree functionality, process and costings from the beginning. This was immensely valuable, and the kind of professionalism that we expected, given that they are an expensive development company. We would noe expect similar levels of professional planning and execution from any supplier

One are of concern has been cross-platform testing. It only became clear almost a year after this project that Realm were not testing their code as thoroughly as they had led us to believe. We’ve since addressed this with them, but aren’t entirely happy with their level of testing, especially in IE8. This requires ongoing effort to address, and we will agree with Realm in future dev phases, on a case by case basis, how testing is conducted.


This was a once-off project. Under a separate project, we’re moving this and subsequent code to Github under an open licence, which will give us wider options for future improvements and bug fixing.


Great project, despite some timing and testing issues.

Next steps

We have conducted further development projects with Realm Digital, and will continue to build on an excellent working relationship.


Marketing steps up, and we do some backroom plumbing

In the last three months we’ve worked on a range of strategic initiatives:

  • paperight-sponsors-guide_2013111324 Jun 2013: We formally created a model for bulk sales as our ‘Sponsor-a-school campaign/programme’.
  • 27 June 2013: We workshopped a marketing plan with Zoom Advertising (who gave us most of a day of their top execs’ time pro bono), and fleshed it out over July and August into a marketing plan that forms the foundation of our efforts for the next 12 months.
  • 1 Aug 2013: We created and implemented a Facebook conversation plan for Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology. This meant creating several posts for every week, including beautiful graphics, scheduled to publish for the next six weeks on Facebook, all promoting the anthology. You can see the posts on our Facebook page.
  • 5 Aug 2013: We revised our rightsholder agreement, which was received with no negative feedback, and even a nice endorsement from top tech journalist Adam Oxford.
  • 8 Aug 2013: We officially finished Software Development Phase 3. This was a big update that included support for VAT-compliant invoices and statements. (See Dezre’s post on VAT.) It’s not glamorous, but massively useful and important for us, and it was really hard work.
  • 20 Aug 2013: We revised our privacy policy, spurred by some concerned feedback from Pearson who said it needed work. It really did: it was originally drafted by Nick, still an intern at the time, while bleary-eyed on an international flight. Sometimes you just have to get it done even if it’s not perfect!
  • 30 Aug 2013: We created a simple tillpoint checklist for stores. It was hard to do. The simplest things can be the trickiest to make.


Spreading the word

We’ve been getting around:

  • 28 June 2013: I spoke at the Education Week conference in Joburg, arguing that open-license publishing has more in common with commercial publishing than most think.
  • 6 Aug 2013: I went to Gauteng to present at the Accenture Innovation Index Awards (and got through to the finals on 10 Oct!)
  • 4 Jun 2013: In a blog post, I argued that it’s a myth that reading is dying among young people.
  • 26 June 2013: I spoke at Khayelitsha Chamber of Commerce meeting on the need for technology entrepreneurs to focus on simple solutions that solve today’s problems (not tomorrow’s).

RISO on board


We’ve entered into an exciting collaboration with copier manufacturer RISO, where they bundle a funded Paperight account with every colour printer sold to a South African school.

This gives us a powerful mechanism to engage with large schools and colleges, a simple message for the media, and a great tool for getting certain key publishers on board.

Loads of media coverage

(Special highlights in bold)

Our roadmap for the next 3 months

  • Our revenue targets are getting serious, so the focus is on bringing in bulk sales, mostly through getting sponsorships. We’re recruiting a salesperson, but meanwhile (and perhaps beyond), I’m going to focus more of my time on this, and delegating other responsibilities to the team.
  • We have a few more software updates to do: most minor but important tweaks, and one major addition: a much better, fully integrated outlets-finding maps, integrated in the UI with product pages.
  • Get our video production stream up and running with new full-time video intern.

The Paperight Help Video

Another part of my induction to Paperight was to produce a Paperight help video to be uploaded to the help site. The help video was designed as a nifty tool for new and registered outlets to refer to about how the site works.

The decision to make this video came from increasing evidence that a large number of registered copy shop managers seemed to find the website difficult to navigate when encountering it remotely, i.e. without a Paperight team member to assist them in person. With copy shops signing up all over South Africa, the help video became the most obvious solution.

The completed video covered the entire Paperight registration process, then how to top up an account with credits (including the two different payment options), the process of finding a document, buying the license and how to download. The option to change general account settings was also detailed, including how to add another user or multiple users to the account.

The video was created using screen casts of specific cursor actions (recorded through CamStudio) and voice recorded prompts that I edited together through iMovie. The finished product was far from professional, but it did the trick. For all outlet queries about the website, Yazeed and I would direct them to the help video to cut down on possible confusion.

The video was launched in the weekly newsletter, and uploaded to the Paperight blog and the help site.

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.