Tag Archives: outlets

Designing the #textbookrevolution

The bulk of my time at Paperight during 2014 was taken up by the #textbookrevolution campaign. This was by far the most well-planned, well-executed and successful campaign we did to date. For the first time, we agreed upon our messaging, plan of attack and the scope of materials that we needed far in advance of starting work on putting the campaign together – a ridiculous thing to say in retrospect, but meticulous marketing planning was something we only learned late into the game, mostly due to the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants approach the entire company sometimes had for most of the time I was here.

The bulk of my work for the #textbookrevolution focused upon executing everything we had learned up until this point:

  • focusing on outlets that we could trust
  • defining areas in which our advertising could be focused
  • creating easily customisable materials
  • curating compact and effective product lists
  • synchronising our messaging and launching our campaign on online platforms as well as with physical materials
  • focusing on cheapness and availablility as our main selling points

As such, the material designing process was by far the easiest out of all the campaigns that I worked on.

To make the campaign seem more coherent, all materials and official posts made by us made mention of the hashtag #textbookrevolution. This was a successful idea – it made it easy for us, for example, to construct and conduct conversations focusing on campaign-related topics on social media, as well as being an innate call-to-action for social media commentary on the topic.

A fun project that we worked on was the creation of a series of beer coasters that had games and quizzes on them, along with Paperight advertising, including taglines with variations on “Cheaper Textbooks. More Beer”. I created six designs – three games and three quizzes – that were printed in quantities of hundreds and passed out at university campuses and student bars in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. It’s difficult to gauge exactly how well these coasters increased engagement, but we did find numerous mentions of them on social media, often along with the #textbookrevolution hashtag.

The weak link with this campaign, again, was some outlets’ reluctance to reciprocate the amount of effort we put into advertising their businesses with some semblance of preparation for or engagement with the campaign on their part. Again, potential customers were turned away from outlets that we had informed of the campaign, or had bad service from them. This was probably, I might speculate, because management had not passed on word on the campaign to their front desk staff. In some cases, outlets were mentioned specifically on posters, and had agreed to be mentioned on those posters, but turned away or offered customers lacklustre service when they came in.

This has been the most major flaw in the workflow of the Paperight model as it exists now. The success of the model depends on too many variables outside of our own control. Although that’s the nature of our business, it does not work as well for outlets as we would like it to, as we essentially outsource the bulk of our end-user customer experience. In other words, a customer’s experience with us is only as good as it is at the outlet.

And, another thought, for every one customer that was turned away and told us of their experience, how many were turned away and stayed privately dissatisfied?

Credit system for prepaid outlets

Some of our outlets approached us saying that they would be more comfortable using our service if we would operate on a credit system, giving them the ability to spend credits and pay later.

  • Wizardz
  • Juta (cancelled after acquisition by Protea Books)
  • AloeX


We increased the topup values on our outlets accounts by paying the money ourselves which the outlets then owe to us. The benefit for the outlet is that they do not need to make a top-up before they can make a licensed sale to their customer.


The outlets we tried this system with did not feel as though they had invested into the service that we provide and therefore were less motivated to sell our products.

Chasing up for payments with outlets is a time consuming process.


We would not be keen to offer this service in the future.

The #textbookrevolution and tough times

February 2014 saw the launch of the #textbookrevolution. We donned our Paperight #textbookrevolution t-shirts and made our way to Stellenbosch University. Once there the team split up: Arthur and Dez stayed at Jetline Stellenbosch to assist in store, Oscar and Yazeed trekked around campus to put up posters, and Philippa, Nick, Marie and I spent our time handing out coasters and getting students to sign the #textbookrevolution petition. Students loved our More Money For Beer campaign slogan, and were very receptive to the idea of Paperight. Mostly though, they bemoaned the high costs of textbooks and the lack of availability of alternatives.

We had the same experience later in the month on UCT campus. Again, we handed out coasters, chatted to students and explained what drives up the price of books. While students were enthusiastic, we soon realised that there were two key gaps that we had not been able to fill. The first was a content gap. We knew that we’d have this, and we’d structured our campaign around it, but the result was that while we had a lot of queries, we were not able to leverage publishers to make this content available (the same problem we’d been experiencing for months).

Additionally, and perhaps more worryingly, we realised that service in copy shops was not what we had assumed it would be. While the majority of registered outlets were very enthusiastic about the Paperight service, and had topped up their accounts, there was often only one person in the outlet who knew how to use the site, despite multiple training sessions with other outlet employees. If this person was not around to field customer orders, or if the customer encountered an employee who did not know of, or who had forgotten about Paperight, the customer was being turned away. More and more frequently we were receiving calls from customers who were going to outlets only to be told that these did not offer the service.

At this point Arthur and I started actively looking into potential pivots. We considered merging Paperight with other companies working in the educational sector, and to this end, valuated Paperight’s assets.

We were struggling to maintain enthusiasm as a team for the #textbookrevolution, and working on publisher follow-ups, reformatting, and uploads seemed futile given an imminent pivot.

Things became very difficult here. We were struggling to maintain enthusiasm as a team for the #textbookrevolution, and working on publisher follow-ups, reformatting, and uploads seemed futile given an imminent pivot. Yet, at the same time, we hadn’t decided on a pivot, so we couldn’t realign our priorities. The result was that we started to flounder a bit. While we continued on, the morale in the office dropped.

Publisher registrations

  • Cambridge Scholars Publishing Limited (12/2/2014)
  • Methodist Church of South Africa (25/2/2014)

Turning school sponsorships into great PR

As a social enterprise, one of Paperight’s main priorities has been to get essential educational materials to students who need it. The entire business model has been structured to cut out as many obstacles as possible to make this aim simple to implement.

paperight-sponsors-guide_20131113In this vein, we chose to actively search for under-resourced schools that we could arrange book sponsorships for. We also approached profitable businesses and copy shops themselves offering a means for them to fulfill their business CSR (corporate social responsibility) objectives.

We paired three schools with sponsors in 2013. The partnerships were:

  1. Silverstream Secondary School in Manenberg, sponsored by Minuteman Press Cape Town
  2. Imizamo Yethu High School in George, sponsored by Blitsdruk George
  3. Kwamakutha Comprehensive High School, sponsored by DES-ign (licenses), and ITEC and Transforming Minds & Futures (printing)

Yazeed did most of the leg work pulling these projects together and Nick initiated the Kwamakutha/DES-ign sponsorship.

All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise.

Businesses were able to offer invaluable support to 2013’s matric classes that could give the students the confidence and means to achieve access to tertiary education. In the meantime, the sponsors would achieve their CSR objectives and receive great press for their input. All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise. I put together press releases about the sponsorships and sent them off to carefully chosen media contacts, specifically community newspapers.

Community newspapers are particularly interested in stories like this, for obvious reasons, and are the best place for businesses to be seen helping the community around them. Of course, this PR has helped Paperight reach more potential customers too. So everybody wins!

In addition to the three school sponsorships, Yazeed also managed to build a strong relationship with Mr Cader Tregonning of Pelikan Park High School in Pelikan Park. Together, they arranged that Pelikan Park matric students could purchase a comprehensive pack of past matric exam papers from Minuteman Press in Cape Town. The pack would cover all of their essential subjects and they would simply have to order a copy to be printed and delivered in the first term of 2013. To see more about this story, head to the Paperight blog.

This official endorsement from a school has been an invaluable addition to our growing list of supporters and has helped us to show registered copy shops that it is possible to build a sustainable business relationship with local schools. Once a school starts using Paperight and sees the positive results in their pupils, the relationship will be set.

To preserve evidence of our work with the schools close to home, we sent Shaun (our awesome video intern) along with Yazeed to speak to the Silverstream Secondary School and Pelikan Park High School principals. Admittedly, the rest of the team didn’t know the remarkable nature of the relationships Yazeed had built and the following videos really brought home why an idea like Paperight needs to exist in the world. For all our flaws, we have definitely done something right.

The videos have been uploaded onto the Paperight YouTube channel, and linked to from the Paperight blog and Facebook page. They have also been released to media contacts as supporting evidence of what Paperight is about.

Pelikan Park High School

Silverstream Secondary School

In early 2014, we hoped to work with Pelikan Park again to initiate a Paperight Sponsored Brains programme. We aimed to sponsor two nominated matric students with all of their necessary materials for the year and name them as official Paperight ambassadors. They would keep us up to date on their studies and over 3 intervals (roughly May, September and a final update in January 2015) they would produce a piece of writing about how they are doing and what their concerns/interests are at that point. These updates would help us to generate content for news stories about what today’s matrics really need to thrive. In addition, we would also arrange 3 training sessions on subjects of the students’ choosing, for example, personal finances, applying to universities, writing a great CV, career choices etc.

However, this project was abandoned due to the large volume of work required to bring the #textbookrevolution to life.

Matric Exam Marketing Campaign 2013

For the end of the year, we focused on pushing sales of matric exam material as a priority and other supplementary school material too.  This was to be our most profitable season based on the success of the previous season. Our marketing efforts consisted of the following:

  • post_20131010press releases to media contacts on our work with Pelikan Park (PP) High School and Silverstream Secondary (SS) School (see ‘Turning school sponsorships into great PR’ article for more details)
  • newsletter pieces and blog posts encouraging outlets to commit to in store promotion
  • Gumtree and OLX adverts offering a door-to-door delivery service for past matric exam papers
  • an smsweb email to school principals introducing what Paperight can do to help their schools access study material
  • a Facebook conversation plan and paid Facebook advertising
  • three adverts in The Good Times school newspaper (Hout Bay/Llandudno, Atlantic Seaboard and Constantia).

We intended to also place an advert in Free4All (the free school newspaper that is distributed nationally) with the help of a copy shop partner, but this did not come together in time.

Our Facebook strategy was to fill our page with advice to matric students for their exams and links to relevant products, while targeting parents of matric students through paid advertising. This helped us to increase our page likes, yet did not lead directly to many sales, as far as we could track.

Our door-to-door delivery campaign completely failed with not even a single request for the service.

Our door-to-door delivery campaign completely failed with not even a single request for the service. We offered to print and bind matric past papers and drive them to customers’ homes and offices, and we advertised the papers at very affordable rates. Despite posting adverts on Gumtree and OLX, as well as posting our offer on Facebook and scheduling a paid Facebook advert targeting parents, it did not have the desired effect. The only conclusion we can come to is that the offer may have been arranged too late for most parents to take advantage of. Similarly, the offer only applied to the Western Cape (within driving distance of Claremont) and perhaps the need for the service may have been more pressing in other provinces that we couldn’t get to simply due to a lack of resources.

The press release I sent out about our work with PP and SS was picked up in numerous regional newspapers and again showed our extraordinary ability to generate free press.

we were faced with feedback from unsatisfied customers, explaining that they were turned away by front of house employees who did not know about Paperight or did not know enough about the service

Many outlets committed to instore advertising to drive sales of study material. However, as with most work with copy shops, we were faced with feedback from unsatisfied customers, explaining that they were turned away by front of house employees who did not know about Paperight or did not know enough about the service to a) recognise the query as a request for a Paperight book or b) assist the customer immediately. Yet more evidence that trusting Paperight sales to another business that has control over point-of-sale is a major hurdle that needs to be addressed. Regardless, we made many successful sales too.

The Good Times newspaper is a great publication to advertise with to reach parents directly. Made up entirely of news items about schools in different areas across the Western Cape, parents dip into the newsaper to find photos of, stories of and work produced by their offspring. However, the publication went to print far too late in the year (2nd December 2013) and therefore had no impact on sales. However, our paid advert was featured alongside a full page article about the work that Paperight does and I am sure that it will stick in parents’ minds during future buying cycles.

Based on the results of our Adopt-a-copy-shop/Adopt-a-school project, we did not send any marketing materials (posters or flyers) directly into schools.

post_20131018Overall, this buying cycle was more lucrative than 2012, even though the number of study aids (past papers and study guides) was significantly less. This is perhaps because in 2012 past exam papers had no license fee. From 2013, Paperight began charging $1 (or 1 credit) per document to help inch our way towards sustainability.

These titles are our most valuable content and have been essential to defining ourselves to the public. Any and all future marketing strategies that Paperight implements must build on the strong base already in place.

Streamlined Paperight Product Catalogue

paperight_streamlined-catalogue_cover_20131104In November of 2013, we launched our beautiful streamlined Paperight product catalogue (PDF). Having worked with the previous catalogue as an intern which is a long, impenetrable list, I was adamant that we should upgrade it as soon as humanly possible.

The upgraded catalogue required fewer products and lots of colours and images to hook potential customers. One of the experiences that book buyers particularly enjoy is the sensation of browsing and this was meant to be a way of giving Paperight customers that experience.

Oscar and I worked on the list of content that would fit into the following broad, browsing categories:

  • matric exam packs
  • high school
  • young adult reading
  • teen reading
  • textbooks
  • tertiary education
  • classic fiction
  • teaching aids
  • child teaching
  • african literature
  • religion & spirituality
  • childcare
  • self-help & reference

Nick and I worked together on the concept for the catalogue and the necessary design feature-y type things that would make the finished product really easy and enjoyable to dip into. In the end, Nick took everything we discussed and created an absolute masterpiece. Slick and eye-catching, there is no way that anyone wouldn’t be impressed by Paperight and the featured titles.

photo4 photo3

The catalogue was launched through the weekly newsletter and on the Paperight blog. Outlets were encouraged to contact us for personalised copies featuring their own logos, business addresses and contact details. We have continued to receive a regular number of requests from business owners for personalised copies and Nick has been able to keep up with the edits due to the simplicity of the catalogue’s design. In other words, his no frills design approach has made the final document simple and quick to edit.

The catalogue was designed to be relevant from November 2013 to April 2014 to ensure we would not have to design a new catalogue anytime soon. Based on the marketing plan, we knew that we would have very busy months ahead that would leave no time for a full catalogue overhaul. Any newer updates to content have been featured through the weekly newsletter and through the Paperight Facebook page.

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

Monthly Outlet Sales Winner

Between May and August 2013, we offered a monthly reward of R1000 to the best sales person throughout the Paperight network of registered copy shops.

The challenge was announced through the weekly newsletter and on the Paperight blog. Our intentions were to drive sales of Paperight books, encourage copy shop employees to familiarise themselves with paperight.com, and to drive home the need for all employees to have their own individual Paperight accounts, albeit subsidiary ones to their main business account.

Individual staff accountability within copy shops has been an uphill battle and a necessary struggle to secure the safety of the book titles already available through the Paperight network. In order to negotiate with publishers, it is essential that we put all the measures that we can in place to protect their copyright and offer complete reassurance of our efforts to combat book piracy. Knowing who specifically has accessed certain titles can assist Paperight and the copy shops themselves to identify any potential pirates.

Similarly, there has been an unusual trend through copy shop owners to not inform their staff that they are officially offering a new service, namely Paperight. The number of customers that have been turned away simply due to ignorance on the part of the copy shop employee cannot be measured, however we have had feedback from customers to let us know that it has happened to them. We hoped to also remedy this issue with this competition.

The winner was announced for each month in the first week of the following month, once we had double checked everyone’s sales figures.

Our very few ‘fine print’ rules were:

  • Free documents do not count towards sales (e.g. Quirk Emarketing and College Campus guides) – that would make it too easy to cheat!
  • The customer’s first and last names MUST BE INCLUDED on every purchase.
  • The competition is only for South African shops.

The winners were:

  • May 2013: Dean Mostert of Minuteman Press
  • June 2013: Aletta de Witt of Aloe X
  • July 2013: Unice Davies of Revprint Claremont
  • August 2013: Hennie van der Merwe of Minuteman Press Vanderbijlpark

The competition was supposed to run from May to December 2013. However, by August 2013, we came to realise that copy shop managers were not sharing Paperight information and news (shared through the newsletter) with their staff so the competition became effectively meaningless.

More often than not, copy shop managers expressed an unwillingness to share the Paperight account details with all of their staff in order to prevent abuse of the system. This was an unexpected insight as it showed us just how serious these managers are about avoiding copyright infringement in store- which is great reassurance in our negotiations with publishers about distributing their content through Paperight.

Adopt-a-copy-shop/Adopt-a-school Project

To increase Paperight study-material sales (and better understand our copy-shop partners), we decided as a team to individually adopt a registered Paperight copy shop and try to partner them with a local school. The aim was to test various methods of promotion (specifically to parents of high school students) and to simultaneously build close relationships with a small batch of copy shops that would ultimately become Paperight Premium Outlets in future. For more on that, read Yazeed’s entries.

Despite our best intentions, this project did not come together according to plan.

One of our major in-house hurdles has been finding the time to get out of the office, to spend time in our adopted copy shops, as well as visiting local schools on their behalf. We managed to find time to do so, but not easily and certainly not as often as we should have done.

Once we had identified schools to visit, we submitted briefs to Nick for personalised promotional materials. Specifically, we took posters and flyers to the schools highlighting educational materials (past exam papers, study guides and textbooks) available through their local Paperight registered copy shops, emphasising the copy shops’ competitively low pricing. The materials themselves were succinct enough to avoid confusion about how the Paperight/copy shop partnership works and the flyers doubled as ordering forms to cut down on the necessary steps to make a sale.

Once the posters and flyers were printed, we liaised with school secretaries for permission to bring them onto school campus. The posters were placed in obvious places, such as in the secretaries’ offices, in entrance lobbies, near school shops and near matric classrooms. Similarly, the flyers were given to matric class teachers to hand out to students in registration class.

more often than not the copy shop managers were either unwilling to do so or too busy to do so

Each team member managed to make the beginning steps to build the relationships, but we all found that we needed our chosen copy shops to really step up to sustain the partnership. However, more often than not the copy shop managers were either unwilling to do so or too busy to do so.

Apart from this, we found that our promotional materials led to only small spikes of sales. I believe this is directly related to the materials being present on the schools’ campuses and not visible enough to the students’ parents. I’m also quite sure that students made paper airplanes out of the flyers rather than giving them to their parents. The kinds of students who ultimately ended up in store buying past papers and study guides were typically the kind that did not need a flyer or poster to discover Paperight because they’re particularly proactive with regards to their studies. This failing on our part informed our marketing efforts that became the Matric Exam Campaign.

This project did not intend to change the schools’ official book purchasing protocols, but instead aimed to turn parents over to using Paperight . Ultimately, parents are the ones who have the most invested in their child’s success and it was on this personal interest that we hoped to ignite support for the Paperight project.

If I could pick out one overarching lesson learned from all this, I would say that the principal of any school sets the benchmark and with their support of a new initiative or supplier, the rest of school will fall into line. This has been proven by Yazeed’s wonderful work with Pelikan Park High School. Despite the difficulty of building a strong relationship like this, the rewards are manifold and certainly worth the work put it. More relationships like this could carry Paperight well into self-sustainability.

Lessons learned from distributed in-store advertising

We discovered soon after we began to create outlet- and product-specific posters and send them out via our newsletter that they made a difference to sales. In fact, a survey done by Yazeed at one point showed that outlets that advertised with posters had more success than others. (This, in retrospect, is incredibly obvious, but we thought people might have been driven to stores or to buy products by being encouraged to do so by… well, I’m not sure, actually.)

When Marie arrived in April 2013, it freed me up to do more material design work. Marie set about calling outlets to find out more about them and to make sure they were on board with our system. We made sure that, when she called an outlet, she asked if they wanted any materials made for them for the upcoming matric exam season. As part of our offering, we would design posters and flyers. These materials included price lists on them for up to 50 of our matric products, which we could change for every outlet that wanted them. There was sound reasoning behind this, initially: we assumed that, if we did the heavy lifting for outlets and gave them something specific to them and ready-made for them, they would take to using materials with more enthusiasm, and would get some outlets that didn’t have design capabilities to be able to engage with and to advertise Paperight better.

This was a pretty disastrous idea, for a number of reasons:

  1. The amount of requests for materials that we got was overwhelming, and we only had one designer: me, who had many other responsibilities to take care of.
  2. Outlets sometimes weren’t even too sure of their own pricing structures, or would arbitrarily change things, and so would ask us to make multiple revisions to the same materials because they couldn’t be bothered to tell us what their prices were and, even if they did, tended not to stick to them.
  3. Manually changing 50 or so prices for every flyer and poster, and copy-pasting logos and contact details, was mindnumbing and uncreative work. I felt like I missed a month of my life around July, as every day was the same task, in a sense.
  4. Outlets didn’t buy into the materials as much as we hoped. Some never printed them, effectively making the work a waste of time.

These problems piled the misery on me, with the result that I entered into quite a deep slump for a few weeks. I began to resent my work and what I was doing and, even worse, the people I was supplying materials for. The work was repetitive and seemed to have little effect on sales and/or engagement with products with outlet owners. I realised that something drastic had to change.