Tag Archives: Pearson

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 (http://textbookrevolution.co.za); 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.

Launching the anthology, mapping outlets, and a big win

We’re super proud of three new videos:

22 Oct 2013: This 8-min documentary on how and why Pelican Park High bought study materials through us is so affirming for us. It helps answer the doubts that can haunt you when you’re wondering whether you’re moving forward at all.

1 Nov 2013: Similarly, this 8-min documentary on how and why Minuteman Press sponsored books for Silverstream Secondary.

18 Nov 2013: We created a short 1-minute promo from the Pelikan park video on why schools should buy study materials through us.

But the real hjighlight event of the last few months has to be the launch event of the Paperight Young Writers Anthology on 7 September 2013. (See the blog post here and photos on Facebook.)

20140429_frankenstein-mapBack at the ranch, at the end of October we finally integrated our outlets map onto our product pages, to offer the ability to find outlets and compare prices of books at them per product.

This new product-page map explains the concept behind Paperight much better, too, which frees up other messaging space.

At the same time, we also created a range of new screencast videos for our help site (released 21 Oct 2013), produced on 4 Nov 2013 a new printable product catalogue, including improved CSV-based workflow to make future updates quick and easy, and made (on 13 Nov) some useful guides for schools and sponsors on how to work with us.

Marie and Nick have also been producing loads of Facebook posts about our books and outlets.

Out and about

  • On 10 Oct 2013 I pitched at the Accenture Innovation Awards in Joburg, and won! More on that below.
  • 9 to 13 October 2013: Tarryn, our COO, visited the Frankfurt Book Fair, and also won an award. More below.
  • 24 Oct 2013: I spoke at the launch of market research company Yellowwood’s white paper on transformative innovation. Here’s text and video.

  • 6 Nov 2013: “Tough Truths about Selling to Publishers”. I spoke at the inaugural Footnote Summit, a South African digital-publishing conference. I was worried I might offend some people, but my worries were unfounded: people really appreciated my honest, and my talk led directly to one important publisher signing up, and another giving us much better books.
  • 11 Oct 2013: Nice PR opportunities off back of Accenture win, including this breakfast TV show (skip to 3:10 for me).

New supporters

20130903_122743_window-dressedWe noticed on 4 Sep 2013 that local copy shop Top Copy had devoted their entire front facade to Paperight books. It’s great to see one of our champion copy shops devoting their prime ad space to our books.

We identified 46 separate media pieces about us, including these highlights:

Big wins

Five great wins in the last three months:

Our roadmap for the next 3 months

October and November sales were very low, so for the next three months we’re shifting focus to our Feb/Mar 2014 universities promotional campaign, headlined #textbookrevolution, and emphasising the need for universities and publishers to move away from their traditional, bloated supply chain (where 70% of the retail price of a textbook goes to the supply chain alone), and towards Paperight.

Frankfurt Book Fair and CONTEC Startup Showcase win

October saw us participating in the CONTEC Startup Showcase in Frankfurt. The showcase formed part of the CONTEC Conference which was attended by industry leaders in digital publishing, and focused on the connection between content and technology. Paperight was expected to offer a 3-minute pitch, against five other innovative start-ups in digital publishing. We were selected as the winner of the showcase by a panel of judges.

As was the case after our London Book Fair win, the discussions had after the award announcement, and in the tea breaks just before, were very productive, with a lot of excitement about our project and aims. In particular, the Brazilian publishers in attendance (Brazil was to be the market-focus for the book fair that year) were very enthusiastic about the possibilities for Paperight in the Brazilian and wider South American market.

My focus for the fair was on publishers who could provide content that was in line with our current marketing focus. Namely, early childhood development materials (for children) and research (for teachers/caregivers), core textbooks and study materials for grades 10, 11 and 12 learners, core reading material for first and second year university level students, and trade fiction for young adults.

I had many productive conversations, and furthered negotiations with several big publishers (including Elsevier, Harlequin, and Bloomsbury). While I was optimistic about the possibility for Bloomsbury signing on with us, and while they were very receptive in our meetings, they later decides to hold off until after their South African distributors, Jonathan Ball, had had a chance to pilot the system.

We continually found that it was imperative to follow up on marketing material like this, be it with outlets, or schools, as often things would fall through the cracks otherwise.

While I was away, Philippa held the fort, and continued the process of uploading documents in the backlog queue, and Marie completed content tagging. Following my return from the fair, I completed the usual feedback reports, and followed up on the posters we’d distributed to schools (to make sure these had been put up and the flyers handed-out). We continually found that it was imperative to follow up on marketing material like this, be it with outlets, or schools, as often things would fall through the cracks otherwise. Dez and I also completed the Gifted Citizen Award Application on Arthur’s behalf.

Given the difficulties in getting content timeously, specifically as a result of the long lead time when signing publishers, we revisited the discussions (recurring over the last year) of creating our own content. It was around this time that we had been talking to Pearson about making their backlist (some of which included important African literature titles) on Paperight, only to find that this would not be possible due to the fact that font-licensing issues meant that these would have to be re-typeset, and the cost of this was just not a viable option. In our in house discussions about increasing the pool of books published/available in African languages, we began to envision a translation project for popular international YA titles into isiZulu and isiXhosa. This lead to my applying for rights to translate Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games (a project that is still on going). Another of our projects for content creation revolved around matric exams, and the fact that the changes in curriculum meant that past exam papers would no longer be as relevant for students. We contacted Siyavula about a collaborative project to develop a bank of open CAPS-aligned maths questions for grades 11 and 12, but while supportive of the endeavour, their current commitments precluded any involvement on their part. Instead, we looked into hiring an intern to assist us in the creation of a question bank.

We’d increasingly been concerned that we were not close enough to reaching sustainability, and we’d ultimately need to shrink the team in order to extend the funding runway.

October was also the month in which we decided to plan for and prioritise a university marketing campaign as a “Blaze of Glory”, last ditch effort to see if we could gain enough traction in the university market to avoid having to make a serious pivot within the next six months. We’d increasingly been concerned that we were not close enough to reaching sustainability, and we’d ultimately need to shrink the team in order to extend the funding runway. As a team we started brainstorming the #textbookrevolution. Part of this planning lead to us focussing our attention on university prescriptions. I set up a database of prescriptions, and worked with Oscar to flesh this out.

Publisher Registrations

  • Short Story Day Africa (25/10/2013)
  • Jacana Media (30/10/2013)
  • A Poet’s Tree (30/10/2013)

Uploading Accent Press and Cambridge University Press titles, and finalising Pearson agreement

Throughout September we continued to work on uploading the backlog of documents on to Paperight. This included the upload of all the Accent Press titles, which we pushed to get on in time to run the planned erotica and romance campaign. That marketing project was subsequently cancelled, you can read more about why here.

We did a big overhaul of DropBox, to ensure that archiving was happening smoothly and that everything was in the right place. We uploaded the Cambridge University Press titles, and met with them to further discussions about getting prescribed textbooks on Paperight. We also met with Pearson to finalise the signing of our agreement with them – a big win.

Our other big event for the month was the launch of the Paperight Young Writer’s Anthology at the Open Book festival. You can read about that in more detail here.

My other activities for the month were Frankfurt Book Fair related: I applied for the CONTEC Startup Showcase, on Paperight’s behalf. This included writing, refining and filming a video pitch, and submitting the online application. I also set-up a number of meetings for FBF (McGraw Hill, Wiley, Routledge, Hachette, Bloomsbury, Worldreader), and did a lot of travel admin with Dez.

O’Reilly titles go live, and we revise the publisher agreement

July’s big win was getting the O’Reilly books on Paperight. These textbooks were not prescribed at universities, but are an important and oft sought out  supplementary  resource for first year computer science students.  Once these were uploaded I contacted lecturers about the books, asking if they would promote these to students. We had some positive results (particularly from Stellenbosch University), but ultimately saw minimal sales conversions.

Following my return from the London Book fair, I met with Elsevier South Africa about getting their titles on Paperight. Other ongoing meetings and follow-ups included Random House Struik,  Modjaji Books, Jacana, SelfMadeHero, Cassava Republic, Jonathan Ball and Pluto Press. We facilitated the transfer of CUP titles and Accent Press titles, uploaded the first 14 HPMG journals (we put the rest on the backburner pending sales), and sourced missing metadata and covers from Do Sustainability.

I spent time working on CSS (Prince), and Arthur and I revised our rightsholder agreement using feedback from our negotiations with Pearson and O’Reilly Media. I also spent the day at Colour and Copy in Rondebosch, worked with Nick to organise POS advertising and flyers for them. I also completed a survey of the staff as per Yazeed’s request.

Publisher registrations

  • Livity Africa (9/7/2013)
  • Better Life Books (9/7/2013)
  • Accent Press (12/7/2013)
  • Bisel Classics (12/7/2013)
  • Fatai Oladapo (16/7/2013)
  • Ispirato (23/7/2013)
  • Filipe Santos (26/7/2013)


Automated conversion implemented on Dev

A couple of important milestones were reached in June. First of all, PDF-to-Paperight-PDF and HTML-to-Paperight-PDF conversions were implemented on dev, and we set about testing and bug reporting. Specifically, we had to tweak issues regarding page positioning, page numbering. and margins. In the case of HTML-to-Paperight-PDF conversion, this required CSS hacking. We created CSS that would work using Prince XML to create a well-designed, workable PDF output.

Other new functionality had to be tested as well. Our bug testing of the reminder emails for publisher payments led to emails being sent out in error. We had to send all relevant parties an apology and explanations. We linked to this post in the emails, explaining what had gone wrong.

I took over from Philippa as the ‘handler’ for Rondebosch Colour and Copy when she left for her Washington Internship. When I’d been away, each team member had taken on an adopted copyshop, to see whether this added level of support affected sales and competency using the service.

One of my main accomplishments this month was in compiling and submitting a full security audit for Pearson. Their evaluations lead to us scoring 8/10. They were very impressed with our watermarking functionality (we only fell short due to not having been in operation for long enough to do an annual review).

Held meetings with Jeremy Boraine (Jonathan Ball), and Francois van Schalkwyk (African Minds), and approaching of new publishers: The Answer Series, Nali’Bali Sunday Times section, Unisa Press. Pan Macmillan document prepping, and organising of PR material with Nick.  We submitted our application to receive funding for Frankfurt Book Fair  via PASA. We also did the final proofreading of PYWA, and subsequently released it on Paperight.

Publisher registrations

  • Lule Publishers (5/6/2013)
  • Lost Plot Press (9/6/2013)
  • Tawqeer’s Tutoring Service (11/6/2013)
  • African Minds (14/6/2013)
  • Jurassic London (20/6/2013)
  • Ediciones Microtemas (29/6/2013)

Pricing revisions

We kicked January off by updating all the pricing on the Paperight site. One of our major pivots from the previous year was our decision to charge a license fee/service fee for all documents, and to have no free material available on the site (excepting, of course, those Creative Commons titles with a Non-commercial license).  This included charging a nominal amount for all Paperight editions and matric past papers.

Initially, we had imagined the free content as a draw card, that would result in people also purchasing paid content. We found that while the former was true,  the conversion was not happening. We speculated that consumers found the draw-card content valuable in itself, and that they would be willing to pay for it.

The balance between paid and free content on the site was skewed heavily in favour of free, and given that this content accounted for the majority of license purchases and downloads, we needed to ensure that we were making enough money to reach sustainability. Initially, we had imagined the free content as a draw card, that would result in people also purchasing paid content. We found that while the former was true,  the conversion was not happening. We speculated that consumers found the draw-card content valuable in itself, and that they would be willing to pay for it.

We met with HMPG about medical journals, and continued our follow ups with Jacana and other publishers with strong African Literature lists. One of the latter included PanMacmillan/Macmillan, who we’d only recently contacted.  We also began contract negotiations with Pearson, a process which would later lead to the revision of our standard contract for all rightsholders.

The month also included a lot of prep work, with continued work on Mampoer shorts, GetSmarter, and csv and document uploading — we had a bit of a backlog at this stage given all the prep work done by our freelancers (Caitlin and Craig).

Other work included my proofreading of the Paperight catalogue, organising with PASA for attending the London Book Fair, and overseeing authorship of Now What? By this stage its author Paul had drawn together a final draft and we’d sent it to nine Together We Pass affiliated students for feedback.

Publisher registrations

  • Thenosis Publishing (10/1/2013)
  • Mindset Publishing (15/1/2013)
  • College Campus (23/1/2013)
  • P-Ridge Press (29/1/2013)
  • Porcupine Press (30/1/2013)
  • PUO Educational Press (31/1/2013)