Tag Archives: Philippa Dewey

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)

Preparing for the #textbookrevolution

We hit the ground running in January with preparations to support the launch of the #textbookrevolution in February. We reformatted all A4 one-up documents – I created the detailed list of documents for Philippa to work through, and assisted by adjusting crop marks of these for easy conversion. I also supported Philippa’s uploading and document processing efforts by sourcing pricing and metadata information. I finalised the DocRaptor compatible CSS, and bug fixes, and we went live with the DocRaptor adjustment.

Other activities included a call with Louise from Bookstorm, a meeting with Hetta from UNISA Press to finalise contracts, and finishing uploading of the backlogged documents.

The disappointing news for the month was from Harlequin: they declined a partnership with us, saying that they were unable to pursue this opportunity for the time being.

Publisher registrations

  • Pearson SA (8/1/2014)
  • TIE, LCC (15/1/2014)
  • Mkuki na Nyota Publishers (23/1/2014)
  • Neosmart (Pty) Ltd (26/1/2014)
  • Bookstorm (28/1/2014)


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)

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)

We get the fright of “A Life”

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

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

Cambridge University Press signs up

I was away for much of May (on leave) and back in the office on the 20th. Nevertheless, it was an important month. When I returned, I countersigned the CUP agreement and the Carroll & Brown agreement. We fixed some bugs on the site, completed the Mindset Learn upload, and facilitated the transfer of some Pan Macmillan titles (The Youngsters series to start with).

I also continued with LBF follow up, and general publisher followups on loose administrative ends, trying to nudge towards registrations that had been promised, fielding questions from wary publishers (usually regarding piracy and DRM). In the LBF wrap up, we also completed a reconciliation of expenses for the trip, and I sent content proposals out to publishers I’d met at the fair, and who were interested in registering.

This month was also the end of Philippa’s time with us. She left her internship at Paperight to take two successive ones at the US Trademark Offices and the Copyright Clearance Center in Washington DC

UPDATE: Don’t worry, this is not the last you’ll hear of her! She came back!

Publisher Registrations

  • SelfMadeHero (7/5/2013)
  • Pressque Publishing (8/5/2013)
  • Masimba Musodza (9/5/2013)
  • Oxford University Press (13/5/2013)
  • Ilex Omni Publishing (15/5/2013)
  • Pillar International Publishing (21/5/2013)
  • Author jonah Becker (21/5/2013)
  • Geko Publishing (21/5/2013)
  • Graceworks (22/5/2013)
  • Gail Iris Rosslee (27/5/2013)
  • Panmacmillan SA (29/5/2013)
  • theInkSword (30/5/2013)
  • Botshelo Publishing (31/5/2013)

Matric exams update 2013

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

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

All’s fair in books and war, I mean, competitions

April’s main preoccupation was preparing for the Digital Minds conference startup innovation contest. It was the first time that anyone other than Arthur had presented Paperight to a large audience, and Oscar and I were planning on being a well-oiled machine by the time we got on stage. We wrote and re-wrote our respective speeches, and practiced until we were reciting the speech in our sleep.

In amongst that, we spent time chatting with Pearson Future Technologies about a meeting in London; Yazeed and I met with UWC library about incorporating Paperight into their library services; I met with Macmillan again; and we had a debriefing meeting with TWP to talk about the progress of Now What?

While I was at the Book Fair, and once it was over, the team was focused on processing of Mindset Learn materials, and sourcing missing content and cover images. Diann was working on ABC titles, Philippa and I on Mindset and College Campus titles, and updating of Matric Exam Packs (including uploading new PDFs and updating metadata), and New Africa Books. Oscar was in the process of mapping curated categories to Amazon categories, general curation duties, and updating of page extents and descriptions on content master, and content tagging.

On Sunday the 14th of April, Oscar and I arrived in London, only to find that they would only allow one of us to present on stage. We reworked the speech, and I delivered it solo at the Digital Minds Innovation Showcase – though Oscar’s presence still very much came through in his story, and it was good to see his reassuring face in the audience!. The showcase formed part of the Digital Minds Conference, annually held before the London Book Fair, and attended by industry leaders in digital publishing. Paperight was expected to offer a 4-minute pitch, against seven other innovative start-ups in digital publishing. We were selected as the winner of the showcase by popular vote.

After our win, everything else seemed easy! Oscar and I attended the fair from the 15th to the 17th April. Our aim was to build on existing publisher relationships and approach new publishers. Additionally, we were to pitch Paperight as part of the Digital Minds Innovation Showcase at the Digital Minds Conference the day before the fair.

Oscar’s trip was funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, as organised by the Publisher’s Association of South Africa. As part of the sponsorship, Paperight was given a table on the South African National Pavilion at the fair. This allowed us a place to meet with publishers, and a space within which to display Paperight-branded materials (our roller-banner for example).

The overall response to Paperight was very positive, and we signed our contract with O’Reilly Media at the fair: a fact that was reported in the show-news for the day.

Post Fair, I focused on follow ups and Base Admin, as well as completing a feedback report for the team, the Shuttleworth Foundation, and the DTI.

Publisher registrations

  • New Africa Books (2/1/2013)
  • Health and Medical Publishing Group (15/4/2013)
  • Do Sustainability (17/4/2013)
  • Cambridge University Press (17/4/2013)
  • HiSpeed Ltd (18/4/2013)
  • Eduskills Rainbow (18/4/2013)
  • Ses’fikile Press (19/4/2013)
  • Wide Margin (23/4/2013)
  • Granny’s Books Publishing (23/4/2013)
  • O’Reilly Media (24/4/2013)
  • On Target Publishing (25/4/2013)
  • By Light Unseen Media (25/4/2013)
  • Agang SA (26/4/2013)
  • MWS Media (27/4/2013)
  • CinnamonTeal Publishing (29/4/2013)
  • Ingrid Andersen (29/4/2013)
  • The Peacock Book Publishing (30/4/2013)
  • Ampelon (30/4/2013)

Two anthologies start to take shape

March brought the first flood of anthology submissions. I triaged these from team email to Oscar, who then catalogued the entries. Once we’d received the influx, we set about organising an Anthology hack day to wade through submissions, read, and complete the first round of judging. While we’d have many sessions like this, I was only involved in the first few before I went to London, and then on leave.

In the spirit of writing competitions, we also met with Rachel Zadok to discuss Short Story Day Africa. Given that many of our team members are published or aspiring writers themselves, it was a project we were keen to be a part of. Paperight took on the sponsorship of the design and typesetting of the anthology, with the requirement that it be made available on Paperight after publication.

Our ongoing work with publishers included meetings with Cambridge University Press, Harlequin, Modjaji,  and Do Sustainability. I finalised my London Book Fair meetings. And we tried approaching publishers on ADvTech’s list of prescribed books (though we received no response).

We also worked on A Life, for New Africa Books. I finalised the epub and mobi versions.  Diann came in to do some freelance work.  I correspondence with Caitlin about her freelance work on the College Campus prep, oversaw Philippa’s CSV creation, and sourced missing information where necessary.

Publisher registration

  • Chris van Rensburg (7/3/2013)
  • Calm In Storm (18/7/2013)

CAPS outlines project

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

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