Tag Archives: RISO

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.

SAPA National Conference 2013

The South African Principals’ Association (SAPA) hosted their National Conference at Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng between the 7th and 9th of October 2013. The overall goal of the conference was to bring together figures in the education sector to tackle the year’s theme of Education on Track. I attended the conference to represent Paperight, make contact with fellow exhibitors and sell the Paperight service to school principals. We partnered with Realm Digital/Snapplify to take a stand.

My initial feeling after the conference was positive that sales and useful contacts would come from my attendance. However, in hindsight, I don’t believe that this event had the rewards that I anticipated. We have not tracked any sales to come directly from the conference and no schools have signed up in the period following the event. Despite handing out many flyers, as well as my business card, no attendees acted on these takeaway reminders of what Paperight offers.

I believe the reasons for this failure are a combination of the following:

  • an over-complicated brand introduction*
  • an unwillingness on the part of the principals to consider using a paper option for the students in light of all of the pro-digital sentiment that has been bandied about, particularly at the conference
  • despite their best intentions, a lot of the principals are not technologically clued up enough (or simply doubt their own ability) to use the Paperight site
  • a snobbishness on the part of some of the principals who seemed to be very interested in getting free stuff in order to secure their attention
  • my failure to push for principals to leave their contact details
  • the delegates may have been overwhelmed by the enormous volume of new information over the course of the event
  • Paperight does not offer enough material for primary school children

*By an over-complicated brand introduction, I mean to say that when consumers see the Paperight brand for the first time, there are so many options to use the service that some may be driven to inaction. For example, schools can sign up themselves OR head to their local copy shop OR lease a RISO machine that comes with a Paperight.com account.

Knowing what I know now, I would not advise visiting the SAPA conference again unless we have the resources to bring in memorable gimmicks or free samples to help us sell the idea of Paperight and leave a better lasting impression. Unfortunately, this is not an accommodating environment for small, cash strapped start ups.

Another bookseller signs up, and we face some inertia

Caxton books, a top bookseller of academic books in the southern suburbs, registered with Paperight. They purchased a small printer as a pilot project and asked me to train their staff. I visited the store several times to discuss Paperight and train their staff. Caxton books advertised the Paperight service to their customers via e-newsletters.

I had a meeting with the CPUT Library Services board regarding a possible Paperight partnership. The head of the Library Services was especially interested in Paperight but, was unable to attend the meeting. The board was very pleased with Paperight but, similar to UWC Library Services, needed to determine how paying for top-ups would work and how monitoring purchases would be done. We’ve discovered that bureaucracy tends to have a strong impact on slowing down the progress and flexibility of an institution.

Riso sponsored Spine Road High in Mitchell’s Plain with past exam papers for Mathematics. I attended the handover to take photos for the press release. A few weeks prior to this, Arthur and I attended a meeting with the school H.O.D.’s alongside Riso to present Paperight and our part in the Riso partnership. The meeting was successful and discussions continued around the possibility of the school obtaining one of the Riso machine. Arthur and I also noticed how different our pitch is compared to that of the old-school corporate salesperson and how uncomfortable we were with that style.

We weren’t achieving what we set out to achieve which was for outlet staff to take more pro-active roles with Paperight. Instead, outlet managers continued to keep their staff uninformed

After several months of running the salesperson of the month competition we decided to cancel it before schedule. We weren’t achieving what we set out to achieve which was for outlet staff to take more pro-active roles with Paperight. Instead, outlet managers continued to keep their staff uninformed which meant that most outlets’ staff didn’t know Paperight let alone the competition. We had no power or incentive to offer to change this.

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.

Good relationships with Minuteman Press, Riso and Blitsdruk

In July I was invited by Minuteman Press head office to attend their Gauteng regional meeting to present Paperight and to discuss Paperight with their marketing team. The Paperight presentation was the most well received of the presentations on the day, probably because it was the only presentation that was interactive and offered something new that they haven’t seen many times before.

In my discussions with the marketing team it was decided that they wouldn’t force all of their outlets to register with Paperight but would consider putting a set price in place to standardise the pricing across their outlets. This has had the positive result of Minuteman Press outlets offering a positive Paperight experience to their customers, as only those outlets who take an interest in Paperight took the time to learn how to register and use the model.

Riso Africa was interested in forming a relationship after meeting Arthur at a conference and discussing Paperight. Riso offered a machine that could print and perfect bind books in colour at a price far below their closest competitor. Effectively this turns a Riso Comcolor machine into a much cheaper version of the Espresso Book Machine, when combining it with Paperight, at less than half the price. We put a Memorandum of Understanding in place and I attended Riso training to understand their machines better.

Blitsruk in George contacted us to contribute to our sponsor a school project. I identified a previously disadvantaged school in a township in George and determined their needs. I collated this with the budget which Blitsdruk had given me and sent through the final order to Blitsdruk who printed, bound and delivered them. We contacted a journalist from the local newspaper who accompanied the store manager to take photos and cover the handover of the materials.

Printing challenges and the state of content come December 2012

The high cost of colour printing was a constant challenge for us, especially when it came to children’s books, which were the primary priority for an organisation like The Shine Centre. Additionally, The Shine Centre needed us to get the price of each book under R35.00, which was easy when it came to monochrome printing, but very difficult in the case of colour.

Throughout December I continued communication with OUP about the potential for making their African literature list available on Paperight (a project that Oscar spearheaded), as well as following up with other publishers. We also sent printed product samples to The Shine Centre, a literacy organisation which we really like, and wanted to find a way to work with. The high cost of colour printing was a constant challenge for us, especially when it came to children’s books, which were the primary priority for an organisation like The Shine Centre. Additionally, The Shine Centre needed us to get the price of each book under R35.00, which was easy when it came to monochrome printing, but very difficult in the case of colour. We’re still working on this in 2014, and are hopeful that machines like the RISO ComColour will make a difference in this space.

many outlets don’t put posters up even when you’ve sent them the marketing materials, and need to be constantly reminded and chased

I facilitated the first Random House Struik file transfer and upload, and we experimented with a targeted RHS marketing campaign in select outlets. We learnt from the latter that many outlets don’t put posters up even when you’ve sent them the marketing materials, and need to be constantly reminded and chased. Once they had all put up the posters in stores (which took several weeks), we did not see great sales numbers. What we found was that the most productive way to generate sales early on is through organised bulk sales and school sponsorship deals, and not necessarily via more passive advertising.

now-what_together-we-pass-paperight_cover_low-res_20130228Another of our proposed content creation projects was Now What?, a guide for students who were studying through UNISA. We teamed up with Together We Pass to produce the booklet, with the understanding that we would manage the project management and costs, and in turn they would advertise the booklet and help to distribute it to their affiliated UNISA students. For us, the project was about showing UNISA that Paperight could be a useful mechanism for UNISA students. We began by having a general hacking session to decide on the outline and general structure, and then I drew all of this together into a detailed brief and content outline.

At the end of 2012, given the launch of Paperight 1.0 and that the content catalogue had to be rebuilt almost from scratch, I did an analysis of the listed content that we had put on Paperight since May. This had also shifted from primarily Creative Commons licensed and public domain works (on Paperight 0.5), to include titles from a total of 36 publishers who had since registered. We continued to have a large base of CC-licensed and public domain material, but this has been supplemented by contemporary African and South African fiction, academic work, study-guides, and teachers resources.

The graph below roughly illustrates, based on year of publication, the composition of the Paperight catalogue in comparison to that of the database in February 2012. It illustrates that we grew our proportion of contemporary, licensed titles. The drop in public domain titles here, is a result of the fact that some of our earlier public domain texts have not yet been processed for upload on Paperight 1.0.

Since February we had nearly doubled our acquired content, and had increased the amount of documents that have been processed for automatic download tenfold. As of December 20th, there were 1146 processed documents listed on the site, with 771 documents awaiting processing.

As of December 20th, there were 1146 processed documents listed on the site, with 771 documents awaiting processing.

The following data visualisations provide an overview of the percentage of books per genre. The second and third charts show the composition of sub-genres within two of the primary genres of ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’.

These titles encompass a wide range of themes in the social sciences, both of an academic and general nature. These include books on politics (political parties and parliamentary politics), history, civil society and  mass media. There is a also a strong collection of African biographies and memoirs, African poetry and plays, African literary criticism and a broad collection of books on conservation and environmental issues. There is also an incredible collection of books on higher education, especially in Africa. Some of the books in our collection (especially books on African philosophy, the biographies and seminal works by past and contemporary African intellectuals) are not as easily available anywhere else in South Africa as they are on Paperight.  There are also books on cellphone culture in Africa,  African popular culture, books on gender and a wide-range of popular and literary fiction.

Publisher registrations

  • Parktown Publishers (10/12/2012)