I arrived at Paperight in November of 2012 fresh out of my final LLB exams. I had seen Arthur talk about Paperight at a TEDxCapeTown event in June and felt compelled to get involved. I decided the law could wait and that I would see what I could learn from a start-up. Sitting on an exercise ball in the meeting room with the colourful stripy wall meeting the team for the first time, I felt that I had made a good decision.
I was hired as an intern so I bounced around for a while doing various tasks and getting to know the different aspects of the company.
My first task was to do some research into the Creative Commons license suite with the aim of determining whether or not we could add works carrying the Non-Commercial licence (CC-NC) to the Paperight site. Creative Commons licences allow copyright owners to specify which types of uses of their works they are okay with. The Non-Commercial license stipulates that the work may be used in the ways normally reserved for the copyright owner, as long as the use is “non-commercial” in nature. Although Paperight had a strong social mission, to improve access to books, it was a commercial entity. Arthur had chosen to make it a company very deliberately. He didn’t want to run it as an NGO. He wanted it to exist in the world and support itself and prove its usefulness. But being a for-profit company didn’t necessarily mean that we couldn’t use CC-NC works. It is the use that is important, not the nature of the user. In the past there were many materials in the Paperight library that were available for free download. However, by the time I arrived at Paperight a policy had been put in place that a minimum fee would be charged for each and every download. Although the minimum fee was low – only $1 – the fact that we were going to charge at all, to me, made the use commercial and thus we weren’t going to be able to put these works on the site. I don’t think this was quite the outcome Arthur was looking for, and perhaps it was due to my being so fresh out of law school, but I couldn’t really get around this outcome.
At the same time as I was working on the CC research I was gathering content leads and adding them to the content leads list. This involved searching for information about popular books that we would want to put on Paperight. I began looking for books that were CC licensed or in the public domain, and gathered some general metadata about the books. I also gathered metadata for books that were in copyright and sorted them according to publisher so that Tarryn could see which publishers we needed to approach to get them signed up, and what books to ask them for. This process was a mixed bag of interesting finds and tedious data collection. But I did come out of it with a long “to-read” list.
I stayed on at Paperight after the end of my two-month internship, which surprised me as I wasn’t expecting to prove myself indispensable. Initially, we weren’t too sure what my title would be. We bandied around “Resident Storyteller”, “PR Head” and other things, until one day, on the phone to the Cape Argus, I improvised that I was the “Head of Communications”. That stuck, and so my job profile was built around that. My functional authority for this time, from May 2012 until roughly August 2013 was to:
- Plan and execute external communications strategies
- Create design and copy that sets us apart
- Build our archive of media assets
My functional authority was rather easy to fulfill for the first few months. My weekly routine included designing a poster, completing a few blog posts and trying to put together a media list. I found I wasn’t terribly good or tenacious at putting together a media list, so it came in good time when Arthur delivered a talk at TEDxCapeTown and got the attention of a PR agency, Atmosphere, who wanted to work with us.
We went to a meeting in their plush offices at King James in Woodstock, and although it was a fruitful meeting, we simply didn’t have the budget to work with them. They recommended that we get in touch with Nicole Sochen, the founder of al dente PR, who would be more in line with our budget.
At about the same time we were invited to attend the second round of the SAB Innovation Awards. As Arthur’s wife Michelle was due to deliver their child at the same time as the SAB workshop and adjudication in Kyalami, I traveled by myself to attend. There was some stiff competition. Luckily, Arthur managed to come up for the last day and aided me with the presentation to the judges. We, unfortunately, did not make it to the final six, but we were informed in November that we had won a seed grant of R100 000. We finally had the money to put together, we thought, a sustainable PR strategy.
In the last three months we’ve got a few concrete things out the door.
I’ve also been getting around to spread the word.
- 24 July 2012: Interviewed on Cape Talk drive-time radio with John Maytham.
- 21 July 2012: Gave a well-received talk at TEDxCapeTown. Here’s the text of the talk and here’s the video.
- 14 July: Presented at Talking Heads in Cape Town about Paperight (Talking Heads project page)
- 11 July: Spoke to an enthusiastic group of high-school kids at Enke:forum.
- 19 June 2012: Chaired a panel discussion with Alan Knott-Craig Jr and Gus Silber on their new book ‘Mobinomics’. Here’s the Bookslive report.
- 28 August 2012: I was interviewed for if:book Australia about Paperight. Here’s a snippet video, the full video interview is coming later, apparently.
A bunch of people are joining our thinking:
And on my personal blog, a few Paperight-related pieces:
On 9 May 2012 we saw Paperight 1.0 go live, a site I began designing almost two years ago. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. See it live at paperight.com. (It changed a fair bit over time, here’s a video showing an early interface design.) We wrote up a technical explanation of how we built it from open-source tools on the Paperight blog.
For content, our team created over 150 packs of past matric exam papers. It was a mammoth undertaking that now represents the single biggest library of exam packs in the country, that (depending on your local copy shop) is the best-value way to buy them anywhere. Team member Nick Mulgrew wrote up the arduous story on our blog. The team also produced our impressive Outlet User Manual (PDF download), which we’re now converting into a support website.
I also crafted (and in a sense this took years) the Paperight story that will be my template ten-minute pitch presentation for Paperight. It’s had a dry run or two at small events, and gets it real debut at TEDxCapeTown on 21 July. It’s amazing to see a big, complicated idea finally distilled to a simple story.
Less glamorous, I made an office and a team (here are the outlet guys) and a long list of lessons learned in the last nine months.
I’ve enjoyed speaking at several events over the last nine months, mostly on Paperight, sometimes on broader innovative publishing issues (Foundation projects like Yoza and Live magazine often came up):
- Open Book, Cape Town’s premier literary festival, panel discussion with Steve Vosloo and Ben Williams on digitisation in publishing.
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedebad, India: ran half-day seminar on publishing technology for senior publishing execs on a five-day MBA-style program at India’s top management school. It was great to get to sit in on the course, too: some of the best business teaching I’ve ever seen.
- ANFASA (Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association of South Africa) AGM: presentation on Paperight to authors and publishers from around South Africa.
- Publishers Association of South Africa, Higher-Education sector meeting: presentation on Paperight to the senior management of most South African higher-ed publishers.
- British Council panel discussion event, ‘The Future of International Publishing’, at the London Book Fair 2012.
- International New Publishers Network launch, London Book Fair 2012, pecha-kucha presentation on Paperight (see my slides-and-speech version).
- Van Schaik Booksellers Ebook Conference (middle and senior management of several dozen trade and higher-ed publishing companies), presentation on how existing ebook infrastructure can be used to sell books to an offline audience using Paperight.
- Franschhoek Literary Festival: Chaired panel discussion on fiction on mobile phones.
- TED Talent Search, Soweto: talk on Paperight, as part of TED’s global auditions for their 2013 event (I was one of 19 South Africans selected for the event, huge honour to present alongside such incredible innovators).
- International Publishers Association World Congress, Cape Town (11 June): Presenting on innovative business models in SA publishing (Yoza and similar, Paperight, and Siyavula).
- Cape Town Book Fair, 14 June, Goethe Institute invitation programme, on trends in digital publishing.
- TEDxCapeTown (21 July): talking about Paperight.
I’m taking every chance I can to get the word out.