Tag Archives: UCT

The #textbookrevolution Campaign: hold on to your seats for this one!

The #textbookrevolution has been our most ambitious campaign thus far, mostly in terms of scale and coordination. It was formulated as a means to get Paperight onto university campuses and to ultimately increase Paperight’s available catalogue to suit students’ needs. By invoking the call for a revolution, we hoped to get students involved in applying pressure to publishers to work with Paperight, or to at least get publishers to commit to making arrangements for students to get their essential textbooks timeously and at an affordable cost.

The #textbookrevolution campaign involved the following elements:

  • a #textbookrevolution petition in physical petition forms, as well as online on Change.org
  • placing #textbookrevolution drinks coasters in bars around Stellenbosch University and at popular bars to UCT students
  • campus presence at Stellenbosch University and UCT orchestrated by Paperight team members (handing out #textbookrevolution drinks coasters, handing out #textbookrevolution t-shirts, putting up posters and getting #textbookrevolution petition signatures)
  • arranging Paperight outlet advertising in store and on campus for 8 further universities, namely:
  • NWU Potchefstroom (Jetline Potchefstroom and Ivyline Technologies)
  • NWU Mafikeng (Jetline Mafikeng)
  • NWU Vaal Triangle (Minuteman Press Vanderbijlpark)
  • Vaal University of Technology (Minuteman Press Vanderbijlpark)
  • WITS (Jetline WITS)
  • UJ (Postnet UJ)
  • University of the Free State (Easy Copy)
  • Rhodes University (Aloe X and ABM Office National)
  • launching a Cover Art Competition, as part of World design Capital Cape Town 2014 of which Paperight is a featured project (#WDC227)
  • reaching out via email to university lecturers, VCs, SRCs and a variety of student unions detailing ways for them to get involved with the campaign
  • hosting two Twitter debates to engage with interested parties on the issues around buying university textbooks
  • a Facebook conversation plan
  • paid advertisements in student magazines with the help of Jetline Stellenbosch (Akkerjol 2014) and Top Copy (UCT Rag 2014)
  • contacting university media outlets to encourage them to run pieces about or host discussions on the campaign
  • launching a #textbookrevolution website with a video manifesto and all requisite campaign details
  • creating a #textbookrevolution campus campaign video featuring the reactions of the students to the campaign

In all of our communications, there were two important messages to spread among students:

1) Textbooks are cheaper through Paperight outlets.
This was our less important sales message that was aimed at specific departments that we had prescribed or related books for.

2) Hate overpriced textbooks? Speak up to join the #textbookrevolution.
This required students to speak out about using a service like Paperight to increase access to affordable textbooks. This was meant to put pressure on publishers to make more of their core textbooks available on Paperight.

Overall, this has been the most successful sustained marketing effort in the history of Paperight. We demonstrated our rebellious and youthful brand image and we have been overwhelmed by the reactions it brought back. We can safely say that we are known by scores more South African varsity students, lecturers and administrative staff than we were before and we have planted the significant seed of change. We now have a comprehensive contact list for individuals to approach to take this campaign further and meetings will be made easier by the increased knowledge of what we’re about.

We did not intend for sales of current titles to be our main message simply because of our limited catalogue for varsity students. That being said, our paid adverts in student magazines highlighted products that students might need, as well as products that would be of interest to the broader community to whom the magazines are sold.

We were only able to offer books prescribed to English Literature and Nursing students. We also advertised our teaching guides and O’Reilly IT manuals to the relevant departments. Of the books that were advertised, we did not make a noticeable increase in sales for those titles specifically. However, we have seen a rise in sales of other books which can attributed to a combination of:

a) increased engagement from outlets to push sales (with the use of Paperight marketing materials, i.e. campaign and product posters, catalogues, etc.)
b) increased Paperight visibility in the media/on Facebook/on Twitter, and
c) the return of customers from the previous year (as well as their referrals to friends).

We had three positive responses from student media outlets. Both Rhodes Music Radio and UJfm scheduled interviews with Arthur to discuss the campaign. Then Perdeby, the Tuks student newspaper, promoted the #textbookrevolution and our second live Twitter debate through their Twitter account which led to a lively, healthy discussion. Recently, we have also been featured by the Varsity newspaper (UCT) in an opinion piece. Despite being a lazy, inaccurate description of the campaign, it has raised the visibility of the campaign on campus even further and we will be sending out a response to the article to set the record straight. Sometimes, even bad press is good press.

vula_splash-page_20140212One of our most successful partnerships has been with UCT’s student run organisation, SHAWCO. Julia Norrish, their President, has become a Paperight fan and has championed our cause on campus. In addition to allowing us to include SHAWCO’s logo on our campaign website in the supporters’ bar, Julia also consented to place a splash page on Vula, the UCT online student portal, that would explicitly show SHAWCO’s support for the campaign. The splash page went up for 6 weeks from mid-February 2014. Julia also showed her support by calling out the recent inaccuracies in the Varsity newspaper article.

Our Vula splash page and campaign t-shirt design both featured the ubiquitous face of Che Guevara. Far from invoking his politics or attitudes, we simply settled on an image that is easily recognisable to carry the sentiment of revolution. In the office, this was hotly debated and I will admit that we settled on Che mostly due to lack of a better alternative. However, Stellenbosch University students reacted strongly positively to the image and we had many requests for free t-shirts from the students we encountered.

Overall, Rhodes has been the most receptive university to the need for a #textbookrevolution in terms of their responses and engagement with the campaign. Their Dean of Students has Tweeted about the campaign, their registrar passed on a message to lecturers informing them of the #textbookrevolution, their SRC hooked up with ABM Office National (a brand new Paperight registered outlet) to advertise on campus, and Arthur was interviewed on RMR. I believe this may be because Rhodes is more keenly aware of the difficulties students suffer due to their location in the Eastern Cape and a chronic lack of resources.

Shaun Swingler joined us once again on our visits to local Western Cape varsities in order to pull together a campaign video. The resultant video is very indicative of the reactions we’ve had so far.

We took the #textbookrevolution petition to UCT and Stellenbosch University to give students a tangible way of showing their support. They were asked to provide their email addresses along with details of books they have struggled to afford or find. This will help us to prioritise our discussions with textbook publishers and enable us to contact the students in future when we have their books on Paperight. We gathered more support in physical form (over 1000 signatures) than we have online (81 signatures). I believe this is due to the effect that the face-to-face promotion had on students. It is difficult to fire up enthusiasm over yet another online petition.

1557396_586826434731570_637186294_oThe reactions to our Paperight drinks coasters have been very positive, especially when handed directly to students on our campus days. Our tagline “Cheaper Textbooks. More Beer” caught their attention and made for great conversation starters. Their effect in local bars is far more difficult to gauge. Most bar managers and bartenders have been helpful so far as placing the coasters around the bar and replacing damaged/missing coasters. However, bars are very busy places and ultimately, our coasters are not their biggest priority so it is difficult to gather feedback about how they were received by students. Regardless, when they were originally placed, we saw students pocketing them to take home which is exactly what we wanted. If we do this again in future, I would suggest printing less and limiting their use to direct handouts to students.

An unexpected, yet welcome effect of the #textbookrevolution campaign has been that the team has grown closer and our mission to increase access to all kinds of books has gathered further focus. Refer to Philippa’s article about the Blaze of Glory for context about where this campaign fits into the grand scheme of things.

I would say that the future of the #textbookrevolution is positive. Although currently in hibernation, the groundwork has been set for future, interdisciplinary collaborations between publishers, universities and copy shops. This is not the end of the #textbookrevolution.

Note: The Twitter debates and the Paperight Cover Art Competition 2014 have been elaborated on in their own article.

Paperight learns how to start Twitter Debates

In March 2014, we were approached by Kelsey Wiens of DevelopOA, and Eve Gray of the Centre for Educational Technology at UCT, about setting up a live Twitter debate to discuss issues around open access, limited textbook availability and high book prices.  What we’ve referred to as a Twitter debate is also known as a ‘Twitter Town Hall‘.

Having never been involved in something like this before, naturally we were curious and the timing was perfect for the #textbookrevolution campaign. We all agreed to use the hashtag #textbookrevolution to keep the comments and participants together. We then arranged a rough starting point, although the intention was that those who participated would be able to take the conversation in any direction they chose.

In preparation, each of the hosts reached out to contacts that might be interested  in taking part. We scheduled the debate for 1–2pm, hoping that this time would be easiest to work around. I focused mainly on contacting SRCs, student media contacts and university vice chancellors, and the responses we had were all positive. Our preparation paid off and our first debate led to a second, even more successful debate that resulted in our hashtag trending in South Africa. It appears we have a knack for this kind of thing!

To read more about how each debate went, take a look at our blog post about them.

Here are a few highlights taken from the debates. For more, click on the hashtag #textbookrevolution in the tweets below.

First Twitter Debate

Second Twitter Debate

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)

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.

Another incremental lesson on dealing with universities

Good meeting today with Crain Soudien, Deputy VC at UCT, and while he’s supportive of what we’re doing, it’s clear we’re not going to get high-level backing at UCT in any concrete form. At that level, the university has to be too cautious and avoid dictating policy to lecturers on textbook adoptions. We’re going to have to win our way in through lecturers and specific textbook adoptions. More reason to make our textbook database valuable, and tie in mapping to OERs. But there may not be a business model that gets us any real revenue from providing access to OERs.

OpenAIR and Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest

In December 2013 I was really lucky to be able to attend the OpenAIR and Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest, a 5 day conference held at the UCT Graduate School of Business, hosted by the UCT IP Unit. I was really excited to meet a group of people who were talking about intellectual property in a way I hadn’t previously experienced. The attendees were mostly academics and Creative Commons affiliates. This group is opposed to maximalist protection of intellectual property rights, and they are all about open access and sharing culture. It was certainly a stark contrast with my experience at the US Copyright Office, and made me seriously consider doing an LLM in intellectual property law.