Tarryn goes to London, and we discover “The Hits”

While Tarryn and Oscar were away at the London Book Fair I took over most of Tarryn’s duties, such as receiving new publisher registrations from the team email account and creating wiki posts for them, gathering the information from HeidiSQL, creating dropbox folders for them, and sending out welcome emails. I also assisted publishers who had queries and facilitated transfer of files. She was a fantastic mentor to me and it was a bit nerve-wracking having her leave for three weeks, but I learned a lot in her absence. Tarryn is a good teacher and I am grateful for her patient, straight-forward, clear manner.

post_20131008It was around this time that the Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology judging process was underway. This was a team effort, lead by Oscar, with all of the Paperight team members dedicating days of concentration to pouring over each and every entry and rating them on a system Oscar had designed. We were bowled over by how many entries we received. It was clear that South African teenagers are keen on writing. The quality varied greatly (to be honest much of it was terrible), but it was incredibly heartening to get such a volume of entries. And while much of the writing was not amazing, some of the themes were truly revealing. South African teenagers are going through a lot. Many giggles, groans, and a few tears emanated from our little office on the 3rd floor. I really enjoyed this experience as we were able to feel a real connection with South African teenagers who, at the time, were our main target market. It was one of those special moments that only a start-up can really provide, where the entire team is so intimately involved in one project.

I think one of my most memorable moments will be the first time I heard “The Hits”, one of our poetry entries, read out loud. It was such a striking and strange poem, that we didn’t know whether it was genius or madness. Here it is, read aloud by Hedley Twidle at the launch of the anthology.

Pitches, sales, dead ends, and a soccer match

In April I attended my first SABA (South African Booksellers Association) meeting with Arthur. At this meeting I learned what was happening behind the scenes in the bookselling industry and how necessary it is for a distribution channel like Paperight to exist. Booksellers are no longer making enough money to remain profitable enough to hold on to their investors and were switching to e-books out of desperation instead of innovation. A Paperight-like model may well end up being the only way for consumers to get their hands on hard copies of books.

I took my first ever trip to Johannesburg where I had meetings with Minuteman Press, Jetline, Postnet and Konika Minolta at their respective head offices. We managed to strengthen our relationships with them. Postnet had agreed to go ahead and register all of their branches nationwide with Paperight. Sadly, the person who had the meeting with us left Postnet soon after this meeting, which resulted in this process being postponed.

Tarryn and I also had a meeting at UWC Library Services after the bindery service registered as a Paperight outlet. In order for the bindery service to top up their accounts, we need to be a registered vendor at the University and they would need to determine how much of their budget would be allocated towards topping up. The bureaucracy of the process that needed to be taken by the bindery and the Library service in general seemed to have slowed the process down to a standstill.

After delivering the past matric exam packs to Pelican Park High, there was a significant interest in the exam packs from those students and parents who didn’t purchase them earlier in the year. Within two weeks, I was contacted by Pelican Park High and requested to collect a second order form for exam packs which was duly paid for, printed and delivered to the school.

Publishers were giving us low quality products to sell, with the intention of testing out our system before giving more high-value products. And outlets’ staff was turning away Paperight customers.

Meanwhile we realised that we had two big problems with our distribution model. Publishers were giving us low quality products to sell, with the intention of testing out our system before giving more high-value products. And outlets’ staff was turning away Paperight customers. To remedy this we began a competition which granted R1000 for the top outlet sales person every month. The aim was to incentivise the system for the outlet staff.

We also determined that by building closer relationships with Publishers they would perhaps be more willing to trust us with their more high value publications. We proposed an indoor soccer match against Random House Struik to build rapport with them. Paperight lost the match (in the dying moments!) but, we managed to take some time to relax (something which we struggle to do) and work at the same time.

Marie-Louise starts at Paperight

My introduction to Paperight happened fairly haphazardly, as all fantastic things do. While helping out at a book launch for the Bay Bookshop in the Cape Quarter, I was having a well earned glass of wine and chatting to a librarian from the Cape Town Central Library and a creative writing lecturer from UCT. Both were inquiring about my next career step- as everybody seems to do with young people. Admittedly I had no idea, although I managed to say that I might be interested in finding a job in publishing. Paperight was mentioned as this great new publishing start up and once I did some research, I was sure that I’d found the best place to really test my mettle.

The interviewing process was nerve-racking only because I’d already made up my mind that I wanted to be on this team. Nick and Yazeed made my first interview incredibly welcoming, but sitting in the meeting room in front of 7 people and trying to be the best ‘me’ possible (while balancing precariously on an exercise ball) made me very anxious.

But in the end, I got the job!

My role at Paperight started as a Marketing and PR Intern with my main priorities being to assist Nick and Yazeed with their burgeoning workloads.

I would have to describe my plunge into the deep end as both exhilarating and utterly frightening. The sheer number of programs I needed to download, along with online apps that I suddenly needed to learn to use left me feeling intimidated and wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew. However, I coped and eventually learned to type my queries to the team through Skype instead of asking them out loud (a real challenge) and started to wrap my head around what a company wiki is and how to use the back end of WordPress.com sites- among so many other things.

My first assignment was to collate a media list for Paperight to take over their own PR output from Nichole Sochen of Al Dente PR. I started by downloading a .pdf copy of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) media list before copy-pasting useful contact details into a Google Docs spreadsheet while also coming up with a system for housing this kind of information. I also backtracked through the Paperight record of media mentions to gather contact details of journalists and publications who had already featured Paperight’s work – the Paperight fan club, if you will.

The initial brief was to fill five separate categories of media contacts, namely Technology, Entrepreneurship, Education, Books and Literature Pages, and Human and General Interest. After trying to work with these categories for the first 2 months or so, I found them wholly useless and have abandoned using them since. However, I can imagine they would be helpful to those encountering the media list for the first time and not the umpteenth. :)

For every press release, a copy of the master sheet is made and all details of the release are recorded, for example who it is sent to, the date and which emails come back as undelivered. All of this information assists with follow ups and maintenance of the contact list.

From Nick’s side, I took over the responsibility of drafting most of our written output. This included, the weekly newsletter, blog posts, press releases and cover letters. My drafts would then be handed onto Nick for final editing to benefit from his keen journalistic eye and seasoned understanding of Paperight’s distinct brand image.

From Yazeed’s side, I assisted with the on-boarding process of new outlets (welcoming them, advising them on how to use Paperight.com and adding them to the outlet map), follow-ups with and support of old outlets, as well as initiating a small number of new outlet sign-ups.

These responsibilities became regular, weekly tasks over my first three months with the Paperight team. Specific projects during this time have been split into the months they occurred so read on to find out more!

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)