Project 13: A guide for UNISA students: closing report

Aim: Create and publish a short book on how to succeed as a UNISA student

General report-back

We set out to develop and publish a guide to studying with UNISA that is much more readable and practical than the existing official UNISA guides. This was an opportunity to market to a large body of UNISA students by partnering with Together We Pass, who have a mailing list of over 25000 students. We also wanted to test and show that Paperight is valuable to UNISA students in particular, as we begin pitching Paperight-as-document-delivery to distance-learning institutions.

We produced a great little book that has been widely distributed by Toegther We Pass, but our own sales have been extremely disappointing: we didn’t sell a single copy through Paperight.

That said, there are no failed experiments: we learned a lot about managing partnerships, open-licensing anxiety/panic, and marketing.

Objectives achieved

Produce a guide that sets a higher standard for readability and concrete value than existing official student guides: student feedback to Together We Pass is positive enough that we’re happy that we achieved this.

Licensed with a CC-BY-SA licence: We did licence openly, and then in a moment of panic of UNISA Press potentially republishing the work (and us then losing the effect of proving our distribution model), we temporarily removed the open licence. With hindsight (now, having not sold any copies through Paperight outlets), we realise that we removed the open licence out of unnecessary paranoia: UNISA Press has bigger fish to fry than republishing our little book. Embarrassingly, we had fallen into exactly the same fearful-thinking trap that so many proprietary publishers do. It’s good to know we’re not immune to this, because now we can look out for it in future.

Objectives not achieved

Sell copies of the guide to at least 500 students around the country within six months of publication: we have not sold a single copy of the guide through Paperight stores.

That said, over 1000 UNISA students received the free ebook version of the book from Together We Pass, and more continue to do so. This is a good contribution to have made, and the book contains lots of good advertising for Paperight.

Measures of success

Before: “We expect to get positive feedback and to sell at least 3000 copies within a year.”

After: Feedback was positive from Together We Pass students, especially in the development phase when TWP gathered direct feedback form many students (whose own tips were then included in the book). However, we did not sell any copies through Paperight. We note, but do not count as sales, that over 1000 students requested a free ebook copy from TWP within four months of launch.

Before: “We would like to sell 5000 copies within a year, and receive positive feedback from UNISA staff who see it.”

After: Not achieved. We are planning to promote the book again in the next year, and to do a  much better job of it. Part of that process will involve getting UNISA staff feedback directly.

Before: “ We would love to see, in addition, this project providing the proof of Paperight’s value to students that convinces a large distance-learning institution (not necessarily UNISA, but perhaps a department within UNISA) to place a large number of materials on Paperight for students, and encouraging those students directly to use Paperight to get their materials.”

After: While our UNISA negotiations continue positively (UNISA Press is currently moving our contract through their legal department), the book has not had a significant effect on those discussions.

Budget

Original budget: R40000

Actual spend: R30850

Returned to pool: R9150

Item Budget Actual Return to Pool Comments
Together we Pass Book 40000 30850 9150 An overwriter was not necessary
TOTAL 40000 30850 9150

 

Outputs and deliverables

Now What? A guide for UNISA students: http://www.paperight.com/product/1369/Now-What?-Creators-Paperight-and-Together-We-Pass

Learnings

We learned a lot about managing partnerships, open-licensing anxiety, and marketing:

  • On managing partnerships: working with Together We Pass was fruitful in product development phase, but we did not work together well on marketing. The root cause was that Paperight and TWP had different aims: Paperight wanted to use TWP’s mailing list to get UNISA students to buy the book from an outlet, while TWP wanted to offer those same students a free ebook to boost their own reputation among those students. TWP sent out marketing messaging (email, website, Twitter etc.) before we had a chance to vet and discuss it with them. So they got what they wanted, and we didn’t. TWP also put out a press release that described us incorrectly as a publisher, and did not provide the messaging we’ve crafted to tell people about our model. We didn’t see this coming, and should have been more proactive right from the start in clarifying and agreeing on the overall partnership marketing strategy. (This learning has directly influenced our MOU with Riso Africa on a copiers-in-school marketing project, where we explicitly provide for each party to see the others’ marketing releases before they are public.) This wasn’t helped by the fact that the personal relationship between our team members and Tabitha Bailey became brittle during the late production process, which in turn meant the relationship didn’t have the positive energy it needed for us to solve the problem together.
  • Open-licensing anxiety/panic: as explained above, we wasted energy worrying over the open licence when we briefly thought UNISA Press liked our book so much they might republish it. At the time, we still expected to distribute lots of copies through Paperight, thereby proving our network’s value to UNISA students. UNISA Press republishing would make that hard to do. However, we hadn’t yet realised that TWP’s free ebook version, and weaknesses in our own marketing, meant that we wouldn’t get to make enough sales to prove our network’s value anyway. In fact, the marketing benefit of having UNISA Press republish our book would have been much greater. Essentially, we panicked: something we must avoid in future.
  • Marketing: this project (along with a few others) was an example of how we have been lazy and/or wishful about marketing. In climbing the marketing learning curve, this project has shown us that we cannot do things in half measures. We’ve since got much more deliberate about planning and executing marketing strategies properly, putting in real effort and full-time team resources. (Our subsequent PR around the Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology is an example of how it’s done properly, and that in turn has informed our bigger marketing plan for 2012–2014.)

Exit/Sustainability/Viability

We’re planning to relaunch the book as part of our marketing plan for 2013–2014. We’ll control the messaging ourselves (marketing won’t be in partnership with TWP), and develop a more solid marketing plan. We still believe the book will sell in future, but we will need to be smarter about promoting it.

Conclusion

As a team, we’re very disappointed and a little embarrassed byt eh way this project turned out. However, we learned a lot of very valuable lessons that we’ve already putting into practice, and the book still has lots of potential to be valuable in future.

Next steps

Plan relaunch in marketing strategy, and continue to use the book as a touchpoint in our ongoing discussions with UNISA and UNISA Press.

 

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