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 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.

External Marketing Advice: Zoom and the Stellenbosch MBA Students

On the 27th of June 2013, Yazeed, Nick, Arthur and I headed to Woodstock for an insightful marketing and communications workshop with members of the Zoom Advertising team. I should point out that I hadn’t been promoted at this point. That was still to come, after a week long holiday to the extraordinary Grahamstown Festival.

After seeing a Paperight-related tweet, Zoom had contacted Arthur to offer a free 3–4 hour session to discuss Paperight’s brand image, target markets, past marketing endeavours and to suggest future marketing strategies. This all based purely on their interest and delight in the Paperight project. The discussion was spearheaded by Rebecca Warne and attended by other senior staff, including Managing Director, Steve Massey.

As the biscuits were eaten and the tea/coffee making facilities kept well oiled, we shared our ideas about how to make the best of Paperight’s established reputation.

A lot of what was suggested was way beyond our meagre means for the foreseeable future, however they were useful points to bring up as long term aims. If we want to be able to reach a certain level of sophistication and complexity in marketing strategies, we have to preemptively build up provisions while also testing various strategies on micro levels.

After the workshop, we came back to Paperight HQ with lots of great ideas buzzing around and enormous enthusiasm. Rebecca then sent us a Powerpoint presentation with the distilled discussion points for us to refer to. This certainly informed my decisions when writing up the official Paperight 2013–2014 marketing plan. A lot of what became known as the #textbookrevolution was inspired by this great session.

Around the same time, Rachelle van der Merwe of the 2014 MBA program at Stellenbosch University contacted Arthur requesting to use Paperight as the sample company for the students’ end of year project. The team of students would have to produce a marketing plan for Paperight, based on interviews with Paperight team members, document analysis, sales analysis and independent market research.

Over the course of two to three months, we met with Rachelle numerous times and corresponded with the rest of the team by email to accommodate their requests for advice and further information about current systems in place. We were happy to oblige and for the most part did not feel that their investigation got in our way. We obviously had control over what we would share with them, but as a company with an open policy, they had access to everything they needed – all they had to do was ask for it.

The finished product, given to us in mid October 2013, ended up being far different to what I had been working on as the official marketing plan.

My plan was based on what actions, formed into sustained campaigns, would form the base of our efforts. These actions were swayed by marketing actions attempted before I joined the team, established target markets and available finances.

Their marketing plan … offered a very nuanced and brutally honest view of Paperight … the current textbook distribution channels and major players, as well as a razor sharp analysis of the Paperight business model

Their marketing plan had no such thing, but instead offered a very nuanced and brutally honest view of Paperight as it stands. A detailed analysis of the current textbook distribution channels and major players, as well as a razor sharp analysis of the Paperight business model, led into a projection of where our future sales need to come from in order to achieve sustainability. Their project brought together all that we thought we knew into one document and certainly bolstered our conviction that Paperight is the best solution to tackle educational resource shortages. At least, the best so far.

Both these influences were particularly well timed (thank you, universe) and helped us all to align our strategies around marketing. The base concern at this point became about turning exposure into sales. The Shuttleworth Foundation will not be funding the project forever, after all.

This shift continues to inform all of our decisions.

The Paperight Help Video: version 2.0

When Shaun Swingler joined the team as a video intern, he was tasked to update the help video to include elements that we missed when the first video was made and to improve the overall quality of the end product.

1461816_10151841276613785_103333600_nA script was drawn up to reflect the changes necessary and Dezre was chosen to be the sultry Paperight help voice. With the old video in mind, the team deliberated on what was necessary to make an improved version. These edits included finding music to carry through the entire piece, ensuring there are no gaps in dialogue, slotting in title and end slides featuring the Paperight logo, and particular focus on the overall tone of the video – it needed to be far more jolly to better reflect Paperight’s brand image.

We decided that it would be best to split the help video into four shorter videos to make the information more easily accessible and user friendly.

The videos were released through the newsletter, and uploaded to the Paperight blog and help site. The completed videos were:

 Copy shop registration

Topping up

Printing a book

Account settings

Frankfurt Book Fair and CONTEC Startup Showcase win

October saw us participating in the CONTEC Startup Showcase in Frankfurt. The showcase formed part of the CONTEC Conference which was attended by industry leaders in digital publishing, and focused on the connection between content and technology. Paperight was expected to offer a 3-minute pitch, against five other innovative start-ups in digital publishing. We were selected as the winner of the showcase by a panel of judges.

As was the case after our London Book Fair win, the discussions had after the award announcement, and in the tea breaks just before, were very productive, with a lot of excitement about our project and aims. In particular, the Brazilian publishers in attendance (Brazil was to be the market-focus for the book fair that year) were very enthusiastic about the possibilities for Paperight in the Brazilian and wider South American market.

My focus for the fair was on publishers who could provide content that was in line with our current marketing focus. Namely, early childhood development materials (for children) and research (for teachers/caregivers), core textbooks and study materials for grades 10, 11 and 12 learners, core reading material for first and second year university level students, and trade fiction for young adults.

I had many productive conversations, and furthered negotiations with several big publishers (including Elsevier, Harlequin, and Bloomsbury). While I was optimistic about the possibility for Bloomsbury signing on with us, and while they were very receptive in our meetings, they later decides to hold off until after their South African distributors, Jonathan Ball, had had a chance to pilot the system.

We continually found that it was imperative to follow up on marketing material like this, be it with outlets, or schools, as often things would fall through the cracks otherwise.

While I was away, Philippa held the fort, and continued the process of uploading documents in the backlog queue, and Marie completed content tagging. Following my return from the fair, I completed the usual feedback reports, and followed up on the posters we’d distributed to schools (to make sure these had been put up and the flyers handed-out). We continually found that it was imperative to follow up on marketing material like this, be it with outlets, or schools, as often things would fall through the cracks otherwise. Dez and I also completed the Gifted Citizen Award Application on Arthur’s behalf.

Given the difficulties in getting content timeously, specifically as a result of the long lead time when signing publishers, we revisited the discussions (recurring over the last year) of creating our own content. It was around this time that we had been talking to Pearson about making their backlist (some of which included important African literature titles) on Paperight, only to find that this would not be possible due to the fact that font-licensing issues meant that these would have to be re-typeset, and the cost of this was just not a viable option. In our in house discussions about increasing the pool of books published/available in African languages, we began to envision a translation project for popular international YA titles into isiZulu and isiXhosa. This lead to my applying for rights to translate Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games (a project that is still on going). Another of our projects for content creation revolved around matric exams, and the fact that the changes in curriculum meant that past exam papers would no longer be as relevant for students. We contacted Siyavula about a collaborative project to develop a bank of open CAPS-aligned maths questions for grades 11 and 12, but while supportive of the endeavour, their current commitments precluded any involvement on their part. Instead, we looked into hiring an intern to assist us in the creation of a question bank.

We’d increasingly been concerned that we were not close enough to reaching sustainability, and we’d ultimately need to shrink the team in order to extend the funding runway.

October was also the month in which we decided to plan for and prioritise a university marketing campaign as a “Blaze of Glory”, last ditch effort to see if we could gain enough traction in the university market to avoid having to make a serious pivot within the next six months. We’d increasingly been concerned that we were not close enough to reaching sustainability, and we’d ultimately need to shrink the team in order to extend the funding runway. As a team we started brainstorming the #textbookrevolution. Part of this planning lead to us focussing our attention on university prescriptions. I set up a database of prescriptions, and worked with Oscar to flesh this out.

Publisher Registrations

  • Short Story Day Africa (25/10/2013)
  • Jacana Media (30/10/2013)
  • A Poet’s Tree (30/10/2013)