Category Archives: Content

Uploading Accent Press and Cambridge University Press titles, and finalising Pearson agreement

Throughout September we continued to work on uploading the backlog of documents on to Paperight. This included the upload of all the Accent Press titles, which we pushed to get on in time to run the planned erotica and romance campaign. That marketing project was subsequently cancelled, you can read more about why here.

We did a big overhaul of DropBox, to ensure that archiving was happening smoothly and that everything was in the right place. We uploaded the Cambridge University Press titles, and met with them to further discussions about getting prescribed textbooks on Paperight. We also met with Pearson to finalise the signing of our agreement with them – a big win.

Our other big event for the month was the launch of the Paperight Young Writer’s Anthology at the Open Book festival. You can read about that in more detail here.

My other activities for the month were Frankfurt Book Fair related: I applied for the CONTEC Startup Showcase, on Paperight’s behalf. This included writing, refining and filming a video pitch, and submitting the online application. I also set-up a number of meetings for FBF (McGraw Hill, Wiley, Routledge, Hachette, Bloomsbury, Worldreader), and did a lot of travel admin with Dez.

Tackling the content backlog

When I returned from the States there was so much to get done. Firstly I had to prepare and upload the backlog of content that had accrued in my working folder. This included over 100 erotica titles from Accent Press, which in the end we didn’t make available for download on the site due to a controversy in the UK over erotica titles on Amazon and Kobo. (See Marie-Louise’s blog post for more on this). I didn’t have InDesign on my laptop and my free trial had run out so I was having to borrow Tarryn’s laptop in order to get this done. The PDF-to-PDF converter tool that the developers were working on was not ready yet so the process was a bit slow and it took quite a while to get through this backlog.

Then, the Dropbox content folder needed streamlining; there was a whack of content to be archived and the content leads list which Oscar had been building needed fleshing out. For this I needed to make sure that all of the entries had the basic information (title, ISBNs, author name, publisher) necessary for Tarryn to be able to use it to approach publishers and ask for their content. After learning the archiving process I wrote the process up as a wiki post, along with other a few other posts relating to the content teams duties, for future reference. This system of writing up processes in wiki posts was great as it served as a reminder if you forgot how you had done something, and it served as instructions to someone else who had never done the process before.

Updates to the privacy policy, and move over to DocRaptor

By August we had a large backlog of documents to be uploaded. We began the process of prepping and uploading these. We also started scrubbing HTML for setworks (including Shakespeare plays), in order to reformat these as A5 booklets, with no advertising, or line-marks. The clean HTML would be put through the converter to create cleanly re-formatted documents.

I briefed Nick on posters advertising exam packs and study guides, and Dez and I delivered these to schools in the southern suburbs (this involved my contacting schools’ academic heads and arranging a time for drop off etc). We also updated our privacy policy , and informed publishers of all agreement changes.

Near the end of the month Arthur asked Shaine to look into using DocRaptor instead of Prince XML for document conversions. This would save us a massive ongoing expense, but required an update to all CSS due to compatibility issues.

Publisher registrations

  • Palanga Publishing (7/8/2013)
  • Jermaine M Charles (12/8/2013)
  • Xhosa Fundis (19/8/2013)
  • Berg+Bach (30/8/2013)

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.


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:


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.)


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.


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.


O’Reilly titles go live, and we revise the publisher agreement

July’s big win was getting the O’Reilly books on Paperight. These textbooks were not prescribed at universities, but are an important and oft sought out  supplementary  resource for first year computer science students.  Once these were uploaded I contacted lecturers about the books, asking if they would promote these to students. We had some positive results (particularly from Stellenbosch University), but ultimately saw minimal sales conversions.

Following my return from the London Book fair, I met with Elsevier South Africa about getting their titles on Paperight. Other ongoing meetings and follow-ups included Random House Struik,  Modjaji Books, Jacana, SelfMadeHero, Cassava Republic, Jonathan Ball and Pluto Press. We facilitated the transfer of CUP titles and Accent Press titles, uploaded the first 14 HPMG journals (we put the rest on the backburner pending sales), and sourced missing metadata and covers from Do Sustainability.

I spent time working on CSS (Prince), and Arthur and I revised our rightsholder agreement using feedback from our negotiations with Pearson and O’Reilly Media. I also spent the day at Colour and Copy in Rondebosch, worked with Nick to organise POS advertising and flyers for them. I also completed a survey of the staff as per Yazeed’s request.

Publisher registrations

  • Livity Africa (9/7/2013)
  • Better Life Books (9/7/2013)
  • Accent Press (12/7/2013)
  • Bisel Classics (12/7/2013)
  • Fatai Oladapo (16/7/2013)
  • Ispirato (23/7/2013)
  • Filipe Santos (26/7/2013)


Automated conversion implemented on Dev

A couple of important milestones were reached in June. First of all, PDF-to-Paperight-PDF and HTML-to-Paperight-PDF conversions were implemented on dev, and we set about testing and bug reporting. Specifically, we had to tweak issues regarding page positioning, page numbering. and margins. In the case of HTML-to-Paperight-PDF conversion, this required CSS hacking. We created CSS that would work using Prince XML to create a well-designed, workable PDF output.

Other new functionality had to be tested as well. Our bug testing of the reminder emails for publisher payments led to emails being sent out in error. We had to send all relevant parties an apology and explanations. We linked to this post in the emails, explaining what had gone wrong.

I took over from Philippa as the ‘handler’ for Rondebosch Colour and Copy when she left for her Washington Internship. When I’d been away, each team member had taken on an adopted copyshop, to see whether this added level of support affected sales and competency using the service.

One of my main accomplishments this month was in compiling and submitting a full security audit for Pearson. Their evaluations lead to us scoring 8/10. They were very impressed with our watermarking functionality (we only fell short due to not having been in operation for long enough to do an annual review).

Held meetings with Jeremy Boraine (Jonathan Ball), and Francois van Schalkwyk (African Minds), and approaching of new publishers: The Answer Series, Nali’Bali Sunday Times section, Unisa Press. Pan Macmillan document prepping, and organising of PR material with Nick.  We submitted our application to receive funding for Frankfurt Book Fair  via PASA. We also did the final proofreading of PYWA, and subsequently released it on Paperight.

Publisher registrations

  • Lule Publishers (5/6/2013)
  • Lost Plot Press (9/6/2013)
  • Tawqeer’s Tutoring Service (11/6/2013)
  • African Minds (14/6/2013)
  • Jurassic London (20/6/2013)
  • Ediciones Microtemas (29/6/2013)

The anthology done, promising bulk sales, and a raft of coverage

We’ve been busy! On 31 May 2013 we finally completed the Paperight Young Writers Anthology, a collection of poetry, short stories, essays and illustrations from SA high school students in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and Sesotho. (Blog post from early June here. Strategically, this is a marketing effort and a door-opener for selling books to schools.

We’ve also been churning out a range of marketing materials for copy shops, a new help/how-to video, and improved software features on (e.g. A5 books).

We also made our first completed bulk-sale to a school, the first of an important revenue generating approach.


In mid April, Tarryn and Oscar attended the London Book Fair and pitched to win the Fair’s Digital Minds Innovation Award, which boosted our credibility at the fair and resulted in lots of great local PR. The attention from this win also helped conclude our deal with O’Reilly.

In late April I headed to Joburg for meetings with potential partner organisations, and in late May I was off to Boston to gather with the rest of the Shuttleworth Foundation crew.

Spreading the word

Spreading with word about Paperight and the things that are important to us is a key part of my work.

On 30 May 2013 I wrote a post on open business, arguing that openness starts in a company’s DNA, and focusing on transparency, which allows and encourages sharing and shared learning, and leads to greater effectiveness.

On 21 May 2013 I was interviewed on Publishing Perspectives, and explained why a paper-based solution is still critical for access to books and sales for publishers in developing markets.

On 17 April 2013 I did an interview on innovation and the future and Paperight, and on 7 March 2013 I did an interview with CNBC Africa about Paperight.

On 18 March 2013 I wrote a post on ‘Good writing is a pinnacle skill’, arguing that the many skills that go into good writing are an excellent indicator that a person will be a great hire. This has been a key part of my recruitment strategy at Paperight, and has helped us build a great team.

On 8 March 2013 I wrote about Pratham Books data on open licensing and book sales.

Others on board

All this talk is helping get people behind our cause. Here are three particularly nice pieces:

We’ve seen loads of great PR about our winning at O’Reilly Tools of Change in New York in Feb and London Book Fair Innovation Award in April, our Young Writers Anthology, and general Paperight coverage:

  • 1 March 2013: Daily News, “Vision to spread books around SA”.
  • 2 March 2013, CNBC Africa, Eye on Western Cape, “Paperight wins publishing innovation competition“
  • 2 March 2013, Burger (Kaap Platterland) Saturday, “Kaapse drukdiens oorsee bekroon”.
  • 6 to 7 March 2013, coverage of our Anthology in community newspapers: Athlone News, Plainsman, Southern Mail, Table Talk, “High school writers’ competition”, Tygertalk (Goodwood & Parow), Tygertalk (Bellville & Durbanville), Vukani, Southern Suburbs Tatler, Atlantic Sun, The Capetowner, Constantiaberg Bulletin, False Bay Echo, Sentinel News. A follow up the next week, 14 March 2013 in Vukani, “Shuttleworth to launch Young Writers Anthology”.
  • 19 March 2013, bizcommunity, “Free guide to studying at Unisa“ and Helderberg Gazette (“Free book helps students to pass”) cover our UNISA students’ guide ‘Now What’.
  • 22 March 2013, more community papers cover the forthcoming anthology: Coastal Weekly, De Aar Echo, Northcliff & Melville Times, Stanger Weekly.
  • 27 March 2013, Bandwidth Blog, “Local startup wins innovation award in NYC“.

In terms of key publishers joining our thinking by working with us:

Our roadmap for the next 3 months

We’re going to:

  • Continue our direct sales approach (bulk sales and CSR sponsorships) to stay on track with revenue targets.
  • Release and promote (mainly through PR) the Paperight Young Writers Anthology, building on the relationships this is creating with schools to grow sales of study guides and past exam-paper packs.
  • Complete a comprehensive marketing plan with the pro-bono help of Zoom Advertising and a group of MBA students working on Paperight’s marketing plan as a course project.
  • Implement concerted promotional campaign for our past matric exam packs.
  • Finalise and promote pending partnerships with chains Minuteman Press and PostNet.

We get the fright of “A Life”

a-life_ramphele_cover_20130311_72dpiIn May we were named as the Second Respondent in a law suit initiated by Mamphela Ramphele. She claimed she had not given permission for the re-release of her autobiography, a project being lead by New Africa Books, the First Respondent. We had been working with NAB to get the autobiography, A Life, onto Paperight, and Nick Mulgrew (Paperight’s in-house designer), had designed a spiffing new cover to replace the old one. Originally, A Life had been published by David Phillip publishers in 1995, and DP was later acquired by New Africa Books.

Ramphele claimed that NAB did not have the right to re-release her autobiography, and thus that Paperight had no right to distribute it. When NAB signed up with Paperight they signed our publishers agreement which includes a clause in which the publisher warrants that they are the owner of, or are authorised to license, all of the content they give to Paperight, and indemnifying Paperight from any third party claims arising from a breach of this warranty. So we were covered, but it was certainly disturbing to get served. I was able to digest the legal documents we received and liaise with our lawyer to assist with the drawing up of an affidavit. Thankfully, NAB and Ramphele settled the matter out of court fairly quickly and amicably, and we agreed to remove the book from the site. It was a big wake up call to us all.

Cambridge University Press signs up

I was away for much of May (on leave) and back in the office on the 20th. Nevertheless, it was an important month. When I returned, I countersigned the CUP agreement and the Carroll & Brown agreement. We fixed some bugs on the site, completed the Mindset Learn upload, and facilitated the transfer of some Pan Macmillan titles (The Youngsters series to start with).

I also continued with LBF follow up, and general publisher followups on loose administrative ends, trying to nudge towards registrations that had been promised, fielding questions from wary publishers (usually regarding piracy and DRM). In the LBF wrap up, we also completed a reconciliation of expenses for the trip, and I sent content proposals out to publishers I’d met at the fair, and who were interested in registering.

This month was also the end of Philippa’s time with us. She left her internship at Paperight to take two successive ones at the US Trademark Offices and the Copyright Clearance Center in Washington DC

UPDATE: Don’t worry, this is not the last you’ll hear of her! She came back!

Publisher Registrations

  • SelfMadeHero (7/5/2013)
  • Pressque Publishing (8/5/2013)
  • Masimba Musodza (9/5/2013)
  • Oxford University Press (13/5/2013)
  • Ilex Omni Publishing (15/5/2013)
  • Pillar International Publishing (21/5/2013)
  • Author jonah Becker (21/5/2013)
  • Geko Publishing (21/5/2013)
  • Graceworks (22/5/2013)
  • Gail Iris Rosslee (27/5/2013)
  • Panmacmillan SA (29/5/2013)
  • theInkSword (30/5/2013)
  • Botshelo Publishing (31/5/2013)

Matric exams update 2013

In May I facilitated the update to the matric past exam papers. These were the best selling items on the site. One of the best ways to prepare for the matric exams is by going through past papers to get an idea of how the questions were asked. Sometimes entire questions are simply transplanted from an old exam into the current one, so it is a fantastic tool for students. On the site we had single year packs and multi-year packs available for each subject. These would need to be updated each year as the papers became available on the Department of Basic Education’s website. I downloaded all of the 2012 papers and began working on creating the single year packs, while the freelancers worked on adding the 2012 papers to the multi-year packs. Tarryn trained me on how to use Acrobat and InDesign and before long I was churning out matric exam packs and other books. The metadata for the updated exams also had to be updated to reflect the fact that they now included papers from 2012. This had to be done on the site as well as on the master metadata sheet.

At the end of May I left Paperight to take up an internship at the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC for eight weeks, and to visit the Copyright Clearance Center in Boston. I had an absolutely amazing time researching foreign copyright law for the Register’s Office, and exploring DC. After what felt like ages I was excited to come back to Paperight in mid September.