Category Archives: Content

Prepping books, books, and more books

Ra'eesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather
Diann Selman
Diann Selman

We hired two new interns in June to assist with the processing and upload of the African Books Collective material. I set up a workflow process, and offered support and instruction as they implemented it. By the end of June, they had finished processing all 385 titles, and these were ready for upload.

Having Diann and Ra’eesa to work on the processing of those documents meant that I could focus my energies on the language exam packs. We conducted a full audit of papers we were missing, and filled in these gaps where we could. These were all processed and loaded onto the site by 15th.

In the final week of June we had loaded a total of 279 products on to Paperight 1.0.

Caitlin continued to prep Paperight Editions over this period. I did the administrative work behind the scenes to organise files and transfer these to her. In the final week of June we had loaded a total of 279 products on to Paperight 1.0.

We also began to work on the ideas and budgets for Paperight’s first online advertising campaign. The aim was to provide a link back on Facebook that would direct interested students and parents to their nearest outlet. This campaign launched at the end of the month, with a set of Facebook ads which linked the user to a ‘tab’ on Facebook that included an ordering process and an outlets map.

Other administrative work included loading all registered publishers on the wiki, for ease of reference, creating a scripted process for dealing with new registrations, filming and editing of Arthur’s reapplication video due, and facilitating the transfer of OUP study guides.

Publishers approached

  • Oxford University Press (Arthur and Tarryn met with)

Publishers registered

  • Hedaaya Publications (11/6/2012)
  • Big Bug Books (13/6/2012)
  • Gabbema Publishing (17/6/2012)
  • Skawara News (28/6/2012)

New stuff we’ve made

On 9 May 2012 we saw Paperight 1.0 go live, a site I began designing almost two years ago. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. See it live at paperight.com. (It changed a fair bit over time, here’s a video showing an early interface design.) We wrote up a technical explanation of how we built it from open-source tools on the Paperight blog.

For content, our team created over 150 packs of past matric exam papers. It was a mammoth undertaking that now represents the single biggest library of exam packs in the country, that (depending on your local copy shop) is the best-value way to buy them anywhere. Team member Nick Mulgrew wrote up the arduous story on our blog. The team also produced our impressive Outlet User Manual (PDF download), which we’re now converting into a support website.

I also crafted (and in a sense this took years) the Paperight story that will be my template ten-minute pitch presentation for Paperight. It’s had a dry run or two at small events, and gets it real debut at TEDxCapeTown on 21 July. It’s amazing to see a big, complicated idea finally distilled to a simple story.

Less glamorous, I made an office and a team (here are the outlet guys) and a long list of lessons learned in the last nine months.

Paperight 1.0 & our first large influx of content

May saw us moving into Paperight HQ, and going live with Paperight 1.0. The from-scratch site developed by RealmDigital included a simplified purchase process, account-top-up mechanism, outlet dashboard, and instant PDF delivery. This last meant that we no longer had to export and mail PDFs for each order as it came in, but the delivery function required that we prepare and upload documents in advance of sale. We could no longer list 1000 documents and process them only as orders came, we had to ensure that all the items listed on the site were processed in advanced.

We began by uploading the 88 documents that we had already processed (52 of which were the featured products on our poster). New uploading procedures (via CSV) resulted in some initial teething issues, and workflow re-design. We began maintaining an uploaded content list, in Dropbox, using file naming conventions for version control.

With the launch of the new site came other administrative updates. I re-registered all of the publishers/rightsholders. Arthur migrated the blog and wiki sites to new addresses, and we had to update all in-text links within the wiki. We began testing the new site’s functionality, and logging bugs to be fixed.

Nick and I wrote a full training manual for the site, which was uploaded, and sent to outlets. This manual would later form the basis of the Paperight help site.

Apart from the new site-related work, we continued processing matric exam packs, writing CSV for these, and uploading them to the site. By the end of May, we had officially uploaded all of the non-language exam packs. Caitlin started working with us on a freelance basis, and assisted this greatly.

The African Books Collective sent us 300 titles from their aggregated publishers. It was the single largest submission of content that we had received thus far – a very exciting step forward. We also flirted briefly with getting comics on to Paperight, in the hopes that high school students would be interested in this kind of content. We  got Project H (our first graphic novel), but other options fell through and we didn’t follow up on them actively as we had since moved on to other ideas.

Publishers registered

  • Marita Westenraad (7/5/2012)
  • Alta Schwenk (7/5/2012)
  • African Books Collective (7/5/2012)
  • Customcut signs (10/5/2012)
  • Communist University (10/5/2012)
  • Modjaji Books (11/5/2012)
  • Wonjoolaai Studios (15/5/2012)
  • Story Time (17/5/2012)

Highlights from the first nine months

Every three months, I sum up what I’ve been doing during my Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. At the time of writing this, I’m also reapplying for another year as a Fellow. In particular, I wanted to talk about lessons I’ve learned, what we’ve built over the last nine months, and where we’re headed. This post is the brief summary. In related posts I go into more detail about:

  • lessons learned
  • speaking events
  • website development
  • team and infrastructure
  • partnerships
  • a personal take.

screenshot_20120510After nine months, we’ve reached some big milestones for Paperight. Most importantly, the instant-delivery rights marketplace we set out to build is a reality, now that the Paperight 1.0 site is live. We have over 50 outlets registered – including copy shops, schools and NGOs – and have made our first revenue.

Innovative publishing companies have joined us, including Cover2Cover (youth fiction), Modjaji Books (acclaimed fiction and biography), the Health and Medical Publishing Group (publishers of the South African Medical Journal and a dozen others the and SA Medicines Formulary), and the African Books Collective, a renowned agency representing over 140 small and medium publishers from around Africa. (There are also several very small publishers signed up.) We are in advanced talks with several large educational and trade publishers in South Africa, too.

Promotional partnerships with Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a fast-growing chain of Internet-cafe-copy-shops, and copier-printer companies Canon and ITEC are kicking in now, too.

We’ve also made some shifts in our promotional strategy as we’ve learned through trial and error where time, energy and money are best spent.

So, listing the key milestones:

Lessons learned:

  • The human story is more powerful than the financial one (even when both are good).
  • Spending lots of time chasing big publishers isn’t worth it. There are many smaller, more interesting fish.
  • We needed to focus more on how we make it legal to print books.
  • We’ve learned to blend patience and impatience in software development.
  • Too much choice for our customers is paralysing. Simplify the offering.
  • Making our own content is hard work, but very important.

Speaking event highlights:

Other highlights were hiring our outlet team, co-branding promotional material with ITEC Innovate, a forward-thinking local copier company, and spending time with Zakes Ncwanya, who is moving back to his rural hometown to set up an Internet Cafe and Paperight outlet. (This later became a story in the Mail & Guardian written by our communications manager.)

A personal note: The Fellowship is not just a great way to build and nurture valuable projects. It’s a personal- and professional-development drag race that produces tougher, smarter, more effective people. It’s also addictive.

Marketing first steps

I started work at Paperight on 1 March 2012. I finished work at Paperight on 31 March 2014. A lot happened between those two dates.

In the beginning, I had only two other colleagues – Arthur and Tarryn – and we worked out of Arthur’s study in his home in Wynberg. There were many creature comforts – a kitchen full of coffee, a bowl full of avocados, and a box of free-range eggs weekly. I had signed on for a two month contract, thinking I would stay as an intern for a while and then go back to my rather miserable existence as a part-time blogger and a writer with no portfolio. (Luckily, Arthur decided to keep me on at the end of it.)

My first tasks at Paperight were quite simple: design covers, prepare documents when orders came through, and to write a weekly featured author post. During my time at Paperight, I designed roughly 900–1000 covers for Paperight editions of public domain books; most of these covers were designed during my first two months in the job. Tarryn had also initially delegated a small amount of content management to me, in the guise of master sheets and product uploads to the Paperight site, which at the time was a WordPress shell with what seemed like a hundred add-ons and extensions installed.

Over the first few weeks, however, my incompetence with regard to file and content management was made apparent. I was less than meticulous with file naming (to Tarryn’s significant chagrin), and even less so with keeping my version of the sprawling content spreadsheet up-to-date. I think that that had a lot to do with the fact that I was barely Excel-literate, and the thought of having to update the spreadsheet every time I designed a cover (all 900 times I did so) and every time I had to upload or change the details on a product page seemed like a particularly torturous circle of hell.

Manual orders and the last days of Paperight 0.5

Everything Maths Grade 10I was on leave for much of April, but spent the majority of my time in the office creating packs of matric exams. We also uploaded Siyavula creative commons textbooks to the site, though this took some time as there were compatibility issues with their images in InDesign.

From November 2011 until April 2012, we had to fill orders that came in to Paperight manually. Throughout April, while the new and improved Paperight 1.0 was being developed, Nick and I continued to manually fill the orders that were coming in. This entailed prepping books, and then filling in licensing information and exporting PDFs with licensing information . We’d then email these directly to the outlet for printing out. April 2012 was the last month we had to fulfill orders manually, as Paperight 1 .0 was launched the following month, in May.

Publishers approached

  • Macmillan
  • Other Press
  • Peter Lang
  • Night Shade
  • Subterranean Press
  • Cover2Cover/Fundza

Matric exam panic in the attic

skawara-matric-packs_20120817The first large project that I participated in at Paperight was the sourcing and collation of matric exam packs, under Tarryn’s guidance.

The plan was to bring together every matric exam paper, memo and addendum from 2008 to the present (then, 2012) into one, easy-to-access resource for matrics. This resource would make Paperight attractive to potential copyshop partnershops, and would give us a reason to approach schools. Seeing as the papers were in the public domain, our idea was to make them free to print, so anyone could make use of the service. This would also make Paperight extremely attractive to copy shops as they wouldn’t need to shell out any money for credits up-front, and could get familiar with the system over time.

government education websites and resources had (and probably still have) a lot of dead or wrong links, and nobody in the Department of Basic Education were able to supply us with the missing exams

Initially, Tarryn and I (and, previous to my arrival, our previous intern and my friend Michal Blaszczyk) trawled the internet – especially the websites of the different provincial Departments of Education – looking for all the papers we needed. In the end, however, we found we had over 100 documents outstanding between us. In essence, government education websites and resources had (and probably still have) a lot of dead or wrong links, and nobody in the Department of Basic Education were able to supply us with the missing exams.

In a fit of desperation a few weeks into the collation process – and while Tarryn and Arthur were both overseas and I was left to man the office alone – I drove to the Western Cape Department of Education at the Grand Parade, snuck into the building, and stalked the halls asking people if they might be able to give me all the past papers for all the subjects “for my little sister”. After being chased out of rooms and down depressingly-lit and security-barred corridors, I eventually managed to find a man who would take my flash stick through a security gate to his computer to give me the exams. Unfortunately, it turned out, even his selection of exams were incomplete and thus completely useless for us.

Some weeks later, after much swearing and complaining about the state of government websites and systems, we caved in and bought disks from EduMedia, the WC DoE’s multimedia arm, at their Mowbray offices. These too weren’t comprehensive, but they filled in enough gaps for us to be able to go ahead with our planned claim that we had the most comprehensive collection of past matric exam papers and memoranda available for free in South Africa – an extremely helpful PR hook.

Collating matric exam packs and starting to measure metrics

Michal’s internship finished in March 2012, and Nick began an internship as his replacement.

Our first priority was preparing packs of past matric exam papers. We’d started to source these as part of our initial content list creation, and these were already listed on the site, but the packs themselves had not been prepared. We needed to have them ready in case any orders came in. The primary challenge was creating complete sets of exam papers. The DBE website and WCED didn’t have all of the papers, and their online resources were often buggy or incorrect. We started by creating a list of outstanding exam PDFs, which we then used to individually source as many missing papers as we could (we called and emailed, and bought CD compilations of exams to try to fill the gaps). At the same time we started prepping the packs for those subjects which we had complete sets for.

Nick and I attended some ‘Open Education’ workshops at UCT, in the hopes that this would generate some leads for more content. We found, however, that we already knew much of what the workshops covered (but it was edifying to know we were on the right track).

The aim was that interns or new staff members could jump right in on tasks with a little training, and begin to develop skills themselves. Over the years this has worked incredibly well for the content team. It means that when we do in-person training in those first weeks, it can be much more in-depth (and is thus more valuable) than if we were to do general introductory training sessions.

I began creating and improving upon a series of wiki posts to govern things like document creation and document uploading. The aim was that interns or new staff members could jump right in on tasks with a little training, and begin to develop skills themselves. Over the years this has worked incredibly well for the content team. It means that when we do in-person training in those first weeks, it can be much more in-depth (and is thus more valuable) than if we were to do general introductory training sessions. Ops style posts that give detailed explanations of how to do tasks means that new and old team members alike have something to come back to for reference, and ensures uniformity (which is important when it comes to file naming conventions for version control).

We also began to track metrics for the first time. Our initial focus was on measuring publisher registrations, outlet registrations, and top-ups (i.e. the purchasing of credits in advance). This process of tracking metrics was one that we improved upon over time. It’s interesting how much insight our focus on these three metrics gives to our business goals at the time. We were focused on creating an outlet base, and increasing our content bank, rather than on growing our customer base. And we were more focused on the potential for sales than on sales themselves. The failure here was in assuming that these three metrics were a proxy for other things. We assumed that a wide outlet base represented more potential customers, that increased publisher registrations meant more content (and that more content increased the likelihood of valuable content), that top-ups were a signifier of outlet buy-in, and would ‘naturally’ lead to sales. The reality was that we ended up measuring the potential for success, rather than measuring success itself. It was a lesson we would learn later on.

Publishers approached

  • WITS
  • Hamilton Wende

Publisher registrations

  • Cingela (13/3/2012)

1000 products are listed on Paperight 0.5

Arthur created a mock-up of the poster, and Michal and I assisted in proofreading and product selection, as well as providing pricing information and page extents. Once the poster was finalised, and we’d received the finished products, we were each tasked with selling the Paperight service to a nearby copyshop. Poster in hand, I signed up 3@1 Claremont – our very first registered outlet. By February 2012 we had also started advertising for a sales manager, who would take on the role of outlet sales and support.

By the end of February 2012, Michal and I reached our goal of having 1000 products listed on Paperight.com. We’d created a spreadsheet of metadata for 1001 content items, created individual product pages for each of these items, downloaded the epub/PDF files for every title (and renamed and archived these), and created Paperight Editions of the titles that were advertised on our poster so that we’d be ready to fill any orders that came in as a result of our poster advertising. We’d also designed and implemented the first phase taxonomy for the Paperight website, based on the selected categorization of products on Paperight.com, and created cover images for the titles we’d decided to promote.

The table below roughly illustrates the composition of the current Paperight products database, based on year of publication, as of February 2012.

In further trying to demonstrate to composition of the current Paperight product database, we have created three additional data visualisations. The first provides an overview of the number of books per genre, currently listed on the Paperight website. These genres are also represented as separate and searchable categories on Paperight.com. The second and third charts show the composition of sub-genres within two of the primary genres of ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’.

Publishers approached

  • HMPG (Arthur emailed)

Publisher registrations

  • e-Classroom (16/2/2012)

After six months of funding, where are we now?

It’s hard to believe I’m already halfway through my Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. Only moments ago I was writing up highlights from the first three months. Those were largely backoffice-building and research months:

  • we got our site (version-named Paperight 0.5) up and running with pilot content from EBW Healthcare
  • tested and established workflows, QA tests and standard documentation
  • spoke to dozens of publishers in South Africa, at the Frankfurt Book Fair and in London
  • finalised our plain-language rightsholder agreement and outlet licence
  • refined our pricing and publisher-revenue models
  • recruited a Content Manager
  • and started on UX and specs for Paperight 1.0.

In our second quarter, we’ve focused on building a viable first-stage content list, planning our marketing for the next six months, and early thrashing for the Paperight 1.0 site build.

  • We added over 1000 publications to paperight.com – Tarryn’s content report on the Paperight blog includes a great analysis of the work she and Michal Blazsczyk did to make this happen
  • created a high-quality poster catalogue that we give to outlets to help them advertise book-printing to outlets (check it out on the Paperight blog), complete with soap-style blurbs for the classics
  • continued collaboration discussions with publishers, licensing agencies, technology companies, consumer-facing businesses with multiple outlets, and our provincial education department
  • planned the 1.0 site in detail, which involved refining wireframes and UI, investigating and negotiating with software development partners, drawing up IP agreements (we’d like to GPL our code eventually, so we can’t build with proprietary tools), and workshopping and polishing a functional spec for the entire build
  • planned a marketing campaign and recruited promotional staff, including marketing consultant Niki Anderson and (soon to be appointed) an outlet-relations manager
  • found and planned the great new office space we’ll be in from April
  • and continued to develop our internal ops manual (guides, standard docs, and reference info) in a wiki, to help new team members get up to speed quickly, and keep existing staff up-to-date.

The team’s now four people, and about to be five: myself, Tarryn-Anne Anderson (Content Manager), Nick Mulgrew (content-team intern), Niki Anderson (part-time marketing), and an outlet-relations manager we’re appointing shortly. Michal Blazscyk (content-team intern) finished his internship and is off the London, where some lucky publishing company will snap him up.

So, that’s two quarters down. We have a gameplan for each one, even if day-to-day things seem to turn on a dime. The first quarter was infrastructure and research. The second: a substantial content offering, marketing planning, and Paperight 1.0 thrashing.

For our third quarter, we’re getting out of the office with direct outlet approaches and a PR-heavy marketing campaign, and getting Paperight 1.0 built and running. 1.0 gives us key new functionality important to outlets and publishers: especially instant doc-delivery, currency conversion, and catalogues defined by territory.

The fourth quarter will also be marketing-heavy, and will include pushing commercial-publisher content that we can only sell with 1.0′s territoriality features.

Behind our efforts, the ever-supportive, midnight-oil-burning team at the Shuttleworth Foundation keeps our mental, emotional, and electrical lights on. And my fellow Fellows are an unending source of inspiration, common sense, and cryable shoulders. Cheers to them.