Category Archives: Marketing

Varsity advertising tinkering at Aloe X

no-to-high-book-prices_a1_20130200Having studied in Grahamstown, I wanted to make a Paperight outlet thrive there. The conditions were perfect: Grahamstown is a small, relatively low-income university town. Money is low, and demand for books is high. In 2012, I made contact with Aloe X, the closest copy shop to Rhodes University, after the university themselves showed no real interest in adopting a pilot Paperight project of their own.

I made contact with Aloe X the day after I travelled to Peddie for a research trip in May 2012. I handed them a business card, spoke to the manager Aletta, and reassured her that it was a free service.

Despite good intentions, we only really started getting involved with Aloe X at the end of 2012, in preparation for the beginning of the 2013 academic year. I figured out a strategy whereby we would collect the set lists of books from the English literature and Classics departments, figure out which ones we had on the system, and then make posters and flyer designs to stick up at Aloe X and around Rhodes campus.

At this point we found out that Aloe X had almost been closed down due to a spate of textbook piracy that ended in a visit from the police. Essentially, students would bring in books, the staff (without the owner’s or manager’s knowledge) would scan them and keep the files on their computer. Students could then get their textbooks printed immediately for R50–R100. Almost exactly the same as Paperight – but, you know, super illegal.

The copy on our advertising, until then, had been quite tame. Seldom did we have provocative taglines that foregrounded the bad aspects of traditional bookselling, lest we upset potential partners. For this campaign we went with “Say NO to high textbook prices” and variants thereof. The campaign was successful in some ways and not so much in others. The idea and the tagline attracted a lot of attention – the shop had a dozen or so enquiries a day at the beginning of term. We seldom had the books they needed, however.

We showed that there was a demand for cheaper textbooks and that students were interested, with minimal advertising and involvement. We just needed the books.

Since then, as our library has gotten bigger, Aloe X has been one of our stronger outlets – no doubt because of the fact that the town only has one academic bookstore, which, as academic bookstores do, charge extortionate prices.

More progress, and a letter from Parliament

In February 2013 the team published a great little book called Now what? A guide to studying with Unisa. Here’s our blog post about it.  We also produced a printable Paperight catalogue.

While the team was hard at work, I travelled to New York for the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, where we won the Startup Showcase, and I gave a talk on ‘Disruptive Innovations in Emerging Markets: Mxit [book projects including Yoza], Siyavula, Paperight and Worldreader’, along with Michael Smith of Worldreader. (This was covered nicely by PaidContent.)

I also gave a talk in Jan at TEDxAIMS in Jan called ‘Tech spreads slowly.’ Here’s the video and text.

I reproduced that as a post on the Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader blog.

Media coverage

We’ve been happy to see lots of coverage. Some highlights:

The highlight was that on 28 Feb 2013 The National Assembly of South Africa (Parliament) congratulated Paperight!


Here are the minutes from the Government Gazette:

8. The Chief Whip of the Opposition moved without notice: That the House –
(1) notes that Paperight, a Cape Town based print-on-demand company received the O’Reilly Tools of Change Start-Up Showcase’s award for Most Entrepreneurial Publishing Start-Up in New York City on 14 February 2013;
(2) further notes that Paperight, a company funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, received this award for its ingenious solution to widespread book shortages in the developing world through a service that allows photocopy shops to legally print books, consisting of more than 200 registered independent outlets in South Africa;
(3) recognises that Paperight was one of 10 finalists, the only company nominated outside the United States of America and Europe and the first ever to come from South Africa;
(4) acknowledges the difficulty that millions in South Africa face in
accessing published works;
(5) further acknowledges the importance of making published works
easily accessible to millions of people throughout Africa; and
(6) congratulates Paperight and encourages publishers to register with Paperight in making their works accessible to all. Agreed to.

Our roadmap for the next 3 months

Next up:

  • Promotional campaigns around the Paperight Young Writers Anthology, the Now What? UNISA guide, and planning promotional campaigns around healthcare and young-adult titles.
  • Boost content team to clear the backlog of books we have, including over 150 student guides for distance-learning university College Campus.
  • Complete negotiations with two major US publishers (O’Reilly, Harlequin) that have been ongoing for a long time.
  • Aim to sign MOU (or similar) with Postnet.
  • Last phase (Phase 3) of software feature development, including A5 printing, high-res covers, and VAT support.

We’re on track with our early-stage financial targets.


Children’s book cost too much, and in unrelated news we take a break

After Arthur and Tarryn met with The Shine Centre, they asked us to explore the possibility of purchasing books from Revprint Claremont. The Shine Centre is an NGO that caters for foundation phase readers and their budget required that we have books printed in colour at very low prices. Revprint was unable to assist as the books’ prices would need to be below cost.

With the year drawing to a close and most businesses and customers who work with outlets going in holiday, Paperight went into admin mode. I started an outlet-wide survey to determine the demographics of the outlets that had registered with us. I also wanted to ensure that the information we had was correct. The survey took nearly 2 months to complete due to outlets being notorious for dodging telephone calls.

We also did what we all struggle to do naturally, we took a break. We had our staff picnic at the edge of the freezing Pacific Ocean at Oudekraal. What we learned from this was that we all loved food and that we really need to learn to take a break every now and then. We still struggle to take it easy.

Nick becomes Head of Communications, and the start of PR

I stayed on at Paperight after the end of my two-month internship, which surprised me as I wasn’t expecting to prove myself indispensable. Initially, we weren’t too sure what my title would be. We bandied around “Resident Storyteller”, “PR Head” and other things, until one day, on the phone to the Cape Argus, I improvised that I was the “Head of Communications”. That stuck, and so my job profile was built around that. My functional authority for this time, from May 2012 until roughly August 2013 was to:

  • Plan and execute external communications strategies
  • Create design and copy that sets us apart
  • Build our archive of media assets

My functional authority was rather easy to fulfill for the first few months. My weekly routine included designing a poster, completing a few blog posts and trying to put together a media list. I found I wasn’t terribly good or tenacious at putting together a media list, so it came in good time when Arthur delivered a talk at TEDxCapeTown and got the attention of a PR agency, Atmosphere, who wanted to work with us.

We went to a meeting in their plush offices at King James in Woodstock, and although it was a fruitful meeting, we simply didn’t have the budget to work with them. They recommended that we get in touch with Nicole Sochen, the founder of al dente PR, who would be more in line with our budget.

At about the same time we were invited to attend the second round of the SAB Innovation Awards. As Arthur’s wife Michelle was due to deliver their child at the same time as the SAB workshop and adjudication in Kyalami, I traveled by myself to attend. There was some stiff competition. Luckily, Arthur managed to come up for the last day and aided me with the presentation to the judges. We, unfortunately, did not make it to the final six, but we were informed in November that we had won a seed grant of R100 000. We finally had the money to put together, we thought, a sustainable PR strategy.

Signage, photos, and a great school contact

In our efforts to produce positive stories from communities that need them most, we decided to sponsor Paperight-branded signage for small copy shops. The aim was to help them attract more business to their stores by increasing their visibility and creating some publicity around the project.

paperight_minuteman-press_press-photo_20131113An entrepreneur from Mdanstane in the Eastern Cape was featured in a Daily Dispatch article. We had hired a PR consultant to assist us with our publicity and to learn from her. A photo shoot was organised at Minuteman Press Cape Town for stock photos. I arranged for my younger sister and her friends to wear their school uniforms and drove them to the venue. The stock photos gave some of our design work a more professional quality.

In November I was also contacted and met with Mr. Cader Tregonning, the principal at Pelican Park High School. Mr. Tregonning had recently been appointed as head of the school and had a vision for turning it into an academically competitive school. He heard about Paperight and wanted to have Exam Packs printed for all his matric students the following year. Mr. Tregonning was so determined to have past exams for his learners that he added it into the budget which is given to all the parents, in order that they be prepared financially for the following year.

New experiments shipped

From September to November we’ve put together a number of new experiments in product mix and marketing.

It’ll be interesting and hopefully valuable to see what works.

We also got out of the office a bit:

We learned a lot of hard lessons about how and now not to describe Paperight to consumers. This and other feedback and experience in October led us to completely overhaul our messaging … and our marketing focus, shifting from pushing ‘Paperight’ to pushing our outlets and backgrounding Paperight.

  • 24 Sep 2012: Well-received panel discussion titled “The Future of the Book” at the excellent Open Book Festival in Cape Town
  • 11 Oct 2012: Our comms manager Nick was on national TV show ‘Hectic Nine 9’, and wrote it up on our blog. Here’s the video. It didn’t go as planned. We learned a lot of hard lessons about how and now not to describe Paperight to consumers. This and other feedback and experience in October led us to completely overhaul our messaging (from standard pitches to site UI) and our marketing focus, shifting from pushing ‘Paperight’ to pushing our outlets and backgrounding Paperight. (More on that in a separate post.)
  • 15 Oct 2012: Content manager Tarryn attended the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here’s her blog post about it.
  • 7 Nov 2012: We announced our Paperight Young Writers Anthology: a collection of writing and illustration by high-school learners to be published on Paperight in 2013
  • 20 Nov 2012: I spoke at the Owl Club, a most venerable institution. Here’s the text of my talk.

A number of people have been talking about us. Some highlights:

Messaging is a hard, winding journey

Sometimes a strategy emerges without you choosing it, because when you set out you didn’t know you had options. That’s how Paperight’s approach to growth and marketing emerged over the last few years. With hindsight, I can summarise this strategy as:

  • create a web brand (cool domain, slick website, friendly blog and social media, tech coverage) that consumers recognise and seek out.
  • use that brand recognition to attract consumers to Paperight outlets.
  • use that consumer-attraction to sign up more outlets.

To do this, we called Paperight a ‘website that turns any printer into a bookstore’, an ‘online library that copy shops use to print books for customers’, and other phrases that described Paperight as a website with downloadable content.

We kept describing the tool, but not the product. To the consumer, the product is a print-out from a local copy shop. To a copy shop, Paperight is a movement, a network of forward-thinking copy shop owners.

The fatal flaw here was that this required us to build brand recognition among consumers for a product that didn’t exist in their world yet. In other words: how could we get consumers to love Paperight before their local copy shop, which they already recognise, is using it? And worse, how could we attract low-income consumers to a web brand, when they spend no time on the web? To a consumer, Paperight is not a website. Describing Paperight as a website is like describing car repair as a spanner. We kept describing the tool, but not the product. To the consumer, the product is a print-out from a local copy shop. To a copy shop, Paperight is a movement, a network of forward-thinking copy shop owners.

Our mistaken approach was holding us back, but we didn’t have enough distance from it to realise that we had other options. I was obsessed with focusing on Paperight as a website. But I knew something was wrong, so I was looking for alternatives. Three key moments were Nick’s appearance on Hectic Nine 9, a misleading article in the Daily Dispatch about us, and Ben Maxwell’s sage session at the Nov 2012 Shuttleworth Foundation Gathering.

While preparing for Hectic Nine 9, whose audience is mostly teens, we realised that sending teens to wouldn’t work. We needed to send them to outlets. We did NOT want them arriving at and treating it like an ebook store (the interface doesn’t work as an ebook store, and our print-optimised PDFs make for terrible ebooks). But we weren’t allowed to mention brand names on air, like our major copy shop chain Jetline. So we decided to send the audience to a mobile-optimised, consumer-focused site at The problem was that when Nick got to the recording, the presenter and producer had other ideas. They were only interested in asking Nick about entrepreneurship, insisted on referring to Nick as the founder of Paperight (which is not a big problem, except that it made Nick uncomfortable), and then showed and not on screen during the interview.

The experience highlighted a few things:

  1. We didn’t have a concise, clear enough message that could cut through what the presenter had in mind about Paperight. Our approach was too broad and fuzzy, so the presenter went with what she thought already.
  2. A mobile site at cannot be different in look and functionality from, because (a) consumers will go to by default anyway, and (b) users expect mobile sites to be essentially the same in purpose to their desktop parents.
  3. The whole notion of appealing directly to consumers was flawed because we don’t want them coming to our site. We want them going to our outlets.

Somehow, we had got completely the wrong message to the journalist. We briefly blamed her for being sloppy, but realised soon that it was our fault.

Shortly afterwards, the Daily Dispatch published an article about Paperight that described us explicitly as a site that matrics could use to download exam papers. There was barely a reference to copy shops. To make it worse, the article lightly criticised Paperight for being useful only to matrics who were wealthy enough to have Internet access. Somehow, we had got completely the wrong message to the journalist. We briefly blamed her for being sloppy, but realised soon that it was our fault. We simply weren’t being clear or focused enough in our messaging.

I also realised we (every member of our team) didn’t *love* copy shops enough. If we didn’t truly love them, we wouldn’t be able to create a tribe

We had to put our outlets first in everything. Our messaging, our elevator pitches, our promotional material, and most importantly, our minds. It was after Ben Maxwell emphasised to me the importance of creating in our messaging and on our site a sense of belonging (to a movement) for copy shops that I also realised we (every member of our team) didn’t love copy shops enough. If we didn’t truly love them, we wouldn’t be able to create a tribe, a sense that we were joining them in a grand march of progress.

Importantly, this meant we had to remove all references to our website and to ourselves as an online business or service from our messaging, especially any messaging that consumers might see. What would we replace it with? A movement, a network, a revolution.

Right now, our new messaging is built around the phrase, ‘Paperight is a network of independent print-on-demand bookstores’. If someone asks how we deliver content, we say we do it with a website.

The Daily Dispatch agreed to run a follow-up story with the ‘correct’ information. That story ran a few weeks later (see below, 14 Nov 2012), and is an example of the kind of thing we believe will work much better going forward.

We’re on TV!

In October I had my first opportunity to train a staff member at Paperight, when Abdul-Malik requested training from me. This was as much a learning experience for me as it was for him. It also allowed me to practice and improve my training ability.

October was also the month when we made our first television appearance since I had joined. I accompanied nick along to HecticNine9 studios and watched him from behind the scenes as he introduced the Paperight concept to South Africa. We watched the number of visitors to our website spike to a then highest number of visitors to our site.

The television appearance and other publicity we received led to a sharp increase in private individuals registering for the Paperight service. We made a decision to screen those who register as outlets even more deliberately and to be more specific in our messaging, getting the B2B point across.

It was at this time that I suggested that we add a sub-accounts capability to the Paperight website. This would make it easier for an owner of an outlet to monitor the activity of his staff and for a franchisor to monitor the activity of franchisees. This feature was later added to our website.

Book reviews and advertising

In our efforts to foster reading of Paperight-edition books within the Paperight team, we decided to start staff book reviews for our blog. I read and wrote my first ever book review on Sun Tzu’s: The Art of War.

We designed and distributed our first ever targeted advertising for Exam Packs at selected High Schools. The printing was done by the outlets advertised on the leaflets and the leaflets were placed in an envelope containing learners’ academic results. We sold very few books using this method and decided against using it again in future, as it was also a time consuming exercise for this low-pay out activity.

Upgrading the outlets map

In August we upgraded our outlets map from the primitive version that I had created myself to a WordPress-integrated version of Google Maps on our help site. This meant many hours locating outlets’ GPS-coordinates and updating our WordPress site. When it was done, we had a much more professional looking outlets map.

TSiBA had also requested that we offer internships to some of their students which meant that I had the opportunity to screen and interview them. Unfortunately, none of the applicants showed the necessary passion and desire to contribute meaningfully to our journey but, I personally learned a lot by going through that experience.

In our quest to find cheap ways of spreading awareness on Paperight, I located the application form for the teen TV show HecticNine9 and forwarded it to Nick. Nick filled in the application form and it was duly accepted. Our slot on the show was scheduled for October 2012.