At a Mobile Literacy Network Meeting this week hosted by the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, I talked about Paperight, why we had to close, and some of the lessons my team and I are taking to our next ventures – particularly Bettercare and Book Dash.
From the talk:
Our problems were of course, in part, the result our strategic decisions: out of an infinite number of possible alternatives, some would have been better than others. But aside from that, we knew we had three major external challenges:
- While many publishers joined us, almost none let us sell their most popular, high-value titles. They asked us to test with their scraps – I’ve spoken before on why that’s always a poor idea, and wastes everyone’s time and energy.
- Most copy shops were not active partners, which is not surprising when we had so few high-value titles for them to promote. Many also gave their customers poor service (we double-checked ourselves spending hours and days in stores).
- Our target market – potential readers and students with poor backgrounds – have grown up without books. They don’t attach much value to reading. Certainly not enough to buy books before food and clothing. As I’ve said before, South African publishing has done very little in the last twenty years to change that.
Despite our disappointment, buried in those revenue stats is a promising story: we made far more as a publisher than as a distributor. We had created a hundred simple, low-priced books of our own: collections of past grade-12 exam papers. That one small collection of high-value, low-priced titles made as much as all our other sales combined. And that’s after those past-papers were free for the first seven months.