By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The 3-day Philippine International Literary Festival/Book Industry Summit of the National Book Development Board (NBDB) culminates today with the yearly Komikon Convention, a fitting crowd-drawing finale for days of discussions on “The Pressing Issue: Sustainable Publishing Amid Asean Integration.”

The first day focused on an overview and the general concerns of the publishing industry, introduced in what we like to call the “Soba” (or the State of the Book Industry Address). We needed this to set the tone for the summit and to review with our stakeholders what gives the NBDB the direction for its initiatives this year and in the coming years.

It has been an arduous task to gather statistics about the local industry, but some of the latest figures stand out in dramatic contrast to figures from other Asean countries—all giving us pause.

From the 400 publishers in the country, 6,860 titles were registered with ISBNs from The National Library of the Philippines in 2013. “ISBN” stands for the International Standard Book Number, a unique universal code assigned to every book published. The number 6,860 may not be entirely accurate because it may not include e-books or books sold without an ISBN.

How does that figure compare to the number of titles published annually in neighboring Asean countries? Culled from reports of various publishing associations are these statistics: Indonesia, 24,000 titles; Vietnam (with its 64 publishers), 20,000; Malaysia, 10,000 to 15,000; Thailand, 13,000; and Singapore, 8,000 to 12,000.

Emelina S. Almario, president and general manager of Adarna House, was in the panel of reactors and offered insights on the growth of the industry and its impact on economics. To her, the most apparent relationship is that the more developed a country, the greater is the number of books it produces.

This observation gains support and credence with the Unesco’s use of the number and types of published books per country per year as “an important index of standard of living and education, and of a country’s self-awareness.”

Our 6,860 ISBNs last year are a fraction of the total 1.4 million ISBNs in 2013, according to Bowker Research. Almario analyzed the per capita basis of total titles in the Asean region in relation to 2014 population figures. Her findings: .002 books per Singaporean, .004 per Malaysian, .00009 per Indonesian, and .00006 per Filipino.

The statistics reveal the vast market that is waiting to be tapped. Almario raised important questions to be considered in the light of the most major one: Will our vaunted economic growth translate to the growth of the book publishing industry? She cited variables that may strengthen or challenge the industry, such as:

Given that the Philippines is a big importer of books ($50 million in imports compared to $3 million in exports in 2013), will increased purchasing power lead to purchases of more imported titles rather than Philippine ones? Regarding the Asean integration in 2015 and the free flow of goods and services among member-countries, there is the reality of the book-creator sector moving to other Asean countries.

Then there is the education sector, with the Department of Education’s need for materials to support its K-to-12 curriculum and the mother tongue program. There is, as well, the potential market of foundations and corporate partners for whom education and literacy are popular choices for corporate social responsibility. Lastly, there is the reading public, which awaits nontraditional ways of being lured back to reading.

The other reactors offered more issues to consider, needing discussions beyond the duration of the festival. Elizabeth Peralejo, president of the Philippine Librarians Association Inc. and EMC director of Ateneo High School, was particularly elated that for a gathering like this, a librarian’s perspective was solicited. Seeing the need to make books more accessible, especially to public school students for whom these are true luxury items, she was determined to convene the librarians for their own summit. Yes, we do need more proactive librarians who manifest their true love for books.

Paolo Chikiamco, a writer of prose, comics, and interactive fiction, wanted to know why Philippine titles were grouped as “Filipiniana” in a different area in a bookstore chain, rather than shelved with other books of the same genre.

He said the practice of having books from other countries on prominent display and Philippine books shelved in some obscure corner, almost apologetically, sends the subtle message that our titles are not as good as the rest.

Blogger Aimee Lorraine Keh-Lee, founder of ReadPhilippines, the first independent online book club forum with nationwide membership, had a question: Why are readers not mentioned as often as books?

There is nothing like being in the company of book lovers and other such enthusiasts. In their midst, nothing appears impossible. The many challenges that confront the book publishing industry must be viewed as opportunities for growth and for raising the standards of book production.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.