Delivered by Chair Flor Marie Sta. Romana-Cruz, National Book Development Board
April 23, 2014 - World Book and Copyright Day
Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City

The Philippine book publishing industry has always been rich with the talent and craft of our writers. An enormous market with all types of reading material, from novels to newspapers to comics, both print and electronic, has always driven the industry’s large pool of writers and content creators. It is unfortunate, however, that since 2003, Filipino readership has been declining according to the NBDB readership surveys; the latest survey cites only 88% of Filipino adults who read non-school books, from 94% in 2003. But challenges are always opportunities, and at this celebration of World Book and Copyright Day 2014, it can be just that: an opportunity for change, reflection, and action.

With over one thousand writers, both of literary and commercial content, the local book industry’s writing pool is thriving with talent. There are around 400 publishers registered with the NBDB and Book Development Association of the Philippines, many of them already acting as literary agents for writers and other content creators. We have over 50 illustrators in active membership with the Ilustrador ng Kabataan, some have successfully gained worldwide recognition through awards or international publications. In 2013, a total of 6,860 ISBNs or International Standard Book Numbers were issued to local publishers, among the 26,005 issued since 2009. The global trade of books is being moved by around 150 book importers and 250 exporters, all registered with the NBDB. Needless to say, data gathering on the book industry, especially when pertaining to book production and sales, is like pulling teeth. So far, we were only able to get indicative information, gathered from a variety of sources within government, the private sector, even individuals, on how much of our locally-authored books are sold in the domestic and export markets.

So far, we have on record the following:
US$ 2.881Million worth of books were EXPORTED from the PH in 2012
US$ 61.493Million worth of books were IMPORTED into the PH market in 2012

This data presents a book trade deficit of US$ 58Million. This figure represents many things: but the most positive news from this is that we have an enormous reading market. And this is something all of us need to seriously consider.

What we lack is information on the current volume and value production and domestic book sales of our publishers, that is beyond anecdotal. How many titles can all our publishers create in a year? How many books can we produce? How many books do we really sell? Which distribution channels are most effective? Of course there are other types of information that we need to gather, more probing questions on readership that deal with taste, technology, access. These are the types of information that we urgently need so that our industry can determine where it is right now and map out where it needs to go. The whole industry needs to cooperate and agree to share information that each stakeholder will benefit from.

Let us consider the other players in our supply chain. There are 60 printers registered with the NBDB and 800 with the Printing Industries Association of the Philippines, but more than 5,000 printers of various materials are known in the country. According to interviews, there are 12 known local paper manufacturers and around 50 paper suppliers. As the doors to the ASEAN market opens, we can consider a larger pool of raw materials sources that is available to us.

As technologies rapidly develop, the electronic book form has also become widely accessible for readers, with over one thousand e-books available from two of the largest e-book publishers. There are around 23 Filipino book publishers who are already into developing digital content and e-books for the global market. In surveying the e-book selling market, there are currently two known online bookstores selling e-books that are based in the Philippines.

With our local books, the genres of fiction, particularly romance, cooking, history, humor, and comics continue to be the most read by Filipinos. Readers acquire their books most commonly by borrowing from others and receiving books as gifts, and as a number of Filipinos work with their computers, laptops, and tablets in urban areas, an estimated three million read e-books.

There are a number of ways our publishers get their books to the readers: through direct selling to schools and libraries, chain bookstores (we currently have three major bookstore chains), non-traditional or boutique stores and outlets (even convenience stores), direct selling schemes, events and exhibitions, and of course through online selling platforms. Government, through the Deparment of Education, remains to be the biggest demand stimulant for the local book industry. The relationship between the publishing industry and the government, whether for education or trade, should encourage transparency, deeper collaboration, and mutual benefit. Our publishers have explored both traditional or mainstream, and alternative distribution schemes just to ensure that their books are sold in the market. Maybe it is time to veer from the traditional and collectively think of creative ways to sell books and stories, not just to the Filipino reader, but to ALL potential readers of Filipino content.

With the present climate of the industry, there are still many challenges that we face, alongside the new, exciting opportunities to continue developing new content. Of course, with the rise of e-books and downloadable creative material, the value of copyright is a major concern. We must remember that copyright exists to both protect and support our writers, illustrators, artists, translators, and other content creators.

In 2012, UNESCO’s chosen theme for the year’s World Book and Copyright Day was translation, and still, it pursues as a thriving industry opportunity for our local books. Regional content can be translated from Cebuano to English, Ilokano to Filipino, Filipino to Zamboangueño Chavacano—and of course, Filipino to English, so that our own stories about the mananaggal or the OFW in Abu Dhabi may be brought overseas and exchanged globally. With the 2015 ASEAN economic integration, we may also eventually be able to translate Southeast Asian languages—Singaporean to Filipino, Filipino to Bahasa and back—as the integration can provide the opportunities to build a more competitive, cross-cultural book industry.

Along with translation, new literary forms and derivatives also offer an opportunity to expand our books content-wise, to put forward the new and unique work that our writers ceaselessly pursue today to widen readership. The integration of art and graphics with text, the development of apps as supplement, the merging of literature and literary icons with fasion and design, stories from books that are turned into movies are all exciting creative endeavors that can further diversify and even transform the Philippine literary scene today. We must encourage these pursuits, and support these exciting projects by our own Filipino writers.

We recognize, of course, that the local book publishing industry may seem to be somewhat fragmented. There are groups and subgroups within groups of writers, illustrators, literary organizations, publishers, booksellers, and readers. There is what is know known to be mainstream or traditional publishing, and there is independent or alternative publishing. Is diversity, which is our predominant national character, a trait that we should maximize to the advantage of our publishing industry and our content quality? Whether we go for uniformity or diversity, we recognize and push for cooperation, collaboration, strategic alliances, and healthy competition. We must be open to new business paradigms and non-traditional models, in both publishing and selling our books that, in the end, stakeholders can work together towards a unified, more competitive industry.

Of course, a unified industry is not without its risks. If we are not careful, unifying can easily turn to homogenization and stagnancy, that is far from the main goal. A unified industry is about collaboration and exchange, where we develop unique strategies and hone new creative projects together.

This goal towards a unified book publishing industry is underscored by the essential question, what is the Filipino book? What brand of Filipino books can we build, in terms of content and value? Can we take new marketing opportunities in both sustaining access to books and expanding readership? Can we merge traditional and alternative publishing strategies into a singular, non-traditional business model? Can we eliminate borders among stakeholders here, as well as across countries?

With the important events and initiatives of 2013, the coming year is one of questions, all of which we call upon stakeholders—readers, writers, publishers, editors—to come together to answer. Developing our local book industry is a continuing challenge, but more importantly, it is an opportunity for collaboration. As we celebrate World Book and Copyright Day, let us open ourselves to the new opportunities ahead, in developing our books, our industry, and Filipino readership in the coming years.