A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The lost "art" of comics publishing

Former Economic planning Secretary and now Director of the Ateneo de Manila Center for Economic Research, CIELITO HABITO, has announced that due to the ongoing political uncertainty hounding the Arroyo administration, the economy is expected to grow by one percent lower, around 4.5% to 5.3%, than the original 5.3% to 6.3% forecast by the government. In short, the nation's expected overall wealth is expected to shrink by year end.

On top of this, the nationwide inflation rate (or the rise of prices of goods and commodities) will increase by about 8% to 9% this year based on a $65 per barrel crude oil price.

The current rise in oil prices has largely been due to the current tension between Iran, the world's second oil producing nation, and some Western States led by the United States, wherein the latter has accused the former of engaging in the manufacture of nuclear weapons through its uranium conversion plant. The United nations is about to impose sanctions if Iran decides to push through with its plans of opening the plant.

A second cause in the rise of crude oil prices is China's ongoing acquisition of oil companies/resources in the United States and around the world to fuel its growing economic and industrial growth contributing to the oil shortage. Not only oil but resources such as steel and copper particularly have also been scarce and in high demand in China.

Waiting around the corner in the domestic scene is the dreaded expanded Value Added Tax (E-VAT) law. The imposition of this new tax will be an added charge on the high-priced and inflationary goods and services in the market.

What then has this triple whammy of inflation, oil price hike, and E-VAT got to do with the Philippine comics scene? A lot.

Comicbooks are a print medium. A triple price increase before the end of 2005 will most definitely affect the cost of printing or publishing these comics. The cost of production will go up. Not only publishing, but this will affect as well the allied businesses or operations tied to it such as paper supply, advertising, packaging, distribution, and collection.

It will thus cost ridiculously more to publish just one glossy paged, computer colored, child-friendly and "entertaining" comicbook. On top of this, when that one comic title gets shipped to a distributor (say a bookstore), the latter will charge a distribution fee of either 40% or 50% of the comic's cover price. Say the comic is sold for Php 80.00, the distributor gets a 40% cut of Php 30.00 per copy sold and only Php 50.00 goes back to the publisher which, in most instances is not enough to shoulder the production and publishing cost.

And then you have to think of the cost of collecting; expending money just to collect a measly Php 50.00 60% share for every copy sold, IF ANY COPIES ARE SOLD.

And people, especially kids aged 7 to 12 years old who are into cartoons and videogames these days, just aren't into comics. Comics are not among a Filipino child's spending priority these days. They don't buy kiddie comics local or foreign in the million copy level.

Faced with a price increase without any commensurate increase in one's income, children and older consumers would rather buy more cost efficient, value effective entertainment products such as pirated dvds, cds, go to the movies, watch television preferably cable, jibe with their friends on the cellfone, play computer games, and collect toys and action figures. Comics moreover, especially the foreign ones, are in the internet right now and can be viewed for free so why spend good money on a printed comicbook?

Indeed, who has the money to buy these printed comicbooks anyway? Underemployment is at an increased 26% and that any so-called jobs that were created by the Arroyo administration are either part-time or low quality jobs.

The glossy type comicbooks seen on the market these days depend on advertising to shoulder its mind-boggling cost. Yet, advertisers won't stay long if the comic isn't selling and their ad is not being exposed to a lot of target readers.

Habito further notes that the Philippine economy is still basically driven by consumer goods such as personal care products, baby products, clothing, medicine, food, beverage, computers, celfones, etc. Print media such as comicbooks, are NOT consumer items. Thus, they are not a spending priority but at most, a "luxury" in today's hard times. Being purely "entertainment" based and not generally containing any useful information, the printed comic's value is mostly seen as minimal.

With such a bleak scenario, it seems that importers of expensive foreign comic books, local publishers of licensed foreign comicbooks and of course, the few globalized Fiipino comics in the market are in for some really rough sailing in the next few months. Will they, especially the globalized Filipino comics, still be around by 2006?

Importers may have to order fewer copies to save on capital expenditures and with expected inventory of unsold comics they may have to sell these later to the general public at a lower, non-profitable cost. Local publishers of licensed foreign comics and globalized Filipino comics on the other hand, may encounter serious trouble due to rising printing, distributing and collection costs, and possibly lack of advertising.

Will this scenario continue till the end of the year? Nobody is sure but when asked to give an economic outlook for next year, Cielito Habito states without qualification that 2006 will basically be the same as this year's.

And that my friends, is why the "art" of comics pales in comparison to the problems faced by its business and economic aspect. The overall negativity impressed by this entry is not deliberate nor intentional. Its reality, kimosabe. Negative reality. I call it as it is. A spade. Can't be anything else, that. We have to live with it and deal with it. And yes, bitch about it now and then just to release the angst.

So the next time you have a comics artiste' complain that his "art" demands to appear in expensive glossy paper and that it can't be compromised in (ugh!) newsprint, or that his precious pages ought to have these expensive mamby-pamby detailed computer printing, send him the bill.


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