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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Lydia "Cookie" R. Guerrero Interview

The late Don Ramon Roces, patriarch of the Philippine "komiks" publishing monopoly, had two daughters: Carmen Roces Davila and Elena Roces Guerrero. Later, Don Ramon divided his comics publishing empire between his two daughters. Dona Elena got the Graphic Arts Services, Inc. (GASI) group while Carmen inherited the Atlas Publishing Corporation group. Dona Elena had three children: Xavier (Wahoo), Lydia (Cookie), and Alfredo (Bumbo).

Lydia "Cookie" Guerrero, grandaughter of Don Ramon, was fortunately interviewed on March 7, 2001 by Sassy Mae C. Sumulong. The full transcript of the interview is made available online by Sassy Mae. (VIDE: www.geocities.com/rocesphilscookietrans.htm).

It is a good and informative site with excellent profiles on some of the prestigious and colorful Roces family. The interviews, especially on Village Voice's Tony V. Roces, are quite insightful. As an aside, the Village Voice is a free paper circulated mainly at high-end residential communities in Makati, Alabang and San Juan. To this blogger's mind, the Village Voice was a proper strategic publishing response in this era of media demassification.

Anyway, Ms. Sumulong's interview with "Cookie" Guerrero reveal interesting things about the business of comics publishing in the country. For starters, "Cookie" Guerrero confirms the monopolistic practice of her family as follows:

"xxx So, all these things were divided between the three and so we are independent of each other although we'd, ah, monitor each other, you know, as to we're gonna raise prices, we kind of like raise prices together, we used to do that also with, when Atlas was still alive although Atlas is still alive but it was bought by National Bookstore, okay. So, when we had Atlas and, ah, Graphic, we practically monopolize the market, okay, so we would always coordinate, you know, with one another when it came to pricing and then, ah, of course also like cost of paper, you know, how much are you buying your paper, how much, you know, um, stuff like that, so that it becomes like one, you know, one is not better than the other although we were competitors which was very, very hairy because we never talk about business when we're...socializing with one another, I mean never talk about business. When we talk about business when we're, you know, in a meeting or, you know, the office situation but we never, never, never, never talk about business in social..." (Emphasis Mine)

The interview also gives us an idea of just how vast Don Ramon's empire was, and the millions of capital he possessed to ensure the continued operation of his comics empire. The interview also hints that with the coming of the new generation of the Roces clan in the present age of media demassification, they (the Davila and the Guerrero grandchildren),couldn't seem to duplicate Don Ramon's succees, that is, of publishing cheap newsprint type comics for the low-income reading market. And as you go further into the interview, it will be revealed that the grandchildren ("Cookie" included) assiduously follow a "conservative" publication policy of sticking to tradition. No wonder they find the publishing business "difficult".

"xxx My grandfather had a lot of different companies, I mean he had this two companies, he had, ah, a plywood industries, he had Permanent which is hollow blocks, I mean he went into a lot of different businesses, um, but the one that he is actually stayed with as in this, um, comics and um, movie magazines, you know. So, ah, when he thought well, it was time, ah, that side was given to my aunt and this half was given to us. So that was sold because well, they (The Davilas) didn't wanna stay in the publishing business, but, um, we still in the publishing business. Its not easy, you know, part of the reason it's difficult, it's because, um, aside from ah, television, and ah, well this cable TV, ah, you know, cost of printing and paper also gone up so high that, ah, it's very costly to have, you know, and ah, seeing that the consumer is not also able to buy expensive magazines you can't also sell it for, you know, expensive because who's going to buy, the.. so, you must realize that our market is C and D, you know, except for the women's magazines which is B and C, alright but the rest is C and D because these are, ah, publication that are for the masses and as you know there are more poor people than rich people in this country, so who's going to give them any reading material, are they gonna go and buy in a hundred peso magazine di ba no, so are you going to now, ah, you know, um, exclude them from reading, ah, you know, something, no, so, you know we do provide them with reading material. Its cheaper because its newsprint but as the years pass and there's so much competition between cable TV and TV, regular TV and computers and you know other forms of entertainment. xxx"

"...and you know, since may TV so let's say how you compete, that's a problem, you know so we're encountering a lot of modern day competition, you know, because you can only be so much to modernize your publication, for instance, print, I mean, how, di ba, you can make fancy, you know put fancy colors, put fancy designs and more attractive but they cost money, so how to produce? di ba hindi pwede. I wish we could, noh, pero that's not the way things are, things are you gonna be able to make ends meet, you know, so that you can still produce, something that is affordable, did you get the keyword--affordable, di ba, I mean especially students, you know, and even them to buy something that is not food, di ba. So it's been a struggle and I think one of the reasons that I'm still here is because we've been very conservative, we haven't, ah, launched into one project after the other and also I believe that I owe some kind of loyalty to my grandfather's memory, you know, and so, um, to our family has been, ah, known for this sort of thing.

Q: It's ah, like continuing a legacy...

A: Yeah, so whether it will continue on to the next generation I don't know, you know, my kids are more interested in other things and, so maybe it will stop with me, I don't know, you know. I hope not but you know with the current trend many will be let believe, ano, that, you know, print media is very limited na, first of all paper is you know getting more expensive because to produce paper, you know, you need trees, you need, so you have to have like a source and, ah, it's not going to be there forever although all these are plantations, noh, they are not cutting the forest down, they, they plant and they plant and you know although it's limited there might, ah, there might come a time that paper will be different, it won't be paper from the trees it be some artificial, other artificial, you know...who knows, you know but I choose to be more kind of optimistic."

(As of this writing, a paper-thin, flexible, foldable, polymer plastic-based product with micro circuitry inside is being developed. It hopes to replace LCD monitor screens in the future. The idea is that moving or static images can be electronically beamed down and appear on this polymer paper. For example, if you want to read the 2nd page of today's newspaper, just take out and unfold the one sheet polymer paper, connect with the satellite on the celfone via GPRS, and it will beam down instantly the 2nd page on your polymer paper. Moving on to the next page is done in the same manner. If you're tired of reading the other pages of that edition, you just turn off and wait for the next edition to be "beamed down" the following day on your polymer based paper. Will comics publishing and distribution be like this in the near future?)

The Atlas komiks publishing company was sold to National Bookstore in the late 1990s. GASI meanwhile was dissolved and divided between Cookie, Wahoo and Bumbo. Cookie relates the arrangement as follows:

"Q: So yours would be the Solid Gold.

A: Solid Gold and Woman's they are two, they are two different companies and then my brother is Sonic although he also, he also stop publishing and is now only a printer but my eldest brother (Wahoo) is a publisher and a printer so he had, ah, ah, Counterpoint and Kislap.

Q: So, ah, under Solid Gold will be different publications?

A: Yeah, we have the comics, the song hits and movie magazines. And woman's, ah, and the, and the woman's magazine, Chic.

Q: Um, so there's a separate Woman's...

A: Woman's and Chic are, are two different publications. You see (showing magazine cover samples), here's Hot Copy, here's Chic this one belongs to Solid Gold, Chic and Hot Copy, this is the movie magazine (referring to Hot Copy), this is women's magazine, Chic and then here's Woman's Home Companion, so, these (referring to Chic and Hot Copy) belong to Solid Gold, Woman's Home Companion and stand by itself, its a separate company."

It was further disclosed that the day to day publishing operations of GASI were not controlled by Dona Elena or by her three children. Rather, the same were overseen by a trusted right hand man--er, woman, in the person of the late Mrs. C.P. Paguio.

"Cookie" Guerrero also reveals that the Davila and Guerrero children (and grandchildren) were not inclined to do comics publication hinting that it was not their "forte". Cookie in particular, is more enamored with her Women's magazine than with comics. She relates how one of her sons briefly entered into comics publishing but later stopped altogether:

"Q: Your two sons, or they also have an inkling...

A: Ah, well, I don't know, my, my youngest son is studying in IS (International School) so his orientation is a bit different, in a sense that maybe they have, ah, higher goals and, ah, well my son is, my eldest is a litle bit more , um, probably interested in this business because he had his own publication also.

Q: Which is?

A: Infiniti. He had Infiniti and, ah, it was quite successful, in the beginning, but you know, you don't have the patience to stay with it then after a while like, um, ayaw na niya and so, on to something else, so, but he's the one that comes here and he's willing to help out but, ah, I prefer that he should do something on his own, you know, so that he can have, ah, parang feel more assured, self-assured, you know, rather than just hand down something, I would prefer that he would.

Q: What's the orientation of Infinit? Its a magazine?

A: Full of comics.

Q: Ah, comics.

A; Oo. It was a, you know, Streetfighter? Streetfighter? Kickfighter? Kickfighter ba yun?

Q: Streetfighter.

A: Well, yeah, he, he, based it on that and it was an instant success actually during that time, now that's on television and not only on television, the game, Streetfighter, Kickfighter, Kickfighter ba yun or Streetfighter?

Q: Yeah, the...I know a certain Streetfighter (laughs)

A: Oh, okay that one na back, that was a game, a video game, ah, he caught on to that particular ah, cartoon whatever, figures and made a comics based on those characters and it was highly interesting, you know, until it...like anything else, its out now.

Q: Its like Marvel and...

A: No. Marvel, no.

Q: ...like the Spiderman, more like the concept of that...

A: Yeah, action, action, action, ah, comics yeah, but that was, ah, you know, ah...so he's had that experience in publication, so he had his own company, and another thing, I didn't do anything with him that's his money so...it was, ah, it's a...experience for them, so they know it's not easy and, ah, some of us have, ah, you know, patience and, ah, I suppose the older you get the, the more you have, you know, patience in continuing something, you entirely believe in long term business, I don't, ah, really like this one shot deal...you know yung mga iba diyan, um, its difficult for me because um, I like something that's more consistent you know, so maybe you might not earn instant, ah, amount of money, large, but you have it coming in every time so well, that's one thing I stress with my kids or any younger...you want to establish a business, you have to look towards a long-term business. It might not get you what you want right away but at least there's something everyday, something every month and that was to me the most important thing, you know, I always say that, I always stress that and ah, I don't know if it's ah, actually (laughs) learned it but (laughs) I always tell them, if you want a business hindi na bale itong mga cyber cafe, kasi ganyan because sandali lang yan, kapag nagsawa na diyan iba na naman, so you know, of course you can make a killing but then after that you can take another big amount of money to start off something again. It comes out more expensive to do that."

Finally, she gives the following advice for start-up publishers wanting to enter the magazine or comics business:

"Well, you know, I've seen a lot of new magazines come and go and, um, I believe that if you wanna put up a magazine seriously, you have to have enough capital to back it up na I feel fortunate that this publication that I'm handling for example has been started off by my grandfather and has been handed down to us and I think that, um, simplifies a lot of things, so, ah, if you want to avoid appearing and disappearing, I think you have to study your economics really well because its not easy to break into the market, number one, mark the, easy to make the magazine because I think with the computers, ah, and you know the availability of, ah, little presses it's very easy to come out with a magazine, you know, but the nature of the business is not easy because, tsk, ah, in spite of it being a retail product you have to go through agents and sub-agents and, ah, collection is not easy, in other words it's a hard thing to do, you know, so if you don't have money set aside to support your magazine while you're waiting for collection, you're dead. So that's you know, that's what I'm saying because the market is open but you have to have enough to back you up you know, and the important thing is you have to be consistent. You have to have this staying power because the life of a magazine is, ah, advertising and before you can get the advertisers' confidence you have to be in the market long enough for them to know that you're not gonna disappear because I can say okey I'm going to give you a contract of 6 months, right, so you're actually putting out and after 3 months it closes so the advertiser loses confidence and, ah, if you're expecting to get an ad right away, that's, it's never..., you can't get one right away. Now what you see out there like when they have a first issue that's laden, tadtad with ads, a lot of those are exchange...or some of them are free you know, so it's hard to judge a magazine just by looking through it because you don't see the real picture, you know, I don't want to say this magazine, I don't want to name magazines but that's true, you know, so it's um, it's not an easy thing getting into publication, it might look easy but it's not an easy thing to get into it well, do your numbers correctly and ah, stay with it, that's all I can say you know, because I myself have been a victim of comin' out and, um, it difficult, you end up spending a lot of money but you know, you just have to try and the readers are fickle. It's like one day they like that then next day they don't, so you have to keep on giving them something that will make them continue buying, so it's hard. It's it, you know like they say, the toughest business, businesses that you could actually get into is publishing and export and garments, okey, publishing and garments and you guess what?

Q: You got both (chuckles).

A: (Laughs) Just like putcha, is there money in these goddamn businesses? It's like hard, I tell you."

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