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

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Technology did not kill the Filipino Comics Industry

The rise of "third wave" electronic media innovations such as cable television, fax machines, video games, the internet, laptop computers, and cellular phones with multi-functions, have most definitely reduced and dispersed the audience for traditional second wave media, particularly the audience for print media (i.e., newspaper broadsheets, special interest magazines, books, and yes, even "comicbooks").

This phenomena of audience splintering due to the introduction of new information and communication technologies (ICTs), wherein the media playing field is "leveled-off" or democratized to allow and equalize the entry of new media players, is known as "media demassification", a term originally coined by renowned futurologist and social scientist, Dr. Alvin Toffler.

However, the introduction of these ICTs and consequently of media demassification has been observed to be more pronounced in rich, developed countries, or confined in urban cities of poor "developing" countries. This was the finding in the latest 2006 international survey report by the World Bank entitled: "Information and Communciations for Development 2006: Global Trends and Policies":

"Poor countries including the Philippines continue to lag behind the developed world in making information and communications technology (ICT) applications commonplace in government, schools and business despite global progress in improving people's access to ICTs, the World Bank said Thursday. xxx

"Although progress has been made in reaching out to rural areas and the urban poor, in many countries, these groups still lag behind," said the report. "And the advanced information and communications services available through the Internet initially reach mainly better-off groups."

In the Philippines, the World Bank said 194 people per 1000 have access to telephone lines and 248 people for every thousand are mobile subscribers. There are also 13.4 persons for every 1,000 persons who have access to broadband or high-speed Internet, yet there are observations that these facilities are largely concentrated in major urban centers like Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu, Davao and other secondary cities. xxx

While developed nations have more than 300 such servers per one million people, developing nations have fewer than two." (Source: David Llorito, " Despite better ICT access, poor countries not gaining as much", March 10-11, 2006 issue, Business Mirror newspaper) (Emphasis Ours).

With third wave ICTs confined only to the few major urban centers in the Philippines, we could not really say that the effects of media demassification are nationwide and widespread. The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 plus islands where economically disadvantaged areas outnumber the few urban cities and centers. It is only the socio-economic elite few who reside within these centers who enjoy the benefits of ICT use.

It is thus incorrect, if not an unfounded generalization, to claim that the introduction of new third wave technologies in the Philippines has resulted in nationwide media demassification; a demassification that has solely caused a steady decline in the nationwide readership for Filipino comics.

We must remember that during the 1970s to mid-1980s, the Philippines suffered economic, social, and poltical strife under the Marcos conjugal dictatorship. The entry then of new ICTs was limited and controlled, hence no nationwide media demassification. Yet, it was precisely during this repressive period of intellectual and economic freedom that the Roceses' Filipino comics monopoly enjoyed a large, nationwide audience. This was the observation made by Corazon D. Villareal in her 1990 magazine article wherein she stated that:

"Ayon sa pinakahuling sarbey na isinagawa ng Philippine Information Agency (PIA), sa buong Pilipinas, ang komiks ang may pinakaraming tagasubaybay kung ihahambing sa ibang midya. And kinalabasan ng sarbey ay ang sumusunod:

Magasin (33%)

Dyaryo (37%)

Pelikula (45%)

Telebisyon (53%)

Komiks (54%)

Sa 54% saklaw ang C, D, E at gayon din ang B uri ng mambabasa, na ang nakararami ay nasa pagitan ng 19-25 taong gulang. Dahil sa komiks ay abot-kaya ng karamihan, pinagpapasa-pasa ito sa reyt na 5-8:1 at pinaaarkilahan pa, tinatantiyang may 18 hanggang 20 milyong mambabasa ang abot ng komiks, magmula Aparri hanggang Tawi-tawi." (Translation: According to the latest nationwide survey by the Philippine Information Agency, comics have the largest audience share when compared to other media. The results of the survey are as follows: Magazines (33%), Newspaper Broadsheets (37%) Movies (45%), Television (53%) and Comics (54%). This 54% audience share include the C,D,and E low-income based readers as well as an income class B type of readership. Majority of comics' readers are aged between 19-25 years old. Because comics are relatively cheap and affordable to a great many, it changes from hand to hand with a pass-on rate of 5-8:1 and are even rented out to casual readers. It is estimated that 18 to 20 million comics readers are reached by the comics, from Aparri to Tawi-tawi." (Source: Corazon D.Villareal, "Ang Industriya ng Komiks: Noon at Ngayon", KULTURA Magazine, January, 1990 issue ) (Emphasis Ours)

When the Marcos dictatorship fell on February, 1986, and onto the end of the decade in 1989, new freedoms in second wave media sprouted. As observed by Sheila S. Coronel, Executive Director of the Philippine Centre for Journalism and editor of "i-magazine" :

"When Marcos fell, the system of media controls that he had established was dismantled overnight. Once they were set loose, the media blossomed. Suddenly, there were two dozen daily newspapers publishing out of Manila alone, compared to only half-a-dozen during the Marcos years. The three major nationwide TV networks became six. At the same time, radio stations were set up as if air waves were running out of fashion. Twelve years after people power, there are 156 television stations (excluding cable and UHF) operating in various parts of the country, 402 radio stations, 25 nationally circulating dailies and over 200 other weekly or fortnightly newspapers. xxx

When Marcos fell, there was a hunger for news, and newspapers and broadcast stations wrestled with each other to fill the need. The market was big, there was little regulation, and the audience was up for grabs. The new freedoms allowed experimentation with novel formats for both news and entertainment. At the same time, improved economic conditions meant an expanding advertising market. More and more people could also afford television sets and cable TV subscriptions." (Source: Shiela S. Coronel, "Media Ownership and Control in the Philippines", http://www.wacc.org.uk/wacc/layout/set/print/content/view/full/1275).

Along with these second wave mediums, Filipino comics as monopolized by the Roceses, also blossomed. More titles were printed by the Roceses to maintain their monopoly, pushing aside possible comics competitors from the much prized rack spaces in the banketa newstand such as the Lopezes (i.e. Compass Comics' 'Kiss" and "Arrgh!") and movie producer "Mother Lily" Monteverde. And as mentioned in the aforequoted PIA survey from the article of Corazon D. Villareal above, Filipino comics was still the dominant medium in 1989 besting all other mediums, television particularly, by only one (1) percentage point.

The limited introduction then of ICTs in the Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s did not result in nationwide media demassification. On the contrary, the peculiar social, economic, and political environment of these two decades fortified the prevalence and influence of traditional, second wave media such as the Filipino comics published by the Roceses.

Filipino Komiks during this time was a controlled media that did not widely criticize, and in fact propped-up, the Marcos dictatorship by turning a blind eye. Filipino Komiks of this period specifically engaged itself in domestic dramas, romances, and escapist fantasy, in order to veer the Filipino reading citizenry away from the abuses and corruption being committed right under their noses by the Marcos conjugal dictatorship.

It is thus incorrect to say that new third wave media "naturally" displaced or dispersed the huge audience for Filipino comics during the 1970s and 1980s. On the contrary, as a means of escaping the crisis of reality, Filipino comics "thrived" during these periods of uncertainty.

Considering further the aforequoted 2006 World Bank report, it can further be inferred that even from the 1990s up to the present (2006), the introduction of new ICTs in the country is still limited and confined only to an elite socio-economic few who mostly live in the few urban cities dotting the country. There is consequently no nationwide media demassification to speak of.

Again, it is once more incorrect to say that the continued limited introduction of ICTs "naturally" caused a NATIONWIDE readership for Filipino comics to decline. Such a fall may be validly observed in Metro Manila and other urban cities, but these few areas do not comprise the whole Philippines.

What then must transpire in order for ICTs to be more prevalent in the country in order to ensure widespread media demassification?

The same 2006 Worldbank report answers that the first step to boost the growth of the ICT sector is to allow competitive, private markets to work complemented by regulatory measures such as open entry, cost-based pricing, access to infrastructure, and access to the radio spectrum.

Because of our present economic social and political crisis, this is not happening. Private markets in the Philippines are not working as economic oligarchies, offshoots of the Marcos dictatorship, trying to maintain their control of the economy and political power still abound.

What then caused the decline of a nationwide readership for Filipino comics? Specifically, what caused the fall of the Roceses Filipino Comics Monopoly? If not due to media demassification, why is the local comics industry dead?

An even better question: since a monopoly stamps out the entry of free competition as well as innovation, it being the sole player in the market, wouldn't the loss of this one single market player likewise cause the disappearance of an industry it solely created, owned, and controlled? The answer is an obvious YES. You see the results all around you.

Today, there are publishers and self-publishers who attempt to "keep alive" or humbly "jumpstart" a local comics industry by reprinting foreign comics or imitating foreign comics as what the english-speaking globalized Filipino comics of today are doing. Their attempts however, do not by a longshot, result in an "industry". Why then the failure?

To this blogger's mind, the main reason is that unlike the publishing manuevers of the Roceses, these licensed foreign comics and globalized Filipino comics are tailor-made and sold (or given away for free) to a largely socio-economic elite crowd in the country's english-speaking urban cities or centers; few areas where media demassification is prevalent. This is why these publications sell only in the few thousand copies and are not likely to sell in the hundred thousand or million copy level as was accomlished in the past by the Roces monopoly.

As an excuse for their lillipulitian efforts, they call this mediocre publishing effort, niche' marketing claiming that their comics are deliberately made for a 'select few' audience with high purchasing power. It is a convenient excuse considering that they are selling their product in areas where there is media demassification.

It is simply no contest. Under today's factual milieu of media demassification in the few urban cities of the Philippines, comics as a print medium are akin to newspapers, books and magazines which are also sold in these areas. In these areas, the urban Filipino (and by this we mean majority of urban Filipinos) has been conditioned by the third wave media all around to generally sneer at the printed comics medium and doubt its capability of providing the same degree of consumer stimulation and satisfaction as that brought about by new electronic media. The printed comicbook is simply not "interactive".

To summarize, there is media demassification but it is confined only in the Philippines' few urban cities and areas. The introduction and widespread use of new electronic media in these urban areas has not brought about a nationwide readership decline for FIlipino comics. Rather what brought about the decline or total disappearance of local readership, was the fall of the entire Roces comics monopoly in the late 1990s.

Unfortunately, the successors of the Roceses, i.e., the few licensed foreign comics and globalized Filipino comics, are the victims of media demassification in that they customize and sell their few thousand comics titles that are imitative of American and Japanese mainstream media, mostly in urbanized cities and areas where their niche' or target market are the economically elite rich few.

If ever the social, political and economic situation in the Philippines improves and a genuine nationwide use of ICTs actually occur, this blogger could only but surmise two possible scenarios: First, these licensed foreign comics and globalized Filipino comics would not last long and disappear altogether due to media demassification. Second, they will continue to thrive but their number will forever be limited to a small, nerdy, insignificant, "fannish", and marginal minority readership as they are today; neither here nor there, neither coming nor going. Either way, the so-called good guys lose and finish last.


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