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

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why Bookstores?

If the objective is to make local comics accessible to the greater many, you have to ask: HOW MANY BOOKSTORES ARE THERE NATIONWIDE?

At present, National Bookstore is the largest with about 220 plus branches. As of this year, the population is expected to reach approximately 88 million (from 84 million) with about 50 MILLION adults aged 19 and above who are presumably literate (or functionally literate if you prefer).

220 plus National Bookstore branches nationwide as against 50 MILLION potential readers? Obviously, your choice of distribution channel totally negates and hinders your objective of reaching the most readers. Even if you combine National Bookstore branches with the branches of Book Sale, Filbar's, Comic Quest, Comic Odyssey, which are mostly found inside shopping malls frequented by the elite, they are still outnumbered by the ubiquitous newstands/banketa.

Another question: where are these bookstores usually located? Its self-evident: in the few urban areas surrounding the country, foremost of which is Metro Manila where the economically advantaged elite reside.

Being a third world country, rural areas outnumber urban and developing areas.

Yet, there are more makeshift newstands/kiosks/banketas than there are bookstores. In fact, they outnumber urban bookstores ten to one. Do you think majority of the lower income populace would bother expending hard earned money for transportation costs and what not, just to go to some out-of-the-way specialty bookstore or National Bookstore in urban areas then buy a globalized "graphic novel" or "grafiction"?

Just what kind of reading material is mostly sold in these newstands/banketas? Answer: newsprint products such as newspapers, songhits, betting guides, and tagalog romance pocketbooks.

Why newsprint, and not book or glossy paper? Because book and glossy paper are more expensive to produce and source than local newsprint. With book and glossy paper you have to consider paying additional cost such as freightage, import costs, specialized machinery, etc.

Local newsprint on the other hand, is cheaper and readily accessible. You don't have to import. It is easily portable and disposable. When potential readers turn the pages resulting in wear and tear thereby lessening the chances of a sale, this kind of risk is minimized by the lesser cost expended in producing the newsprint product. You cannot say the same when your product is in book or glossy paper.

Besides, the greater majority of newstand readers are more concerned with the ideas, thoughts, messages, or overall "intellectual content" of the newsprint product rather than something superficial as the kind of paper used, or binding, or whatever outward appearance the product is in.

So long as the newsprint product looks decent, its images and print-out are clear, its portable, can be easily disposed of, or lent to friends when you're done reading, it more than does the job. Most newsprint readers are casual readers. They are not "fans" who "fanatically" nitpick on trivial superficialities.

If the readers don't like your ideas, they tell you so by turning your comics into fishwrapper: "pambalot ng tinapa". If they do like it, they preserve and pass on your newsprint comics. Bottomline: the revival of the local comics industry lies with majority of Filipino readers who are low income. It has to start from there, at the bottom and not at the top--the elite.

Since these newsprint products are widely distributed in newstands and street corners in a third world country such as the Philippines, they are commensurately priced according to the greater many's income capacity, most of whom are lower income.

Most importantly, majority of these newsprint products are written in a language understood by many Filipinos despite varying dialects: Tagalog.

Do you still want to read last year's statistics on how the Filipino's proficiency in the English language has fallen? How because of poverty, many Filipinos can't afford to go to school and learn English? No? I thought so.

So, given the above self-evident facts, why then must today's globalized "Filipino" comics in "graphic novel" format be distributed mainly in bookstores? Because its more chic? More class?

You mean its more expensive to publish in newsprint than book or glossy paper? Its demeaning if you price the product lower? "Gawa lang ng gawa"? Just make and make? That's the shotgun solution? More of the same?

Why bookstores?


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