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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Young People don't READ anymore" and other B.S.

The problem with a sweeping statement is that it’s a sweeping statement. It conveniently deals with careless generalizations that are not really true. The term “young people” for instance is general; broadly including all kinds of young people from age seven to twenty two, from any nationality, from any income class and from any period or generation. This is followed by the equally careless and general predicate: “don’t read anymore”.

Not reading anymore means a complete and total stoppage of abstracting and comprehending the meaning of words and symbols from any language, appearing on any text, chart, graph, flowchart, equation, formula, circuit, screen, computer monitor, book, pocketbook, newspaper, magazine and yes, even a printed comic book.

Putting them together and reviewing the whole poor excuse of an oxymoron: “YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T READ ANYMORE”, and another idiotic dictum has just been made--probably coming from some of those parochial, narrow-minded, unemancipated “young people” in the internet (or message board—take your pick). And its not surprising considering that a lot of these “young people” today don’t really READ anymore. Now THAT’s an oxymoron.

If any of it were indeed true, then millions of readers (young and old) of the “Da Vinci Code”, the Harry Potter books, Archie digests, various translations of the Bible (and Koran), English translated Shojo and Shonen manga, “Pera mo Palaguin Mo”, the entertainment gossip magazines, FHM magazine, discounted second-hand books and pocketbooks, Tagalog romance pocketbooks, “Bulgar” and other daily Tagalog newspaper tabloids, aren’t really reading at all(!)

The irony of it is that many globalized Filipino comics creators and publishers maintain this absurd dictum as gospel truth. Yet, while proclaiming that “young people don’t read anymore” they continue to publish or self-publish their expensive western or Japanese inspired comic books in low print runs, that appear irregularly and sold in a few imported comics specialty shops, bookstores, and other commercial urban establishments. Naturally, their works are not bought or read by a great many “young people” hence their claim that “young people don’t read anymore.”

Selling expensive, low print-run, glossy 32-paged superhero-action-fantasy comics in few comics/hobby specialty shops catering to the small "collector" market, is what is being done right now by mainstream American comics publishers. And what is the result? Sales and awareness by "young people" of the American comic book has gone down over the years forcing mainstream publishers like DC, Marvel and Dark Horse to use the internet in advertising their product; specifically by providing preview pages of their comics' latest issues in the internet, even providing for free, online reproductions of their past issues in an effort to stimulate sales and public awareness. Its the other way around. The internet did not bring comics down. U.S. comics did it to themselves when mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC ruined the fan-based direct market that saved them.

From: http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/books/11/13/comics.online.ap/index.%20html:

"LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Marvel is putting some of its older comics online Tuesday, hoping to reintroduce young people to the X-Men and Fantastic Four by showcasing the original issues in which such characters appeared.

Marvel Comics, and other comic book companies, are putting their product online.

It's a tentative move onto the Internet: Comics can only be viewed in a Web browser, not downloaded, and new issues will only go online at least six months after they first appear in print.

Still, it represents perhaps the comics industry's most aggressive Web push yet. Even as their creations -- from Iron Man to Wonder Woman -- become increasingly visible in pop culture through new movies and video games, old-school comics publishers rely primarily on specialized, out-of-the-way comic shops for distribution of their bread-and-butter product.

"You don't have that spinner rack of comic books sitting in the local five-and-dime any more," said Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Publishing. "We don't have our product intersecting kids in their lifestyle space as much as we used to."

Translate "kids' lifestyle space" into plain English and you get "the Internet." Marvel's two most prominent competitors currently offer online teasers designed to drive the sales of comics or book collections.

Dark Horse Comics now puts its monthly anthologies "Dark Horse Presents" up for free viewing on its MySpace site. The images are vibrant and large.

DC Comics has also put issues up on MySpace, and recently launched the competition-based Zuda Comics, which encourages users to rank each other's work, as a way to tap into the expanding Web comic scene. Company president Paul Levitz said he expects to put more original comics online in coming years. (DC Comics is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.)

"We look at anything that connects comics to people," Levitz said. "The most interesting thing about the online world to me is the opportunity for new forms of creativity. ... It's a question of what forms of storytelling work for the Web?"

For its mature Vertigo imprint, DC offers weekly sneak peeks at the first five or six pages of upcoming issues. The publisher also gives out downloadable PDF files of the first issues in certain series, timed to publication of the series in book or graphic novel format.

The Web release of DC's "Y the Last Man" sent sales of that book collection soaring at Bridge City Comics in Portland, Oregon, the shop's owner Michael Ring said.

"They really do tend to be feeder systems," Ring said of online comics. "They give people that initial taste."

For Marvel, the general public has often already gotten its initial taste through movies like "Spider-Man" or the "Fantastic Four" franchises.

The publisher is hoping fans will be intrigued enough about the origins of those characters to shell out $9.99 a month, or $4.99 monthly with a year-long commitment. For that price, they'll be able to poke through, say, the first 100 issues of Stan Lee's 1963 creation "Amazing Spider-Man" at their leisure, along with more recent titles like "House of M" and "Young Avengers." Comics can be viewed in several different formats, including frame-by-frame navigation.

Ring expects Marvel's effort to put a slight dent in the back-issue segment of the comic shop industry, where rare, out-of-print titles sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay and at trade shows.

Though most comic fans are collectors, some simply want to catch up on the backstory of their favorite characters and would no longer have to pay top dollar to do so.

About 2,500 issues will be available at launch of Marvel Digital Comics, with 20 more being released each week."

The highlighted paragraphs above hint and show that even the few comics collectors serviced by comics specialty shops are inconvenienced by high cover prices. It also shows that increase in sales could be attained if the standard comics format were exposed more to the non-comic collector, or the public at large and had reasonably low, affordable prices. Had these expensive, low print-run, 32 glossy paged mainstream comics been re-formatted and sold beyond the now dwindling comics specialty shops in the U.S., the fate of the standard U.S. mainstream comic would have been different.

Here in the Philippines, the same procedure is BLINDLY being followed. It starts with a false, misleading statement: “Young people don’t read anymore.” Followed by even more absurd claims: “Filipinos are into the internet now. So why bother making affordable newsprint comics in Tagalog? Nobody will read them. Let’s just create these westernized or Japanized classy-looking comics for a local upper income and international “global” audience who will pay us foreign exchange and we’ll all be rich.” Since 1992, globalized Filipino comics have been doing this but until now, no new industry based on their ideas has yet prospered or blossomed.

To add insult to injury, they cover-up their failure by proclaiming: “we can’t ever revive or make a new comics industry in this third world country ever again.” They then deliver the final blow: “let’s just be content in self-publishing “whatever” it is we love with all our hearts and to hell with what the public thinks or wants.” With that, a new “hobby” and “artform” was created for the elite, rich, westernized few to “love” and enjoy.

How many imported comics specialty shops do we have right now in the country? Less than a handful and they’re all concentrated in imperial Metro Manila. The same with the few bookstores and specialty bookstores. Yet, this is how globalized Filipino comics are being distributed. Is it not any wonder then why comics right now are a marginalized medium, mocked by many and supported by only a few cult comics collectors and a sympathetic few members of the academe as an “artform” ?

Young people don’t read anymore.”

Are these the kinds of comics creators we have now? Making careless, poorly thought-out broad statements? Are they easily intimidated when confronted by long readable text? Do they often read just two or three paragraphs? Is that their limit? Do they have short attention spans? Is their education half-baked? Can’t they talk or think in straight English or Filipino? Why “tag-lish”? Are their thought processes often disjointed and disorganized?

Why do they often get ahead of themselves by second guessing; creatively pulling thoughts out of thin air and making unfounded, general assumptions? Are they really simple-minded, emotionally volatile, over-courteous, folksy-friendly, gullible artists? If the answer is yes to all of the above, then its no wonder their comics works aren’t read and appreciated by a great many people.

How to make great, new Tagalog comics affordable to the general public of low-income Filipinos? Forget it. That’s old school. That kind of cheap, low-quality newsprint comics is too “alien” and should only be sold in the far-off planets of Mars or Jupiter. Ah, but Mars and Jupiter are not the issue here, are they? Rather, the conundrum facing us is why keep on making globalized Filipino comics for the limited, exclusive consumption of that self-indulgent, narcissistic world of URANUS?


Blogger TheCoolCanadian said...

Well, I searched more answers to the claim of chatters: "Young people (young Filipinos that is)do not read anymore", and this article published by the The Iquirer is quite an eye-opener:

"Despite the proliferation of bookstores, publishers, and libraries in the NCR, book readers have decreased by a whopping 31 percent, from 95 percent in 2003 to 64 percent in 2007. Magazine readers in the NCR have decreased by 27 percent, comics readers by 12 percent, and newspaper readers by 10 percent.

But there is good news elsewhere. In the Visayas, general readership has increased by four percent. Readers of books in the Visayas increased by 11 percent; comics readers, by 10 percent; magazine readers, by one percent. (Newspaper readers have decreased by four percent.)

It is interesting to note that NBDB has done a lot of intervention programs in the Visayas, such as the Booklatan community reading activities, which may possibly have accounted in part for the increase.

Kudos to the youth

The youth are leading the way. They start to read non-school books at age 16, on average, one year earlier than in 2003. Again, NCR is the poor exception—young people here start reading non-school books at age 18 on average, two years later than the national norm.

Unfortunately, reading has declined across all age groups, except again for the youth, those in the 18 to 24 age bracket, where the percentage of readers has in fact gone up. Does this mean that we read less as we grow older? I hope not."

The chatters must have got confused by the facts. While it's true that the number of Filipinos that read went down in number, the youth readers actually grew in number.

This is wonderful. Extremely positive news to publishers.

The local indie publishers of comic books should actually pool their resources together and publish komiks that would target more people. This will make more sense in the long run because it will give them the opportunity to grow.

Like what you have suggested (and I don't mind), a newsprint stock (they are also available in a whiter kind), 80% tagalog writing and 20% English writing (to satisfy the illiterates of the Tagalog language). As long as the drawings are done with TLC (no DimSum chicken feet renderings, please), and stories that are well thought of (logically and entertainingly) thus giving the readers a cornucopia of genres, I don't think they will have a hard time selling their books to the youth. They can also release the books internationally so that younger Filipinos abroad will also have the chance to enjoy these books. If distribution of 60/40 (paid up-front by the distributor) is not acceptable to them, then at least let the neighborhood Filipino stores allover Canada and USA sell their books. These stores are everywhere and they are being patronized by Pinoys.

If an industry would grow from this later, it would be fantastic. The TV and Movies will be there to buy the rights of their serialized stories and the three industries will grow bigger together.

I heard that the indies were publishing their books for the last 15 years or so already, and since it hasn't really grown big enough, they might just hit the jackpot by being one, just like what Todd McFarlane did in the 80s, causing Marvel and DC to scamper for better content to compete.

3:49 AM

Blogger aklas isip said...


On the question of why the NBDB survey found that older people, aged 25 and above read less than younger people, a possible answer was given by ANTONIO A. HIDALGO, Publisher of one of the more successful and young book publishing business in the country today: MILFLORES PUBLISHING. He has a blogsite: milfloresonline.blogspot.com, where gives great insight about the 2003 NBDB survey, the results of which are not that drastically different from the 2007 survey.

Anyway, on the issue of why more young Filipinos read more than older Filipinos, this is how Mr. Hidalgo views it:

"The (2003 NBDB) survey found that young adults from ages 18-24 read more non-school books, five per year on the average, than older adults. This finding must be coupled with the unique demographics of our country. We have one of the highest population growth rates in the world at around 2.3% annually. This means that each generation is much larger than the previous one, for there are more and more parents in each generation to beget even more children in the next one. To understand this exponential population growth, we need only consider that our population in the mid-fifties was a little more than 20 million, while now it is more than 85 million. Obviously, the young far outnumber the old in our country because of our demographic trends. The dominance of young readers in the market is further heightened by the fact that not only do they outnumber the old, but they also read more books than the old, on the average, because they are more curious and have better eyesight.

Another important finding of the survey was that a large majority, 58%, of those who bought non-school books for personal reading spent P200 or less on these books for the entire year. Obviously, affordability levels for books are quite low because of the widespread poverty in our country."

On the other matter of those so-called Pinoy "indies" distributing their works in the U.S. and Canada where you think they would be patronized by Filipinos living there, well, as you've said, they've been at it several years before: Mango's anglicized DARNA THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY, QUESTOR EXTREME, AFTER EDEN, ELMER to name a prominent few. What happened? Nothing. They're in English. They've "westernized" Filipino experiences, concepts and ideas in their storylines with the belief that a great many Filipinos living abroad would appreciate this. Its been several years now and we still have to see American TV and movie producers rushing to buy the rights to these critic's choice award masterpieces.

Mr. Hidalgo says it best about this "Great Divide" between elitist Filipino writers who write in English and the low-income Filipino reader. And that is, in all likelihood a non-schoolbook written in English targeting a local "westernized" few and affluent upper income audience, will not sell as much as those written in Filipino because this westernized most often prefer the ORIGINAL foreign work from the local "globalized" work. This would also explain why MANY of the "indies" high-priced and westernized critic's choice book awarded comics works sell only a few copies. It would also explain why they haven't established a local comics industry based on their "progressive" ideas up until now.

Oh, and your call for them to unify as one won't do any good either. Why? Because they're all essentially doing the same thing and share the same "westernized", "globalized" mindset of catering for a western or westernized audience. So whether or not they are united as one or scattered into different warring tribes, they'll NEVER really hit the jackpot. You can bet your Canadian fanny on that one. :)

6:25 AM


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