(Above: scans of AAQ’s and MLQ’s bookplates; though rarely used today, bookplates used to be a highly-developed form of personal expression)
I’ve been meaning to start a series on we, the people, as the political strategists and advertising people understand us, and the ongoing controversy about the Book Tax has helped kick-start the process.
This entry was triggered by blogger 1ReAd2 asking,
I wonder if the present policy is a reflection if we really are a book reading country. For several years we have been touting our literacy rate ; Yes we can read but do we read? Or is reading the enclave only for the privileged and for the lucky ones.
And is there a place where people who cannot buy books go and get to read books. Do we have enough libraries and does government support and promote such libraries to be alternatives for people to do research and read?
Well, what, indeed, do we know? Back in December 12, 2007, I mentioned the latest National Readers Survey, commissioned by the National Book Development Board. It was the second of its kind, the first being in 2003. The NBDB’s recommendations, based on the 2007 survey, makes for ironic reading today:
The challenge is for booksellers and publishers, printers and paper and ink manufacturers, to make more books affordable. The government can facilitate this, as well as the financing of technology upgrades to make operations more efficient and economical.
How many of us read, and what do we read, and have the percentages changed? The following chart, based on overall national percentages, indicates a consistent decline in the percentages who read various types of reading materials:
As Queena Lee-Chua put it, in 2007 (see readings below),
Generally, the survey shows that reading has slightly declined in our nation. Only 92 percent of respondents say they read, down two percent from 2003. The reading of books, comics, newspapers, and magazines has gone down, by seven, 13, 14, and 15 percent, respectively.
Ninety-six percent of urban respondents read, compared to 88 percent in the rural areas. This may be explained by the lack of access to reading materials in areas far from city centers.
Reading has also declined across all socioeconomic groups, except those in the AB class. Public school students now read fewer books, newspapers, magazines, and comics than they did in 2003, and as for private school respondents, the slight increase in reading today is only among those reading comics.
However, take a look at the demographic breakdown of people who read, by age, socio-economic class, and by region. You’ll notice that there’s a healthy improvement overall (tremendously so in the Visayas, followed by Mindanao), except in the National Capital Region, and it’s the decline in the NCR that seems to have affected the overall national percentages:
Again, Queena Lee-Chua’s explanation:
Why the decline? One culprit is the National Capital Region (NCR). Surprisingly, the NCR is the only cluster in the country where reading has decreased, by five percent. In Luzon areas outside NCR, readership has actually increased by two percent, and in Mindanao, readers have held steady.
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.
And here are figures concerning the age at which people start getting into reading non-textbooks (people are getting into the reading habit at a younger age):
Queena Lee-Chua puts it this way, as good and bad news:
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.
Another chart suggests that if you look at people who read, the percentage of those who read books other than textbooks, is increasing sharply:
Here are additional details concerning our national reading habits, mainly concerning books other than textbooks (which are required readings).
Here are the top influences on our reading habits:
And a NBDB pie chart on the reasons people give for not reading:
Here are answers to the question, “When did you last read a non textbook book?”
And how often do people read books?
There seems to be a decline in monthly book reading, and an increase in the percentage of those who read a non-textbook less than once a year.
Could it be because we seem to be highly utilitarian readers, with only a small minority who read for pleasure?
Or could it be a factor of language? Here are figures comparing the languages in which books are published, and read, with the languages people actually prefer:
And also, here are our preferences when it comes to domestic, foreign, or a mix of foreign and domestic authors:
When it comes to the kinds of books we like to read, these are the top-rating titles or types:
Followed by these kinds of books:
(proponents of the Reproductive Health Act will notice the increase in popularity of the Bible; and yet, that books on Family Planning are pretty popular, too, but possibly subsumed within the subset of non-Bible fans?)
As to the means people use to acquire books, it seems many more get their hands on books by borrowing them or being given books as gifts, than actually spend money to get books:
Could it have something to do with whether it’s easy or difficult to find a bookstore or library?
When it comes to noticing things about the books we read, here’s what sticks in people’s minds:
Some added details:
And some more:
So Queena Lee-Chua summarizes things as follows:
Pinoys read anytime they want. Evidently, reading non-school books is not a habit for most people, except for some who read before going to sleep. The number of books read in the past year is seven on the average.
An average of seven books a year is not too bad, but what is alarming is the median number of books read, which is a low three. This means that even if half the adult population of the Philippines have read three or more non-school books in the past year, the other half have read only at most three, or worse, no books at all.
Why do we read? More than 85 percent of the respondents read to gain knowledge or more information. The rest read for enjoyment. Almost half of the readers read books by Filipino authors only, while the other half read both local and foreign books.
However, the majority of the respondents, whether they read or not, have few books at home.
But something that I think ought to be emphasized is the relatively small volume of books bought and sold, when you set aside textbooks.
Here are some interesting figures taken from the NSBC website on the volume of books imported (presumably by commercial firms, and not by the public at large) compared to the volume of books we export:
And an interesting set of figures provided by Dominador Buhain (see readings below) concerning the publishing and book-related firms that have flourished and those that haven’t (book importers and bookstores had negative numbers):
In connection with the above, let me point to two versions of a speech by Tony Hidalgo, who is an innovative publisher, and who is never loath to share his knowledge (and opinions) with others. The earlier (and longer) version of his speech dates to July 29, 2005 and was reproduced in FilipinoWriter.com; the later version dates to December, 2007 and appears in the website of his firm, Milflores Publishing.
Here’s an extract from the earlier speech, which answers the question posed at the beginning of this entry:
It is simply not true that Filipinos don’t read – they do. In fact, the Inquirer recently ran a story on an international survey that shows that Filipinos, on the average, read more books than the Chinese, Koreans, or Indians do and that our readership of books is pretty high when compared with other Asian countries. A 2003 SWS survey of reading attitudes and preferences of Filipinos showed that 90% of Filipino adults have read books and 68% have read non-school books. Filipinos read books that they think they need or want. This accounts for the sustained success of large publishers that specialize in romance novels in Filipino and in religious books.
However -and this is where Tony Hidalgo, referring to the original, 2003 Survey, helps make sense of the findings- there is a problem of language:
One of the most dramatic findings of the survey was that 57% of Filipino adults prefer to read non-school books in Tagalog (Filipino), 30% prefer English, and 13% prefer Cebuano. According to the survey, there are nearly twice as many readers who prefer to read in Filipino than those who prefer to read in English. Alternatively, we could say that local books in English cater to less than a third, or 30%, of the potential market for books in the country. I have discussed this finding with many friends who are involved with books as writers, editors, publishers, intellectuals, etc. and it never fails to inflame passion. I have concluded that this is because the finding is counter-intuitive to those whose first language is English and who think that the rest of the country is like them.
Yet, the SWS survey finding is supported by other data. Rey Duque, when he was editor of Liwayway a couple of years ago, told me that the circulation of his magazine was a hundred thousand during bad times and 250 thousand during good times. Compare this with the circulation of magazines in English that also carry short stories, like the Free Press and the Graphic, which sell far fewer copies per issue. For me, of course, the best corroborating evidence to the SWS survey are the book sales of my own company. I wrote a series of four manuals (two with short stories) on cockfighting originally in English. Then, I translated all four into Filipino. These books have identical content and their covers and illustrations are by the same artist, Manuel Baldemor. They are sold on the same shelves in the same bookstores. The only difference between them is that the English books are sold at P190 per copy because they are in book paper, while the Filipino books are sold at P150 because they are in newsprint. Except for this difference, the framework approaches that of a laboratory experiment so that any difference in sales between the English and Filipino versions could be confidently attributed to the language used. The Filipino versions have been outselling the English ones for more than a decade now by a ratio of about two to one.
A little later in his speech, he explores this question in greater detail:
Another important constraint is the mismatch between the books that the best Filipino minds write and the needs and preferences of readers. Most Filipino books are still written in English though most readers prefer books in Filipino. The best Filipino writers still concentrate on writing fiction (novels, short stories, plays) and poetry in English, while 9 out of 10 book buyers want information books. Because of class differences in lifestyles and experiences, the content of the best Filipino literature in English is often at odds with what most readers want from fiction, so they turn, instead, to the movies, telenovelas, and romance novels. The gap between most readers and the best writers exists in many other ways-even in the visual aesthetics of books. The covers and layouts of books on the Philippine literature shelves are highly Westernized-clean, crisp, modern, and sparing in the use of space. Those on the more masa shelves like the spaces for the romance novels in Filipino and the texting humor booklets are more crowded and baroque, closer to the aesthetic of the masses. Most readers ascertain which books were written for them through their visual look, so they shun the literature shelves and crowd the other ones.
The small, but affluent, A and B market is fluent in English and should be the natural market for Filipino literature in English by the best writers. Unfortunately, this segment is also highly Westernized and prefers books by foreign authors. Some of them are even unaware that there is now a fairly large body of work by Filipino authors in English.
Hidalgo also looks at the utilitarian aspect book reading, and this brings up the question of cost (as well as demographics and the health of various demographics):
According to the SWS survey, 91% of those who had read a non-school book did so to get information or gain additional knowledge, while 9% read for enjoyment or amusement. Again, our sales figures validate this finding. Our best-selling information book, Grammar Review in our English grammar series, sells nearly a thousand copies a month, while our best-selling literary title in our humorous essays series, Suddenly Stateside, averages a little less than a hundred copies a month, although, of course, the former book is only about half the price of the latter book, so that some of the difference in sales could be due to price.
The 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.
He also points out that
The limited reach of bookstores in our country is another limiting factor. All publishers sell the bulk of their production through bookstores, since this is more efficient than direct sales to the general public. Therefore, the market for books of publishers is basically that portion of the total market that has access to bookstores.
In an article in the December 2004 issue of Book Watch, Karina Bolasco of Anvil Publishing, Inc. (a sister company of National Bookstores and one of the larger publishers) said that Anvil’s research in 1995 showed that there are, at most, 2,500 bookstores in the entire country, or one bookstore, on the average, per 34,000 people. The Anvil mapping of these stores showed that most of them were concentrated in Metro Manila and the National Capital Region (NCR). In Mindanao, there are far fewer bookstores and the average in Regions 9 and 12 is about one bookstore per 200,000 people.
And finally, an interesting insight into the backwardness of some aspects of printing, as well as the toll browsing takes on publishers’ profits:
At the operational level, local printing, though relatively cheap because of lower labor costs, is generally of poor quality due to outdated technology and poorly trained workers. We sometimes get as much as 5-10% rejects in our print runs. This forces us to inspect each and every book to protect our readers and our reputation. This is costly because the print runs of some of our most popular books in our English grammar series are 10,000. Some printers also try to cut costs by using paper of lower quality than that specified by the publisher.
An operational problem stemming from poverty is that some readers use bookstores as public libraries – they read books while standing without buying them. This destroys many books – our rate for popular books is about 5% of the books we place on the shelves. All bookstores simply return damaged books and publishers have to take the loss. This has forced us to wrap all our books in plastic to discourage reading without buying, and this has increased our production costs.
The highlights of the 2007 National Readership Survey, from which most of the images above came from, were very kindly provided by the NDSB, and their hard copy version’s been scanned and posted online by me: see NDSB Readership Survey 2007 on Flickr.
The article The Romantic movement, by reporter Johanna D. Poblete in BusinessWorld, has publishers talking about Romance novels:
“Romances are the bestsellers,” Anvil Publishing Inc. assistant general manager and publishing manager Karina A. Bolasco told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of a book launch last February – echoing an article she wrote, “Emerging Trends in Philippine Publishing” (BookWatch, December 2004), wherein she stated that romance novels sell the most number of units next to textbooks.
At the time, around 20 romance novel titles were being produced in the country each month, with 20,000 copies per title, generating a monthly gross of P14 million. These days, production is deemed lower, with some publishers diversifying their product line, but insiders still refer to the romance novel as the “backbone” of the publishing industry.
Bookware Publishing Corp. alone has a regular target of 12 titles, but releases an average of eight titles, with 12 copies per title, amounting to 96 units in a month (or 96 titles, 144 copies, and 1,152 units per year). Also, they sometimes make reprints, dub-bed “Bestsellers” of their My Special Valentine series, which placed no. 1 (in-house) in terms of sales. Not too shabby, considering that an average of only around 5,000 titles each year (5,518 in 2007, 5,713 in 2006, 5,429 in 2005, and 5,139 in 2004) are issued an ISBN number as monitored by the Philippine National Library.
Employees of National Bookstore charged with purchasing books confirmed in an official e-mail to BusinessWorld that “absolutely the romance genre, consistently, has been a significant contributor to the overall sales for Fiction & Literature, both in terms of sales quantity and [revenue] amount.”
In general, almost half of the sales of locally published titles under Fiction & Literature are either Tagalog romances or chick lit (also referred to as “chic lit”) novels by local authors in English. For imported titles, it’s the bestselling sub-category next to general fiction and the literary classics. Notably, local romance novels (both in English and Filipino) sell about five times more in quantity than imported romance novels, but total sales amount is almost equal at National Bookstore.
Here is a 2001 exhaustive survey of the Philippine publishing industry, by the Center for Business and Economic Research and Development of De La Salle University:
In 2005, Atty. Dominador Buhain, President of the Philippine Association of Publishers, gave a presentation in Bangkok on Publishing Today (Philippines), which updated some of the information above. Some interesting snippets (rearranged for thematic purposes):
Book sales of both local and foreign titles account for only fifteen (15) to twenty (20) percent of total store sales of National Book Store, the country’s largest book retailer which has about eighty (80) stores.
nly 15% of the total elementary student population and 45% of the total high school population comprise the private school market. These are the areas where private publishers compete with one another.
…private publishers have developed all basic textbooks for the public elementary and secondary schools and have printed and distributed close to 45 million copies of pupils’ texts and teachers’ manuals during the last six years.
Printruns for the private schools range from 50,000 to 80,000 per title.
In both public and private schools, the lifespan of a textbook program is five years–the same edition may be used for five successive years.
Next to textbooks, romance paperbacks or pocketbooks are bestsellers in the country. About 20,000 copies per title are sold every month. Each month an average of 20 titles are released. Romance novelettes have won over a large portion of the comics readership.
Philippine Genre Stories, by way of a regional comparison, had an interesting entry in 2008 on bootleg books in Vietnam.