Publishers, bookshops ride the digital wave spurred by pandemic

Publishers, bookshops ride the digital wave spurred by pandemic

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

ANDREA PASION-FLORES, a 52-year-old publisher based in Manila, is using the internet to sell books like hotcakes directly to consumers.

“Ours is basically a business-to-consumer model,” the entrepreneur, who owns independent Milflores Publishing, said in an e-mail. “The mainstream bookstores just can’t carry all the books that all the publishers produce.”

The digital age and limited movement spurred by the coronavirus pandemic strengthened the more direct publisher-to-reader relationship, said Kevin Ansel Dy, who heads the policy and industry research division of the National Book Development Board. 

“The internet has changed how distribution works,” he said in a video interview. “What that means for publishers is that I don’t necessarily have to go through a distributor. I can have more direct contact with my customers. I can have my own little store on Lazada or Shopee.”

The Philippine creative industry contributed 7.3% to the Philippine economy in 2022, slightly lower than a year earlier, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. But the gross value was P1.6 trillion or 12.1% higher than in 2021. 

Media publishing and printing activities contributed P179.14 billion — 11% of the industry — to the Philippine economy last year.

Katrina Stuart-Santiago, who owns independent bookshop Everything’s Fine, said a direct relationship with buyers has helped the business promote its own books.   

Without the pressures of distributing to bigger bookstores, she and her managing publisher, Oliver Ortega, get to choose which books to sell.

Mr. Ortega said they sell books that are absent in mall-based bookstores.

“We want to curate books along certain themes like LGBTQ+, climate activism and the maritime conflict with China,” he said in an e-mail. Books with these themes are best sellers.

Ms. Santiago said the book EDSA Uno by her mother Angela Stuart-Santiago sold like hotcakes after the 1986 People Power revolution was removed as a 2024 holiday.

“Content that gets the most responses will always be the ones that engage with current issues,” she said.

Registered Philippine book sales more than tripled to P10.27 billion amid a coronavirus pandemic in 2021, according to a report by the National Book Development Board.

Faye Cura, a poet and co-founder of Gantala Press, said they started selling to their own press and independent bookstores to avoid high consignment fees.

“By selling our books in independent bookstores and pop-up fairs, we get to support small businesses and strengthen our community of people and groups that believe in our books and our advocacy,” she said via e-mail.

Gantala Press, which does not have a physical store, sells books on its website and at book fairs.

Calling itself the first and only publisher of titles about and written by women, a chunk of Gantala Press’ sales go to peasant and women support groups.

By staying independent, the publishing house manages to keep prices between P300 and P500.

Discounts from publishers usually dictate book prices, Ms. Santiago said. Printing presses owned by universities like the Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines have been very generous in giving them discounts, allowing them to keep prices down, she added.

Books at Everything’s Fine cost as little as P295 and as much as P2,000, including foreign books, which are more expensive due to shipping and foreign exchange costs.

The digital economy did not only affect distribution but also book marketing.

“Interestingly enough, TikTok has been, perhaps in recent years, the top driver of awareness about a particular title,” Mr. Dy said.

Ms. Santiago calls readers who feature their books on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok their “unsung heroes” because they drive sales.

Milflores Publishing earns more by selling directly to readers and bookstores like Fully Booked and independent bookshops.

“Bookstores, like most retail establishments, take a discount from the suggested retail price of a consumer item,” Ms. Flores said. This is where they take their margins and expenses such as mall rentals and staff wages.

“When the consumer buys directly from the publisher, the publisher will earn more — as would the author in our case — because the royalty percentages are based on the net amounts received by the publisher,” she added.

Book fairs are also a living proof that Filipinos enjoy buying directly from publishers.

Ms. Cura expects fairs to be more accommodating to publishers that can’t afford regular booth fees.

“We hope that more small presses are given space in big book fairs to diversify the kinds of books that reach schools and the general public,” she said in Filipino.

Publishers and small bookshops have stood the test of time — including a global pandemic and the digital age — and has helped avid Filipino readers.

“The question has always been ‘How can we make the books that we want to read ourselves make a decent profit and ensure that the authors also earn from their work?’” Ms. Santiago said.

“It’s about selling the books that we like, the authors that we read. It’s about spreading the knowledge and creativity that we think are important to be exposed to. It’s about building a community of thinkers that seek to engage with the world in more complex and creative ways, which we think the best books and arts allow,” she added.