Kyra Camille Castro Ballesteros
Past Program / 2020 Program / Kyra Camille Castro Ballesteros
|Kyra Camille Castro Ballesteros
|ex. Visprint Inc.
|I am currently a Chevening Scholar from 2019 to 2020 taking up an MA in Publishing at University College London (UCL).
Previously, I was Business Development and Commissioning Executive with Oxford University Press (OUP). Prior to that,
Limbagan sa panahon ng pandemya
Philippine Publishing in a Pandemic
The Philippines entered an extended community quarantine (ECQ) in March 2020, as a response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases transmitted locally in the country. Under ECQ, industries considered not part of the frontline were closed indefinitely. This included physical bookstores, including those owned by book distribution giants National Book Store, Fully Booked, and Pandayan Bookshop, as well as one-off and independent bookshops based in cities across different regions, including Mount Cloud Bookshop, La Solidaridad, and Uno Morato, among others.
Among the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on commercial and academic publishers are the following: a sudden shift of distribution to primarily online markets; the outright cancellation or suspension of annual industry events; and the shift to reliance on local deliveries; adapting to changing consumer behaviors, in particular regarding online payment.
Under quarantine restrictions imposed by the national government, publishers and bookstores were classed as a Category 3 industry and allowed to operate during the succeeding months of Modified (MECQ) with very strict restrictions, including a fifty per cent reduction in on-site staff. For textbook publishers, the biggest challenge remains how to meet the new demands of teachers and students at the beginning of the academic year, which was pushed back twice from the traditional opening in June, to August, to October. The shift to online classes spurred a surge of demand for support for teaching staff who, in turn, relied heavily on online platforms, digital resources, and internet access.
While local publishers have historically relied on marketing directly to their consumer-base through social media and via intermittent events spread throughout the calendar year, the imposition of a long-running lockdown has forced local publishers to rely primarily on the infrastructure of online distribution platforms. Shopee and Lazada are among the most popular online marketplaces used for consumer goods—from local food products to technology accessories. Both platforms advertise ease of use, and a forgiving learning curve for new sellers engaging in buy-and-sell. Shopee, in particular, offers another kind of protection for consumers: mediating release of payments to ensure peace of mind. Consumers must indicate receipt of packages before the seller receives payment. Cash-on-delivery (COD) is also available on both platforms’ host of payment options, aside from over-the-counter payments with partner establishments including convenience stores, malls, and other outlets. This network of access is especially reliable to reach key demographics based outside of highly urban areas.
Part of an emergent trend within the Philippines commercial market, across product categories, is the push to support locally-produced products. Different iterations of the “love lokal” campaign have emerged over the quarantine period, including in terms of supporting local books. The newly-launched Independent Publishers Collaboration (IndiePubCollab) was an initiative that helped make smaller publishers visible on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram, the platforms most used by Filipino consumers to market goods for sale. According to the IndiePubCollab, during the ECQ and for the unforeseeable length of the pandemic, smaller publishers were operating on the same space, and with the same bid towards visibility as those of their competitors: more established publishers, and the bigger book distributors like National Book Store. Within the virtual marketing space, and given their relational intimacy with the end-consumer and readers, independent publishers and smaller distributors can outperform more established brands whose maintstays are physical bookstores.
In terms of book sales, local, commercial publishers will usually have online storefronts not only on marketplaces, but also on Facebook and on Instagram, where they engage in consistent marketing efforts. For example: during ECQ, movement across various cities, municipalities, and even barangays—the smallest local government unit—were strictly monitored, but certain delivery services remained in service in a few regional cities. In Naga City, Savage Mind Bookshop took part in the CommunityMart app, which allowed their books to be delivered along with essential items. This shift in marketing and distribution has allowed Savage Mind, alone, to continue operating despite various levels of quarantine. A more important shift, however, is in the class or category of the book as a product.
On 15 August 2020, Primetrade Asia, the event management company behind the annual Manila International Book Fair (MIBF)—announced their move to host MIBF as a virtual event, in light of the recent pandemic. The MIBF is a week-long even that attracts up to 150 thousand readers from the National Capital Region (NCR) as well as surrounding cities. This year, the virtual fair will be held between 26-30 November instead of its usual slot mid-September. Few details have been released regarding the structure, program, and capacity of a purely digital MIBF.
The Philippines also imports the raw materials used in bookmaking, including paper. Due to stricter border controls affecting global trade, the ramifications on the publishing industry will become more visible within the next few months.
Special focus on select events
The recent Aklatan: the All-Filipino Book Festival was held on Shopee in August 2020, with several book industry events being held virtually as well. The Book Development Board of the Philippines (BDAP), an organization formed by select book publishers interested in supporting stakeholders of the industry, organised the virtual book fair in cooperation with Shopee. A dedicated microsite off of Shopee’s main page allowed easier access to books, more visibility for participating publishers, and easier navigation for consumers. Familiarity played a big factor in the partnership as the industry collectively attempts to encourage online book sales. This is especially important given the geographical challenges posed by an archipelagic nation state, where brick-and-mortar bookstores must be supplemented. Shopee and their competitor, Lazada, Instagram, and Facebook are among the most popular marketplaces and sites for marketing Filipino book titles.
First among the host of online book fairs, Aklatan: All-Filipino Book Fair spearheaded the effort to continue marketing books online. Headed by BDAP, the Aklatan from 16 to 18 August promised “up to 50 per cent off” on select titles as an incentive for book buyers, Shopee Live events where publishers showcase select book titles, and the tangential marketing to help keep the Filipino reading culture and local industries alive through the pandemic. Over 40 different Philippine publishers participated, drawing readers to Shopee. According to BDAP “local books are essential and…our readers can help revive the local publishing industry and support local literature” (Rodriguqez, 2020). Marketing deployed during Aklatan hinged on Filipino readers finding previously unavailable titles in one place: “All your favourite local titles in one place at amazing discounts”.
Effective incentives include free shipping for purchases above a set minimum or for purchases made during promotional events, book bundles across categories, promotional codes, and the capacity to pay cash-on-delivery.
Local distributing giant, National Book Store (NBS), is looking to move stock as well by promoting a “3X Sulit Sale” from 31 August to 02 September 2020 in select stores, including several big branches in highly urban areas. Going against the grain of sales via digital platforms, NBS is attempting to entice consumers back into their brick-and-mortar bookstores by providing an incentive to purchase three different books for P1,500 (KRW 36,630). Notorious for stocking more imported books than titles produced by Philippine publishers, NBS’s marketing relies on heavily advertising sales of foreign bestsellers in English.
Bigger publishers with enough brand recognition are able to set up their own sales. Adarna House, an established publisher of children’s books using traditional canvas art, recently advertised te Super Warehouse Sale on 30 August 2020. Offering the same discount of up to 50 percent, the publisher hopes to reach its core demographic – parents of young children and educators.
This move to digital platforms reveals key characteristics of the Filipino consumer and reader: a certain tenacity and familiarity with specific technologies, and buying behavior online. Several years ago, online purchases were untenable due to inherent distrust of the platform, of its security, and of the quality of products, and sellers.
Context for Filipino words / translation guide
1.“Aklatan” translates to “Library”
2.“Pandayan” means “forge”
3.“Barangay” is the smallest social unit within the Philippine government
4.“Sulit” refers to value over price, wherein the consumer is guaranteed to save on the price of a product because of its quality
5.“Adarna” referring to a mythical bird from Filipino mythology
2.https://manilabookfair.com/, which includes a list of exhibitors still participating in this year’s MIBF
6.Rodriguez, M. (2020). “Get Ready: The Biggest All-Filipino Book Fair Is Going Digital.” Spot Philippines. https://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/the-latest-news-features/83027/aklatan-2020-goes-online-a4362-20200729
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