Book sector not spared by downturn

By Jessica Annde D. Hermosa, BusinessWorld | 09/01/2009 12:20 AM

MANILA – The global economic downturn has not spared the domestic book industry, hitting sales and investment plans and limiting the production of new titles, industry officials said.

Limits posed by the local market are also to blame for the industry’s laggard performance, they added.

But a plan to award grants to authors and recommendations to focus on foreign markets and improve the education system could pull the sector out of its rut, National Book Development Board officials said.

“This year, there are almost no expansions except for a few stores in the new malls. Companies are focusing on training and retooling to prepare for the recovery,” Jose Paolo M. Sibal, Philippine Book Sellers Association president, said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Publishers, likewise, have hesitated from growing their businesses with only one firm availing of incentives to import more printing equipment this year, National Book Development Board Executive Director Andrea Pasion-Flores said in another interview.

“And as to sales, some of the publishers claim there has been a dip. Sales have been slightly affected,” the board’s chairman, Dennis T. Gonzales, said.

Mr. Sibal confirmed this, saying that demand, particularly for “pocket books,” has decreased.

The production of new titles, meanwhile, has proven a bit hardier.

“On average, there is a 5% growth every year in terms of new titles. It seems like the crisis has not affected this much. People are still producing which is a sign that there is still a market for new books,” Mr. Gonzales said.

The resilience however is only observed because “we didn’t boom, so we really won’t bust,” Ms. Pasion-Flores said.

To address this, the board is banking on a P150-million authorship trust fund that will be ready for disbursal, ideally, by 2011.

Implementing rules for the fund, created by Republic Act 9521 or the National Book Development Trust Fund Act, are “being finalized,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Interest from the fund will be awarded as grants to qualified authors, particularly those who pledge to produce new titles for science and technology, he said.

The fund will also go to cultural book projects which may not be commercially viable such as compilations of folklore or translations of important works into regional dialects.

Book sales, meanwhile, can be boosted by developing the local market and also marketing to buyers abroad, Mr. Gonzales said.

“In our case it’s really because of poverty and the quality of education. These affect book readership. It will take some time to radically increase local readership,” he said.

In the meantime, publishers would do well to target foreign markets, particularly for books that teach the English language.

“Many of our publishers are quite conservative in going to the international market… But there is a very big international market,” Mr. Gonzales said.

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