I was invited by the National Book Development Board to deliver a reaction to the State of the Book Industry that would voice the sentiments of us readers. This was delivered last Nov 12, 2014 at the 5th Philippine International Literary Festival. I would like to thank Laila, Jem, MissRed and imavee for sharing their views. I made sure that all of our concerns were reflected in this speech
As a reader, I am surprised to listen to the state of the book industry where the word “book” is mentioned over 40 times but “reader” only 4 times? It takes two to tango. Books and readers are two sides of the same coin so it’s impossible to talk about one without the other. Hence there are 3 points I would like to raise to publishers, writers, and booksellers, and these are the 3 Ds.
1. DISECT and engage with your readers.
Readers are the main buyers of your products, but how well do you know them? Book lovers never go to bed alone, so go to bed with your readers! Get to know them inside out! As readers, nothing excites us more than to talk about books! Crack our shell, get under our skin and know everything there is to know about our reading life.
The first step would be to understand that not all readers are the same. The national readership survey is a good start but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Looking at readers with more granularity I believe can help us develop more pointed programs. Readers who read, say, 1 book a year, will have different motivations from readers who read, say, 12 a year. If we can understand why, and how we can influence each group to read, say just 1 more book a year, the effect on a national scale will be significant. Of course, number of books read in a year may not be the defining factor but it is finding that meaningful segmentation that will help us channel our limited resources into more pointed programs which will deliver results.
Is it possible not just to rely on sales figures and dig deeper? To go beyond the statistics and understand the motivations and aspirations behind your readers, the why’s and the how’s. Know not just what books each group reads but also what motivates them to read? How did they get into reading? Why do they read what they read? How do they find the time? How do they decide what to read next? What's in their TBR pile? How can you get your book to be included in that TBR pile? Why do they decide to buy a book and not just borrow? How does their reading progress as they get older? These are just a few questions to start with. So engage with your readers and get to know them intimately. As a reader I get a kick whenever my favorite author has a meet and greet and book signing, but hate it if I have to buy another copy just to get him to sign my beloved dog-eared one. There are also book blogs and several book clubs where readers discuss nothing but and everything about books. As a start, I am very happy with this year’s lit fest vs previous years because it looks at all stakeholders of the industry with more balance, including us readers, to whom the 3rd day is devoted to.
2. Go DIGITAL
A quick check with some of my book community members before coming today revealed that out of the last 13 books we read, only 3 were physical copies and the rest were ebooks. This is also consistent with a poll we conducted last year which revealed that about 50% read ebooks but those who do read more ebooks than pBooks. There is a general agreement that it’s very difficult to find the titles you like especially in the provincial areas so many resort to eBooks because you can just quickly buy them online without having to wait for shipping. However there are very few eBooks by local authors, so most of those titles were foreign. So we want to encourage the local writers and publishers to go for more eBooks. This might help our books reach more Pinoys not just here at home but also abroad. If you are worried about copyright, I have heard that there are ways to collect royalties on second hand ebooks that have been passed on.
Reading as an individual activity is now a thing of the past. The internet has made it social. First of all, book bloggers are thriving on the net. To date there are about 250-300 local book bloggers listed in our book community and most members have mentioned book blogs as an influencing factor on what to read. As a book blogger myself, nothing gives me a kick more than to receive a free copy in exchange for a write-up. We are nothing like food bloggers. We are cheap, we never get full, and we have readers as followers.
Book clubs have also been flourishing in the last few years online and offline. They actively talk about books and influence the titles to be read. As a member of one, I can say that nothing is more exciting than to have a writer or publisher join our discussions. If formal research is too costly, by all means, use our clubs as sounding boards, conduct polls and share your latest titles and events! Join us and engage with us here.
3. DRIVE and elevate local books.
There is a general impression among members of our book community that local books are not highlighted in book stores. They are placed in the back, in their own little section, unnoticed. The material is often cheap, usually in small, thin paperbacks in newsprint paper. If we believe that our books are very good, and our writers as talented as international ones, why do we present ourselves so poorly? The way our books look and are presented should communicate their value. Why even isolate ourselves from the rest of the books in the store? If our titles can compete with international ones, why not place, say our mysteries or our thrillers, next to foreign ones and present them as EQUAL options to readers? Maybe that’s the reason why so many Pinoys opt to write and read on WATTPAD. The pricing should also be more or less the same, not too low, as if to say that our titles are not as good, or too high, which would be too over-assuming. We talk about international competitiveness, but if we don’t read and love our own literature, how can we even expect the rest of the world to do so?
The YA genre was not included in the national readership survey, but we know it has taken readers by storm. But except for a few noteworthy works we can count in our hands, this genre has remained largely untapped by local authors.
So in summary, as readers we would like to see the industry DISECT and engage with their readers, go DIGITAL, and DRIVE local books. Thank you.