Leveling up support for the book industry

Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Executive Director of the National Book Development Board, is interviewed by Dante 'Klink' Ang 2nd (not pictured) during his show 'Business and Politics' on news channel SMNI.  PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Executive Director of the National Book Development Board, is interviewed by Dante ‘Klink’ Ang 2nd (not pictured) during his show ‘Business and Politics’ on news channel SMNI. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

THE large crowds that visited Manila during the three days of the International Book Fair are positive evidence that there is a market for book readers in the country. While the large turnout is not as big as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, it still shows that the market is there.

During the fair, Filipino book markets included the librarians, who bought books in bulk; the students who chose books with more affordable price tags; the researchers who bought reference books; and the general readers, who promoted literature, the arts, and the social sciences.

Interest was also aroused in translated books. Translations have been published by the university presses of Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Naga, University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas. Penguin Random House Southeast Asia has an ongoing series “Southeast Asia Literary Classics” for which they commissioned Professor Danton Remoto to translate into English the masterpieces of national artists Amado V. Hernandez and Lope K. Santos.

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The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino used to have an excellent translation series that translated books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Rabindranath Tagore, among others, into Filipino. It’s a project that should continue. Emeritus Professor Dr. Soledad S. Reyes of Ateneo de Manila University won the Asia-wide AL Becker Award for Translation for the novel What Now, Ricky? It was written in Filipino by Rosario de Guzman-Lingat and published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.

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Against this background, the National Book Development Board (NBDB) also called on the government to increase its support for the book publishing industry for another important reason: to improve literacy, especially among youth, by making more books available to them.

While working with the proverbial minimum, the NBDB has done a lot to get books into the hands of more readers. NBDB Executive Director Charisse Aquino-Tugade said providing publishers with subsidies and rebates allowed them to sell more books and explore e-commerce platforms. Readers across the country bought the books that Filipino publishers were selling on Shopee at discounts of up to 90 percent as the NBDB shouldered the retail price of the books.

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The NBDB is negotiating with the Department of Education (DepEd), which is an institutional buyer of locally published books. The education department has a list of mostly foreign textbooks that can be purchased as supplementary textbooks. But if the topics and content can also be found in local textbooks, why can’t the DepEd patronize the local books? Textbook authors in the major publishers are vetted fairly thoroughly and the books go through a rigorous process from writing to editing to book production. In addition, the native books meet the requirements of the K-to-12 curriculum, while the teachers of the foreign textbooks have yet to adapt their curricula to it.

Aquino-Tugade reiterated that books, as products of knowledge, can yield economic results because their content can be translated into different languages ​​and adapted into films, television shows, and theatrical productions, and goods made from them. This is how the South Korean culture industry developed when they started dealing with Korean authors and adapting their works into films and TV novels or K-dramas. The windfall in South Korea’s economy came in the hordes of tourists visiting the locations where the K-dramas were filmed, as well as the huge demand abroad for Korean products – from grocery items to fashion to contemporary English-language literature Translation.

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We also have the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, or Republic Act 8047, which requires all cities and towns across the country to establish a local library. But statistics show that less than half of the 1,634 cities and towns in the Philippines have a library. Aside from storing books and offering free internet, libraries can also serve as third spaces and community centers where city dwellers can meet and discuss issues relevant to them. After all, there is life outside of the many malls that now cover the country like mushrooms after rain.