Sunday, September 12, 2010

Komikero Publishing’s Survival Plan in the Digital Age

From September 13 to 14 will be a huge conference in Quezon City on the “Future of the Book” organized by the National Book Development Board (NBDB), Filipinas Heritage Library and the Vibal Foundation. It’s going to be held at the Ayala Techno Hub in Commonwealth Avenue.

I was supposed to be a speaker on DAY 2 where I will discuss how self publishers can survive in the Digital Age. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control have forced me to bow out of the conference. It was a difficult decision to make because there were plenty of things I wanted to say, specially in a program that made it seem that going digital was a forgone conclusion. I felt it was an obligation for me to offer a dissenting voice.

Nevertheless, below is the complete transcript of the talk that I would have had.


Komikero Publishing’s Survival Plan in the Digital Age
by Gerry Alanguilan

I have been self publishing my own comic books for the last 12 years. I started out as many comics people are starting out today….by making multiple photocopies of our work and then sell them ourselves. There are many ways to do this. We can deliver copies to sympathetic stores and comic book stores, sell them at local comics conventions, or sell them via mail.

In recent years I decided to legally establish my own publishing company, the sole purpose of which is to publish work that I wrote and/or drew. Instead of photocopy I went to an actual printing press. My output is sparse, with just one or two comic books a year since 2006. It is by no means something I can exclusively make a living out of, but I can honestly say that through selling the book myself, each publication has been quite profitable in comparison to the money I spend in printing them.

As early as the year 2000, I have been encountering furious discussions on the viability of online comics as a commercial enterprise. Over the years, the discussions have grown to include downloadable comics for reading on portable readers like the Kindle or the iPad. Advocates of digital comics have been quite vocal, I have discovered, and I am very sure there are many of you are here in this audience right now.

I have heard all the arguments. While it’s cool to have an actual copy of a book in your hands to see and smell, such attachments to tangibility is a characteristic that only the increasingly old may have. The younger generation are growing up without actual books so reading online or on a portable gadget won’t be a problem for them. In fact, entire libraries can fit into one of these gadgets giving more space in your house, and in your luggage when you travel. Now this all makes perfect sense, and I’m not here to argue the point.

As a self publisher in this increasingly digital age, how can I possibly survive? I have several answers for this.

Take note that I am speaking only for myself, as publisher and owner of what I consider to be a specialty publishing company, releasing only one or two books a year. What I say may not be applicable to bigger publishers and my experience cannot speak for those that are.

I honestly and truly believe that a third world country like the Philippines won’t be doing away with print books and publications anytime within the next 10 years. Because most of us, if not all of us here in this conference are most likely online, and we are in touch with the biggest and latest news in terms of publishing from abroad, I think we may be getting a skewed notion that all THAT is applicable here in the Philippines as well. Countries like the US or Japan can afford to go digital because majority of their population can afford it. Here in the Philippines, does anyone actually believe that the typical Pedro on the street who can barely make enough money to buy newspapers will be able to buy an iPad or any similar gadget, no matter how less expensive it may be, within the next 10 years, or even 15 years? I seriously doubt it.

Print publications here in the Philippines still has a long way to go yet, I believe. I am 42 years old now. Personally, I doubt that digital will overtake print in this country even within my lifetime. So why would I waste the time I have left in this world chasing after a market that will never be truly widespread until I die? It does not make any business sense.

So as a publisher, I will continue to have my comics printed, and will resist any suggestion to do otherwise.

Of course, I could be wrong. I could be devastatingly wrong. In 15 years, I might be out there, pan handling like a bum in the middle of Quiapo as the executives, students, cops, fortune tellers, florists, evangelists, dried fish vendors and takatak boys blissfully pass by with their iPads and Kindles.

But what is publication but a risk? As publishers, we are ALL taking a risk with the books we publish. As a publisher in the Philippines, to be specific… as a small time specialty Publisher… it is with print comics that I place my bets.

Let us say I was proven completely wrong and the Philippines has indeed gone digital in the near future (if not already) I will nevertheless still continue to have my comic books printed. I will still continue to do it, frustrating the naysayers no end until they scratch their heads and exasperatedly exclaim, “Why don’t you just die?!”

I won’t be doing this out of spite (perhaps partly I will), but only because I love print books. I love making them. And in the future, I really believe a few people will still feel the same way about books as I do.

Indeed, since I, and perhaps a couple of other people will be the only ones left doing it, our work will then become much more valuable. Imagine it. In an almost completely digital world, only a few rare individuals still create their comic books in print. We become a novelty, that’s true, but even among the young generation and the generations that will follow, there will be those who will be looking for the tangible thing. As many things from the old world fade and disappear, I believe the more we as human beings will value them. I’d like to think that I’ll be that TV repairman who still makes housecalls. I’ll be that crotchety old man whose job it is to repair typewriters. I’ll be the old school hippie selling vinyl records. I’ll be that curmudgeonly old shoemaker on the far side of town who will still measure your feet to make you shoes. I’ll be that weirdo who still writes letters by hand and sends them through the post office, no matter how expensive it is. I’ll be that grumpy old man in San Pablo City who draws on paper and prints his comics.

I am, by no means, a complete luddite. I have uploaded a few of my comics online and I have used the Internet considerably to promote my publications. In fact, online promotion has been a major part of my marketing strategy.

WASTED is the title of a comic book that I created from 1994 to 1996. It has gone through several editions in print, the first edition coming out in 1998 through Alamat Comics. In 2000 it was serialized for several months in Pulp Magazine. In 2002, Pulp Magazine published another compiled edition. A few years later, Wasted went out of print. In 2007, I decided to upload Wasted completely online, including a DVD-like commentary for each page at It allowed a lot more people to read it, specially those from abroad.

But then, a strange thing happened. I still get letters and emails to this day from people looking for copies of Wasted. I always point out that they can read the entire thing for FREE online. The reaction is almost unanimous and immediate: No, we want to buy the print edition. There is not a comics convention that goes by (and believe it or not, we have something like six or seven of those a year here in the Philippines) that people don’t ask me for a copy of Wasted. The demand has grown so much that I’ve put it in the front burner of my company’s publishing schedule.

My other book ELMER was published through my own Komikero Publishing in 4 issues from 2006 to 2008. The first issue very quicky sold out. And when it did, I digitized it and uploaded it online as both as one HTML file where you can read it in one go, and as a downloadable Comic Book Reader file. FOR FREE. My purpose for doing so was to encourage people to buy the rest of the series in print, and the compiled edition which came out in 2009.

To further entice people to buy the printed comics, I collaborated with my wife’s paper crafting company to create a limited edition ELMER Box Sets which included a hardbound hand crafted copy of Elmer 1-4, photographs, facsimile of some of the objects found in the story, one piece of original artwork, and a certificate of authenticity. These are things that cannot be reproduced digitally, but can be created simply by hand. The minute I made the announcement on my blog about the existence of these box sets, I never had the opportunity to sell them at our local conventions because reservations for it came pouring in through email and quickly sold out.

Inspired by the success of the Elmer Box Sets, I am now currently planning what the WASTED special edition set will contain when I publish a new edition of it next year.

The next book I will publish is entitled “The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Doctor Rizal”. To encourage people to buy the print edition, I will be taking another risk and print it in a large format, with a width of 9 and half inches and height of 12 inches. Each copy will be hardcover, full color and printed on matte paper. Unless one has a large vertical monitor, the reader will not be able to fully appreciate the comic book in a digital format.

As a print publisher, I use the latest technologies to promote the work I do that’s available in print. I think it’s the perfect compromise between my personal sensibilities towards print publications, and the undeniable impact that the digital age has brought.

In spite of what I said earlier, I well and truly believe that digital books will and can exist side by side with print books and that both will flourish, and sometimes even complement each other. Not all people are created the same. Not all people will go digital, and not all people will be reading books in print. As we go slowly towards that day, I sincerely believe that technology, as well as us human beings, will find our proper places naturally through evolution and experimentation, and we will find there is a place for everyone, print and digital books alike.

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