Publishers struggle to stay afloat
When the lockdown loomed longer than expected, upending lives and industries, the Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP), headed by Ani Almario, reached out to its members in a survey to find out how they were faring. It was a necessary move because of the need for books in all categories for parents and teachers in these times. Out of 90 active members, 47 responded.
The status reported then, which should have slightly improved by now with the easing of restrictions: 62 percent were partly operational, 6 percent fully operational, 32 percent were totally closed. Losses incurred were from sales (85 percent) and salaries (55 percent). These were sales to customers from over the counter, through direct marketing, or selling on a website. Despite the lack of income, some companies gave a portion of the 13th-month to staff or cash advance for no-work-no-pay staff. How can such support continue without bleeding the company?
The members admitted being caught unprepared without any contingency plan for this unprecedented crisis. As they look to a post-ECQ scenario, they cited the following challenges to normalcy: COVID mass testing of employees and contractual workers, limited working hours and physical distancing, the change in the academic calendar, timelines in producing targeted titles, cancellation of events that require assembly of people, reconfiguring distribution channels like shifting to online sales, new delivery and payment systems, reskilling employees and customers. The publishers have no choice but to be reasonably selective about the projects to take on.
Members recommended this course of action for BDAP: support publishers in assisting authors affected by delayed royalty payments; join the ARK Program-Massive Rapid Testing; work with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to lighten or even defer taxes, permits, payments; lobby for books to be reclassified as essential goods; booth subsidy for the Manila International Book Fair or defer MIBF, but apply this year’s down payments to next year; nationwide information campaign; digital/online support for members; stimulus packages for smaller companies.
As the World Book Day statement of international publishers reminds us: “Books need authors to write and illustrate them, publishers to invest in them, booksellers to get them to readers, and collective management organizations to protect their copyright.” This is a chain vital to a society.
On paper, the government appears to manifest support for books and readership. After all, through Republic Act No. 8047 in 1995, it created the National Book Development Board, the agency attached to the Department of Education, mandated to provide support and incentives for the publishing industry to promote readership in the country.
At a Senate hearing last year when there were discussions on imposing taxes on books, four of us representing the industry—Ani Almario, lawyer Dominador Buhain, Paolo Sibal, and myself—were invited to express our stand on the proposal. We registered strong opposition, of course, pointing out that even without any taxes on books, it was already hard enough to sell them because of economic circumstances. I remember the staunch support and commitment of Sen. Sonny Angara who then chaired the committee on education, then Sen. Loren Legarda who chaired the committee on appropriations, and Sen. Miguel Zubiri, all reassuring us that there was no reason for worry. Indeed, there was not.
But these days are when support needs to go beyond typical motherhood statements. After all, who can object to the essential role of books and information in the growth and development of a nation, and in the preservation of its cultural heritage? What would a nation be like without citizens who are literate and critical thinkers? How can one talk of the quality of life without talking of the life of the intellect as well?
I know only too well how the proposed stimulus packages that every sector needs and demands at this time will never be adequate. Does one need reminding how essential the publishing industry is in the life of a nation? Who is to blame when we lament the inadequacies of the public school system and how its students lag behind in comparison with their peers both in Asean and in western countries? Our anger and our disappointment cannot be only seasonal.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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