‘Draw That Roadmap to the World’: The Philippines’ Karina Bolasco

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Our publishing industry is complex and vibrant,’ says the Director of the Ateneo de Manila University Press. Karina Bolasco speaks on October 18 as The Philippines’ analyst in Frankfurt Book Fair’s The Markets: Global Publishing Summit.
Roxas Boulevard in Manila. Image - iStockphoto: Simon Podgorsek

Roxas Boulevard in Manila. Image – iStockphoto: Simon Podgorsek

We begin a new series of insight articles today, in the summertime run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair’s The Markets: Global Publishing Summit. The conference’s unique structure examines seven pivotal publishing markets of the world, each through the expertise of an analyst, a visionary, and several industry players engaged in each market’s business. We hope you’ll join us for The Markets, #TheMarkets2016, on October 18 at Frankfurt’s Business Club in Hall 4. And we’re glad to start our series—in which we ask our specialists for three concerns relative to their markets—with Manila’s articulate publisher and bookseller, Karina A Bolasco.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Diverse in Biosphere and Cultures’
An archipelago of 7,100 islands, and with a fast-growing population—107 million people as of 2014, two-thirds of whom are ages 35 and younger, 24 percent millennials: The Philippines already is a burgeoning market for US and UK books because the country can read in English.”

Karina A. Bolasco is the new Director of the  Ateneo de Manila University Press. Her 35 years in the book publishing business include 10 years at National Bookstore and 25 years at Anvil, which she helped found and develop into the leading publishing house in The Philippines today.

Ahead of her presentation on October 18 at Frankfurt Book Fair’s The Markets: Global Publishing Summit, we’ve asked Bolasco to talk to us about the publishing industry she’ll explicate at the conference.

“Long regarded as a US territory,” she says, “our book industry’s imports way exceed exports. Our oldest and largest bookstore chain, National, has more than 200 stores all over the country and has been importing a wide range of books for almost 75 years now.

“Today, our publishing industry is complex and vibrant with a positive, significant impact not only on our economy but also in forming and educating Filipinos. Its place in both business and advocacy makes it continue to grow in a rapidly globalizing world. The number of registered titles released between 2014 and 2015 has gone up by 21 percent.”

And what, we ask Bolasco, are the three points of key concern she sees in her homeland’s market?

Three Points of Concern
Karina A. Bolasco

Karina A. Bolasco

  1. “We need to be less insular and draw that roadmap to the world. We must export rights and books and not just content and art for developers in different parts of the world. It’s true that with sales of 500,000 [units] for a few titles, we’re only scratching the surface of a market with 22 million younger readers. But their generally low purchasing power is also very real. It’s vital to expand and find our place in the regional (ASEAN) and world markets.
  2. “The recent shift to a new K-12 curriculum carries a huge challenge for us to develop entirely new textbooks, not just for basic education but also for tertiary levels, now affected by the installation of senior high school, grades 11 and 12. We need multi-lingual, multi-disciplinary, and multimedia textbooks that will respond to thinking and learning requirements of a fast-rising millennial generation.
  3. “A nationwide public library network needs to be activated and reinvigorated here in The Philippines, expansively supported by local government units. Reading and books must lie at the core of community life.”
‘Poised To Sell to the Rest of the World’

Publishing Perspectives: Karina, can you give us a sense for how you come to make these observations? What is your position in The Philippines’ publishing industry and market?

Karina Bolasco: With a literature degree, and after a short stint in teaching, I came into publishing at a time when it was producing only dull-looking, intimidating academic and scholarly books and textbooks. There were hardly any local trade books to speak of, all were imported from the US and UK.

It was only in the late 1970s, borne of protest—and rapidly, after our people-power revolution of 1986 against the Marcos dictatorship—that local titles, paralleling the genres of imported books, were frenetically written and published.

I was fortunate to have started and headed Anvil Publishing—a sister company, the publishing arm of the National Bookstore chain—that blazed trails for a wide range of local books: LGBT books; popular history; psychology and law; food-history and -culture books (not just cookbooks); World War II and Martial Law memoirs and political biographies; inspirational and religious books; books on business and entrepreneurship; and many other self-help books.

All these local books were generated and produced for that bookstore chain of 200 stores.

“Today, our publishing industry’s place in both business and advocacy makes it continue to grow in a rapidly globalizing world.Karina A. Bolasco

PP: And you now see a maturation of the Filipino market?

KB: After 25 years of quality writing and book production of our own titles in an environment that’s rich and diverse in both its biosphere and cultures, we’re now ready to sell our books not only to Filipinos overseas but also to the rest of Asia and the world.

As our population grows younger, our infrastructure becomes more reliable and accessible. Mobile phone subscribers will reach 117 million this year. Filipinos are the second-largest active group in Wattpad after the US. And our content and arts are frequently outsourced by content and game developers from many parts of the world.

With the country’s economy having grown phenomenally by 7.8 percent—that’s higher than China’s 7.7-percent growth rate—we are poised to show our wares, so to speak, and sell to the rest of the world.

Maria Karina Africa Bolasco speaks on October 18 as part of the 2016 The Markets: Global Publishing Summit from Publishing Perspectives and Frankfurt Book Fair at the fair’s Business Club in Hall 4. The conference hashtag is #TheMarkets2016.

Early Bird rates continue to August 31. We have extensive coverage of The Markets for you here.

This year’s program will showcase the following seven markets:

  1. Brazil
  2. Flanders & The Netherlands (2016 Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honor)
  3. Philippines
  4. Poland
  5. Spain
  6. United Arab Emirates
  7. United Kingdom


About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.