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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 Webcomicsnation.com. 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 sometime in the future.

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.

Comments

25 Responses to “Komikero Publishing’s Survival Plan in the Digital Age”

  1. Nick Nichelle Dael on September 12th, 2010 8:18 pm

    Woohoo! A WASTED special edition set next year! Sir, wala bang ADVANCE pre-order list for this? :) You may list my name there. :)

  2. Gerry Alanguilan on September 13th, 2010 7:43 am

    Hey Nick… it’s still too far off for me to take reservations. he.he.

  3. chummy on September 13th, 2010 10:55 am

    …well said sir gerry, holding back a tear from reading it…i love the tangible books nothing beats flicking a page holding something in front of you minus the LCD glare straining your eyes though i still download some online but rarely do i get to read it, its not just the same and what if my hard drive would fail? that would be the end of it… :)

  4. Raipo on September 13th, 2010 7:57 pm

    I still prefer books. I love that “new book” smell.

  5. Caz on September 14th, 2010 7:06 am

    Well said, sir! And I agree with pretty much everything you said!
    I believe that comics that thrive online still need to consider printed versions in their business models. I never hear the end of how much people would love to see certain online comics in print! There’s a certain added connection to a reader through a printed copy, either through sentimentality or mere tactile tangibility, perhaps? Whatever the case, there’s a certain warmth in the analog age that digital media would be hard-pressed to replace.

  6. Jerome Dizon on September 14th, 2010 2:51 pm

    When they released Cd -rom comics 10 years ago they say that that’s the end of printed comics :)

    I still love the smell of my offset printed comics :)

  7. plsburydoughboy on September 14th, 2010 5:27 pm

    I’m surprised nobody brought up that only physical books are worth bringing to the toilet with you :) Shame that you (or I, sayang) couldn’t come.

  8. Mervin Malonzo on September 15th, 2010 2:47 am

    Hi sir!
    Very nice article I must say.

    While I can always appreciate a good story in any format (whether printed, digital, or audio), I don’t want printed books to die and I don’t think it will. Nothing can replace the real thing.

    It’s just a matter of availability for me. If I want to read a book and it’s not available in the bookstores, I search for it online and I’ll be happy when I find it. However there are really times that after reading a book in digital format, I still long to have the actual tangible thing. I guess it makes me feel that a book is really mine when I can actually hold it.

    Also, I do get a lot of requests from readers to have my webcomic printed. So I think printed books has its own appeal. In fact, as you also mentioned in the article, print and digital can go hand in hand.

  9. Gerry Alanguilan on September 15th, 2010 8:59 am

    Ryan, you can pretty much bring an iPad with you to the toilet right now, diba? And you can even read it in bed. Very soon, technology will be able to allow much smaller and much more paper like texture to displays.

  10. David Marshall on September 15th, 2010 11:02 pm

    Well-balanced analysis, with a major unexpected twist in favor of paper media. I teach a studio course on making comics with traditional media (Ames guide and all).

    If there’s one flaw in this article, it doesn’t differentiate specific kinds of digital media. Reading your free comic on a desktop computer tethers the reader to a machine he probably feels he already spends too much time on. Reading that same comic on an iPad is a much different experience, much closer in portability to the printed model.

    Like everyone else, publishers and technology companies are waiting to see how much of mainstream consumers will adopt to this new model. Those of us who’ve been on this “Print is Dead” bus before are skeptical at best. Still, if mainstream adoption is anywhere near 50% in five years, game over.

    In the meantime, publishers large and small should probably format for Print, iPad and Desktop (in that order).

  11. Torsten Adair on September 15th, 2010 11:09 pm

    Yes, you can take an ipad to the restroom, but you can’t use it when you run out of toilet paper.

    Within comics self-publishing, there are creators exploring old printing techniques, including one who engraves her comics on copper plate! Within universities, there are art departments which teach book binding, paper making, and typesetting with movable type.

    Comics have always been half art, and the best become art objects as well as literary classics.

  12. Pilar on September 16th, 2010 8:18 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Gerry.

    Even if I can read comics online [for free] nowadays, I am one of the few people who actually wish to get a real comic book. Why? Because inside, I feel a little guilty for not purchasing the real thing. It’s like piracy. I’m really surprised you told me during the Komikero 8th anniversary meeting, you would publish your comics online (maybe just the 1st volume for Elmer, hehe). Besides, a true geek would get his/her hands on something tangible.

    Besides, buying an iPad (or whatever) seems more expensive than buying a complete set of comic series. Plus, if one wishes to read ALL comics digitally, s/he still needs to spend more buying memory cards and stuff. :DDDDD

    Then again, I’ve seen some people online who publish their comics online, but it’s downloadble only if the reader allows to spend some cash per download.

  13. Danry Ocampo on September 16th, 2010 7:51 pm

    Hi Gerry,

    Nice Read as always. I remember when i met you to pick up my elmer gift set, i caught you off guard by saying i never read Elmer yet because #1 was sold out. Being aware that issues 2 to 4 was available, i could not bring myself to read a book where the first issue requires a PC to have a complete read. To this day, my copy of Elmer in print, is also a good way for me to share the hobby to non comicbook reader friends.

    Thanks

    Danry Ocampo

    *saves money for WASTED special edition and “The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Doctor Rizal”*

  14. Ash on September 17th, 2010 1:38 am

    Hi Gerry,

    I like mine with signatures. Kinda weird bringing your IPad and having the author or the artist sign the display. Which reminds me, I still haven’t had the chance to get my Elmer, Bold Stars and my 2 copies of Wasted signed by you, hehehe. Which, again, reminds me to ask you if you have plans of putting HUMANIS REX into print.

    Regards,
    Ash

  15. Raipo on September 17th, 2010 4:10 am

    Books beats iPads anytime of day…pag nahulog yung iPad sa inodoro…lam nyo na…

  16. Leinil yu on September 17th, 2010 9:02 am

    @ Raipo, ayoko na atang basahin ang librong nahulog sa inodoro. :)

  17. frbarba on September 17th, 2010 10:53 am

    rightfully said sir

    no better way to read comics than the old fashion way, the time you spend in comic book shops to drown yourself with a vast selection of books and the smell of a newly printed book =]

    unless mayron po tayong crisis sa mga puno at ipagbawal na ang logging of trees =p

  18. Robby Villabona on September 17th, 2010 12:28 pm

    Gerry,

    Actually the mystery to me is not why you continue to publish in print, but why you don’t publish *both* in print and digital? It seems there’s an unserved market for digital for your comics.

  19. Gerry Alanguilan on September 17th, 2010 12:50 pm

    I’ve yet to see a viable system wherein I can make money with my comics online. Once I make a digital copy, it’s torrent fodder for the Internet people who just want stuff for free. I think we know of the typical Internet denizen well enough now to know that if people can get it for free, they will and won’t care if it’s legal or not. If you put safeguards in place, they’ll just crack it. My comics becomes practically public domain against my will.

    However, I’m not completely closed to the idea. My attempts to try to sell comics online has never stopped. I tried to set up Humanis Rex! wiht ComicsXP but they’ve since closed. I’m now currently tying up Humanis Rex! with Longbox Digital. Let’s see how that goes.

  20. raipo on September 17th, 2010 9:36 pm

    @leinil onga. iPad o libro dyahe na pag nahulog sa inodoro. Buti na lang mas mura ang libro/komiks.

  21. Paolo Chikiamco on September 18th, 2010 2:16 pm

    I was sorry to realize that you wouldn’t be on the panel with us Gerry, but I’m glad you decided to share your paper. I’ll link to it on Monday, in the post which will have all the videos I took from the second day of the conference.

  22. andoyman on September 20th, 2010 11:32 am

    nakaka-iyak po.

    iba pa rin ‘yung nahahawakan mo at naaamoy ‘yung aklat o komiks. kapag nalobat ‘yung gadget o nasira, di mo na mababasa. ipapaayos mo pa. naalala ko ‘yung speech naman ni Coelho tungkol sa digital at hard copy. pareho lang po nung sa inyo na may digital na version sa kanya at, kagulat-gulat talaga, marami pa rin ang gustong makabili ng book. isang magandang strategy talaga ang pag-o-online pero siyemps, depende pa rin sa ganda ng kwento kung gustong bilhin ng reader yon o hindi.

    goodluck po sir at sana makabili na rin ako ng wasted :D

  23. monsanto on September 20th, 2010 4:39 pm

    If it is not real tangible komiks, it is no komiks :)

    There is not substitute for the real thing :)

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    [...] visible form of self-publishing – social networking aside – is the burgeoning indie komiks [comics] [...]

  25. Tin on October 4th, 2010 1:16 pm

    Hi Gerry, sayang wala ka. Thanks for this, i-link namin sa conference site.