NBDB 2017 Readership Survey: What Could It Mean for the Publishing Industry?

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NBDB Readership Survey
© National Book Development Board

The National Book Development Board, the government agency that supports the publishing industry in the Philippines, recently released its 2017 Readership Survey. The last one that they released was five years ago back in 2012 and the data is not relevant anymore to represent the current state of the local publishing industry. But now, at least we got the latest statistics on what, how, and why Filipinos read.

One of the findings they reported from the survey was that “Filipinos still prefer reading printed books. However, readership of e-books and audiobooks are gaining significant share. Both children and adults spend more hours reading e-books than printed books.” Don’t get me wrong. I love books regardless of what format they are in: print, e-books, and audiobooks. I buy a print book once in a while, take advantage of the e-books on my Scribd subscription, sideload unDRMed e-books on my Kindle Paperwhite, and use both Audible and Scribd for my audiobook listening needs.

If local publishers are not slightly rattled with the statement above from the NBDB, then I don’t know what can. It somehow changes everything. For the first time in the Philippines, local readers are reading longer in e-books and audiobooks than in print. For the first time, e-books and audiobooks somehow beat print. For a print-centric country like the Philippines, this comes out as a surprise. In summary, e-books are on the rise again. And so, audiobooks.

Electronic books once enjoyed their prominence in 2010 to 2012 when Amazon’s Kindle devices are getting the hype and when self-publishing is enjoying its glory days. However, readers’ love for print went back somewhere in 2014. Sales of e-books from traditional publishers went down when they raised their e-book prices. Though, the downfall of e-books could be from a lot of factors, too. Somehow, the sales for self-published e-books are not available as there is currently no provider to release a comprehensive report. All we know is that “e-books sales are still strong” especially in the self-publishing realm.

Meanwhile, audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the publishing industry. They are nothing new anymore but they recently saw resurgence in popularity. From 2016, more and more publishers were recording audio versions of their print books. This is usually the norm for the Big Five Publishers. Current and upcoming new releases are testaments. They all come in three formats during their release dates.

Now, back to NBDB’s findings. What does this currently have to do with the Philippine digital publishing industry? First, look at the local industry players below and their current e-book and audiobooks offerings.

Publisher (Trade and University Presses Only) Print E-book Audiobook
Anvil Publishing Yes Yes Yes
Visprint Yes No No
Ateneo Press Yes Yes No
UP Press Yes Yes No
UST Press Yes No No
DLSU Press Yes No No
Summit Books Yes Yes No
VRJ Books Yes No No
ABS-CBN Publishing Yes Yes No
Adarna House Yes No No
Lampara Publishing House Yes No No
OMF Literature Yes Yes No
Kerygma Books Yes Yes No
PSICOM Publishing Yes No No
Bookmark Yes No No
CSM Publishing Yes Yes Yes
Precious Pages Yes No No

According to the table, there are only a few Philippine publishers that offer e-book versions of their books. Also, there are only a handful of publishers that produce audiobooks. Anvil Publishing, the biggest trade books publisher in the Philippines, has the largest e-book catalog. Currently, they offer 250+ e-books and they are all available on global and digital libraries around the world: Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK, Google Play Books, Scribd, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Tolino, Playster, among others. This year, they started riding the audiobook wave with producing the “first audiobook in the Philippines in the Audible era”: Dear Universe: Poems on Love, Longing, and Finding Your Place in the Cosmos by Pierra Calasanz-Labrador and narrated by Joyce Pring. I know all of these because I used to be Anvil’s e-book and audiobooks content producer for several years. Anvil Publishing and CSM Publishing seem to be the only local and traditional publishers that produce or have produced audiobooks. CSM offers local and foreign audiobook content on their website but they seem to have stopped doing so.

Visprint, the second largest trade books publisher, do not have e-book counterparts of their books. I think this is because they do not ask their authors to surrender the digital rights of their works. For the university presses, UP Press and Ateneo Press used to have some e-book offerings. Though they are not massive as Anvil’s. Also, they can’t be found elsewhere aside from their respective websites. For commercial publishers like ABS-CBN Publishing, Precious Pages, and Summit Books, they have their own apps to deliver e-books to readers. Summit’s imprint, Pop Fiction, also sells its e-books on Amazon. ABS-CBN has NoInk, Summit has Buqo, and Precious Pages has their own online e-bookstore. The same case with Christian publishers like OMF, CSM, and Kerygma. They host their e-books on their e-commerce store.

The Need to Go Global and Digital

The real problem here is that publishers, especially the trade ones, are not taking advantage of the statistics shown by the NBDB. They seem to ignore e-books and audiobooks as their secondary, if not primary, income stream. NBDB’s finding on e-books and audiobooks should be somewhat alarming to publishers. National Book Store, the biggest book store chain in the country, continuously decreases its space for books. A whopping 80% accounts for their products such as office and school supplies, gifts, and non-books while a paltry 20% accounts only for books. That is something not to be ignored especially if you’re in the business of bookselling. And how many publishers are competing to be in that 20%? As a result, publishers are losing one of their main sources of income. Therefore, publishers need to act now. Over time, as much as print still sells in other avenues, e-books and audiobooks might beat it.

I’m not saying that print is dead or that people prefer e-books and audiobooks over print. However, what I’m saying is consider investing in digital and audio publishing now. Right now, for sure Filipino readers are reading way more e-books and audiobooks from foreign publishers like Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster because local publishers do not have much offering. If you want to keep the local publishing industry afloat, then consider opening the floodgates.

Another thing is that even though there are local publishers offering e-books, most of them are not on Amazon, Google Play Books, and other global stores. I know, I know. Some of the publishers are not profit-driven. I know, I know. Amazon is a capitalist and an evil corporation blah blah. However, it’s time to rethink your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy as a publisher.

Look at it at the perspective of a marketing and SEO professional. Having your e-book on Amazon, Google Play Books, et al., not only on your own e-bookstore, gets it in front of global readers. Since you send metadata to these e-book sellers, Google picks them up. In turn, when Google collects enough data, it produces a Knowledge Panel for both books and authors. More about Google’s Knowledge Panel here and how and why you should create one for your business. Take a look at the Knowledge Panel of my book Dystopia and Derelict Dreams: Poems.

Dystopia and Derelict Dreams

I admit, it was self-published. I’m not even a famous person or an entity. But because I sent my book’s metadata (book title, author, ISBN, publication year, publisher, etc.) to different e-bookstores, Google produced a Knowledge Panel for it. If you’re a bit famous, then Google will produce an author Knowledge Panel for you complete with your bio and list of books.

John Green Knowledge Panel

Now, that’s something. It produces rich results about you or your e-book. People can easily know about you and it. It increases your click-through rates. It increases your conversion. It might even increase your sales.

Overtime, if your publishing company gets to be mentioned in a lot of high-quality sites and publications (I know you are), Google will produce a Knowledge Panel for you.

Anvil Publishing Knowledge Panel

If you want to get your e-books in a lot of local and international readers as much as possible, if you don’t want to be at the bottom of the Google Search’s page, and if you want to increase your conversions, then the time is now to secure those digital rights, format your print books into e-books, produce your audiobooks, gather and organize your metadata, send them to global e-bookstores like Amazon, and wait.

You might be thinking that I am a crackpot for suggesting to upload your e-books out there. You might be thinking that your e-book might be a victim of piracy and that you might lose sales. There’s the Digital Rights Management (DRM) if you want to restrict your e-book to a local ecosystem. Yes, DRM is not guaranteed to protect your e-book but cracking it is kind of difficult for average readers. Also, if you don’t want to upload your e-book on Amazon, et al., you can have them on digital libraries like OverDrive, Hoopla Digital, and Bibliotheca instead. Libraries buy your e-book, just like print, and they allow their patrons to borrow and return them. In this way, you still send relevant metadata out there. Google still picks them up. That still contributes to your SEO strategy.

When I was at Anvil, one of my digital publishing strategies is to secure deals with e-book and audiobook sellers like Audible and Kobo. The idea is to get the e-books to a lot of online stores as much as possible. I often check the dashboard if people have been buying the e-books and yes, they have been. What I noticed after some time is that the more stores your e-book is on, the more chances of winning. Sales have increased especially in faraway places like US, Singapore, and New Zealand. And no, I did not think of a marketing strategy for the e-books, I just let them be found by readers and be crawled by search engines.

E-books and DRM

NBDB also cites Google Play Books as the most-used app by youth. It makes sense since Google has local e-bookstore unlike Amazon which is yet to set up. It actually makes sense for publishers to send their e-books there instead of hosting them on their website. Yes, e-bookstores take their cut every time you make a sale, but they take care of providing DRM and accessible pages for your e-books. They also take care of sending the e-books to the readers. You won’t have to do anything. Compared to when you host them on your own platform, readers might be technically-challenged to operate your apps. You pay for your DRM server, your IT staff who can debug issues should your app crash, and your marketing team to aggressively promote your reading app.

Google Play NBDB
© National Book Development Board

Your book’s presence—no matter what format it is in—doesn’t just also depend on the giant e-commerce stores. Simple things like asking your authors to set up their author websites and social media pages, claiming their Goodreads Author’s profiles, and making bibliographic entries to their books can help in boosting your online presence as a publisher.

So there. It all started from NBDB’s 2017 Readership Survey, how local publishers are so behind what readers are up to, how they are not taking advantage of it, and what can they do about it. I think it is time for the local publishing industry to change its strategy to adapt to the global standards of publishing books. It’s not just focusing your energy to the editorial department but also in your marketing, publicity, and SEO departments.

The publishing landscape is global and it keeps changing. Local publishers need to adapt to these changes immediately in order for businesses to thrive and their books to survive. No local books—print, e-book, or audiobook—means no medium to shape and express our culture.