NBDB Seminar Report (Nov. 15, 2005)

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Arrived too early and with hardly a wink for the National Book Development Board seminar (around 9am, and it started 10) so I was really light-headed throughout the day -- which was in a way, just fine, since I had no inhibitions socializing and asking questions :). At any rate, I was particularly interested in the first part of the event, since it featured the Publish/Print on Demand Company CentralBooks, owned by the Sibal family. Present were Juan Carlos M. Sibal (VP for Operations), Ma. Alegria Sibal-Limjoco (Member, Governing Board), and Jose Paolo M. Sibal (VP for Finance & Administration).

Already had my eye on the company for my first book (am keeping it a secret for now :)), so the seminar was great in letting me check them out first-hand. And I liked what I saw. My impression from how they presented their service and answered the questions during the open discussion was that they were very flexible. Asked for example if they were open to the writers getting the royalties every quarter instead of every six months, they replied that they could give such a set-up consideration (got laughs for this by the way since being paid on time has been a perennial concern for writers). Also, the company works closely with the authors so as to be able to produce a particular book according to the author's preferences and specifications.

I observed that some of the authors were very open to the idea of Publishing on Demand. There was this one author and small publisher who told me however that CentralBooks was a bit on the high end. Meaning it is a bit costly for readers to afford. My attitude on the other hand is if it's something the readers want, then price should not be an issue (although it's not really that pricey). It's really up to the writer to convince his/her audience how invaluable his/her book is -- that they couldn't do without his or her book. Writers can't be passive nowadays. They have to be marketers and entrepreneurs too. (Will write more about this in the future.)

I really like the idea of Print on Demand. I've long wanted to have something like this in the country and was glad to know it had already arrived when I was first alerted to it by Butch Dalisay in his Philippine Star column. It transfers the power from the publisher to the writer. The writer gets to produce the book according to his terms -- how much his markup will be, how he wants to layout his book, when he can revise his book. etc. All of these, of course, was emphasized by the Sibal siblings. The writer can also, if he wants to, give CentralBooks permission to include his/her book in their bookstore inventory to help him out in the distribution and marketing side. One of the good news is that CentralBooks is about to open a branch at Glorietta which is a "mainstream" venue. Moreover, personally, the CentralBooks seminar inspired and encouraged me to start working on my first book soon.

Now, others used to call (and still are calling) this self-publishing route, vanity publishing. My take however is more positive. Why do you have to rely on the judgment of others to see if your book is viable? The point is, there are more publishing models emerging, and this is good for the writer, since more choices mean there are more alternatives for a writer to control his own destiny. Speaking of publishing models, this just occurred to me -- perhaps CentralBooks can also try out the Lulu.com route which combines the best of the worlds of traditional and print on demand publishing. More authors will be encouraged to produce works since there will be no monetary investment/cash outlay on their part except their time. And on the publisher's part this means publishing niches will be supplied, and if you combine all of these small markets, these could translate to more profit. (This is actually the Long Tail phenomenon brought on by the Internet -- think Amazon.com, eBay, and yes, Google -- and one of the assertions of this theory is that small niches/markets help out the mainstream products, and vice-versa. So from the publisher's point of view, this is actually a win-win situation. Will also write more about this later.)

The McGraw-Hill afternoon session on the other hand was of interest for the textbook and trade book authors, and there were a number of them at the seminar. MgGraw-Hill was looking for authors to adapt their books to the Philippine setting and/or translate their books for Philippine readers. They are also on the lookout for original book ideas/proposals.

I stood up and asked them the bottom line, i.e., how much royalty they usually give their authors. The answer was this: Usually it's 10% of net sales. So for example if a book is priced $20 and the cost is $5, the computation would be, the author earns, for every book, 10% of $15, which is $1.50. When I asked them how many books they usually sell, they replied that at the low-end, like Engineering books, they sell 100-200 books a year, while at the high-end, like Nursing books, 10,000 to 100,000 books can be sold annually. You do the rest of the Math.

Someone then pointed out that 10% of net may be too low -- Philippine industry standard is set at a percentage of the gross. I'm not that familiar with the industry standards but my parents' book, a textbook for early readers to be published by a Philippine publisher, I think is set at 15% of the gross. The beautiful ladies from McGraw-Hill -- Myla Gonzales-Katzav (Senior Marketing Executive Higher Education Division), Jennifer G. Javier (Marketing Executive Prof/Medical Division), and Estela Suyat replied that the author doesn't have any other expense (but shouldn't that be case?). At this point however, I was already too sleepy to wrap my head well around the discussion. Will look further into this to see how fair this certain kind of set-up is to the writer. At any rate, to learn more about McGraw-Hill, you may visit their website where their submission guidelines can be downloaded.

At the tail end of the seminar, also learned from various speakers, including Mr. Edgardo P. Sabalvoro (Executive Assistant V), of other projects in the works at NBDB. There's Virtual Book City, an online database of writers, illustrators and publishers, which will make networking and outsourcing easier for the publishing industry. There's also the Philippine Reproduction Rights Organization. The idea is for the authors to license their books to as many schools as possible so that their works can be photocopied by students. A percentage of the earnings goes to the author. In other words, the aim of the program is to "legitimize" piracy of copyrighted works as it were, and in the process benefit the author. The machines will keep track of the works being photocopied. I'm not sure yet how this has been received by the authors at large, but I think this program has merit since our economy thrives with "tingi" (piecemeal) models (think eLoad, autoLoad, etc.).
As you can see, really learned a lot from the seminar -- real-world stuff -- and I'm glad I came. The NBDB people were very helpful and very hospitable. Special thanks to Salvador "Jun" D. Briola, Jr. (Project Development Officer III Accreditation and Incentives Division) and Ma. Asena A. Galang (Research, Policies and Planning Division). I'm glad that the NBDB have all these projects geared towards helping the publishing industry especially the authors. You should join the NBDB's database. Am going to. 500 pesos for two years plus 100 pesos processing fee. In exchange you get to attend these NBDB seminars and also get alerted to their other activities.