Antonio A. Hidalgo
President and CEO
Milflores Publishing, Inc.
(Delivered at the symposium, "Know Your Assets in Research," July 29, 2005, UST, Manila)
(Published in Book Watch, National Book Development Board, Jan.-Mar. issue, 2006; Forum, University of the Philippines, Jul.-Aug. issue, 2007; and the souvenir program of the Philippine Annual Book Fair, October, 2007)
I am very pleased to share what we have learned at Milflores Publishing, Inc. about writing, publishing, and marketing books since we were established in December 1999 and started full operations in early 2000. Let me point out at the outset that our company’s situation is different, in some important ways, from that of university presses. Therefore, we do some things very differently.
University presses are part of much larger organizations. They have annual budget allocations from their universities. They also have additional subsidies in terms of free office space, personnel whose salaries are charged to academic budgets, free vehicles and other equipment, etc. These assure the survival of university presses and allow them to often give higher priorities to goals other than the profit motive. Thus, they may publish research studies that are important to scholars, though these may be unprofitable. They can also price some books below cost in order to make them accessible to students. They do not depend on a steady output of new titles to survive in the marketplace, though directors of university presses are sometimes under some pressure from their superiors to produce many books for the prestige of the university.
Our company only publishes and sells books and we derive all our income from this activity, so we can’t subsidize any of our books—we have to choose every title in terms of its potential profitability. In spite of this constraint, we have managed to publish a number of literary titles (fiction and nonfiction) and research studies on women and on health that have not sold enough books to be profitable. Before we published them, we arranged for individuals or NGOs to subsidize these titles so that we would not endanger the profitability, and hence the continued existence, of Milflores Publishing.
A case in point is the 2002 Milflores publication, “Nightmare Journeys: Filipina Sojourns Through the World of Trafficking,” by Rina Jimenez David. This book documents the horror stories of 14 Filipinas who survived being trafficked as prostitutes by international syndicates. It also contains an introduction by then Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Rosario G. Manalo that analyzes the problem of human trafficking and provides figures on the extent of this form of modern slavery in the world, Asia, and the Philippines. This was the first book on human trafficking published in the country, though we have been plagued by this problem for many decades now.
Milflores conceived the book, identified the writer as the best author for the book based on her writing skill and her espousal of feminist causes and her connections with feminist NGOs, and arranged with the UNIFEM (U.N. agency for women) Philippine Committee, Inc. to subsidize the book by paying the writer’s fees and buying enough copies to assure recovery of publication costs.
The subsidy was necessary, for the book didn’t sell well. But it was distributed to all the wives of our congressmen through Mrs. Gina de Venecia, wife of Speaker de Venecia. And it was instrumental in the approval of much tougher legislation against human trafficking that imposes the death penalty on traffickers under certain circumstances.
The fact that we must arrange for subsidies on a case-by-case basis means that we can’t publish as many literary and research studies as university presses can. We also have to publish enough new titles each year to maintain our sales volume (and profitability), since even the most popular titles cater to finite market segments and their sales decline after a few years in the bookstores.
Despite these differences, both university presses and commercial publishers publish and sell books, so there is a point in sharing with you the experience of Milflores Publishing, Inc., a small company by industry standards that, however, has grown phenomenally in five years by taking creative, calculated risks. From our initial four titles in 2000, we now have 58 titles in the bookstores—a growth rate of 1,450 percent. From sales of 4,260 books in 2000, we expect to sell around 40,000 this year—a growth rate of close to a thousand percent.
Two Misconceptions About Book Publishing
When I established my publishing company, some friends and acquaintances sought to dissuade me by citing two common misconceptions. The first was the familiar lament that publishing and selling books in the Philippines is so difficult because Filipinos don’t read. The second was the dreary prediction that book publishing is doomed to die globally, not just in the Philippines, because of the advent of electronic technologies like cable TV, CD-ROMs, the Internet, E-mail, cell phones, etc.
The first is a half-truth at best. It is simply not true that Filipinos don’t read—they do. In fact, the Inquirer recently ran a story on an international survey that shows that Filipinos, on the average, read more books than the Chinese, Koreans, or Indians do and that our readership of books is pretty high when compared with other Asian countries. A 2003 SWS survey of reading attitudes and preferences of Filipinos showed that 90% of Filipino adults have read books and 68% have read non-school books. Filipinos read books that they think they need or want. This accounts for the sustained success of large publishers that specialize in romance novels in Filipino and in religious books.
Yet, though Filipinos do read and there is a mass market for books out there among our population of more than 85 million, it is true that book publishing in our country is difficult due to various constraints, which I shall discuss in a later section.
I think that the second misconception is simply false. Book publishing has not died with the coming of modern Information Technology (IT), just as radio was not killed by television nor were cars made obsolete by airplanes, for the capacity of human beings to use multiple media and technologies is vast. Book publishing, in fact, has grown both globally and locally along with the proliferation of IT. Witness the record-breaking print runs of the latest Harry Potter book—five million for the U.S. alone and millions more for the rest of the world—and the steady increase of local titles on the shelves of bookstores. I think that the growth of book publishing along with IT is not an accident, for there is synergy between the two. In our case alone, we have now published half-a-dozen successful books that were first posted as blogs on the Internet or were initially published as articles in e-zines (Internet magazines). And our books are also being sold through Internet websites.
Some Market Characteristics
Before I talk on the creative initiatives in book publishing and selling that have made Milflores grow, it is necessary to first discuss the Philippine market for books, for all publishing innovations can only be viable if they are framed within market realities.
The 2003 SWS survey on the reading attitudes and preferences of Filipinos commissioned by the National Book Development Board (NBDB) was ground-breaking because it provides, as far as I know, the first hard data on Filipino readers. Unfortunately, the extensive data from this survey has been inadequately analyzed thus far so that we still don’t know as much as we could about the local market for books. Nevertheless, the findings of the survey are valuable and can give us important knowledge of some of the contours of the market.
One of the most dramatic findings of the survey was that 57% of Filipino adults prefer to read non-school books in Tagalog (Filipino), 30% prefer English, and 13% prefer Cebuano. According to the survey, there are nearly twice as many readers who prefer to read in Filipino than those who prefer to read in English. Alternatively, we could say that local books in English cater to less than a third, or 30%, of the potential market for books in the country. I have discussed this finding with many friends who are involved with books as writers, editors, publishers, intellectuals, etc. and it never fails to inflame passion. I have concluded that this is because the finding is counter-intuitive to those whose first language is English and who think that the rest of the country is like them.
Yet, the SWS survey finding is supported by other data. Rey Duque, when he was editor of Liwayway a couple of years ago, told me that the circulation of his magazine was a hundred thousand during bad times and 250 thousand during good times. Compare this with the circulation of magazines in English that also carry short stories, like the Free Press and the Graphic, which sell far fewer copies per issue. For me, of course, the best corroborating evidence to the SWS survey are the book sales of my own company. I wrote a series of four manuals (two with short stories) on cockfighting originally in English. Then, I translated all four into Filipino. These books have identical content and their covers and illustrations are by the same artist, Manuel Baldemor. They are sold on the same shelves in the same bookstores. The only difference between them is that the English books are sold at P190 per copy because they are in book paper, while the Filipino books are sold at P150 because they are in newsprint. Except for this difference, the framework approaches that of a laboratory experiment so that any difference in sales between the English and Filipino versions could be confidently attributed to the language used. The Filipino versions have been outselling the English ones for more than a decade now by a ratio of about two to one.
According to the SWS survey, 91% of those who had read a non-school book did so to get information or gain additional knowledge, while 9% read for enjoyment or amusement. Again, our sales figures validate this finding. Our best-selling information book, Grammar Review in our English grammar series, sells nearly a thousand copies a month, while our best-selling literary title in our humorous essays series, Suddenly Stateside, averages a little less than a hundred copies a month, although, of course, the former book is only about half the price of the latter book, so that some of the difference in sales could be due to price.
The survey found that young adults from ages 18-24 read more non-school books, five per year on the average, than older adults. This finding must be coupled with the unique demographics of our country. We have one of the highest population growth rates in the world at around 2.3% annually. This means that each generation is much larger than the previous one, for there are more and more parents in each generation to beget even more children in the next one. To understand this exponential population growth, we need only consider that our population in the mid-fifties was a little more than 20 million, while now it is more than 85 million. Obviously, the young far outnumber the old in our country because of our demographic trends. The dominance of young readers in the market is further heightened by the fact that not only do they outnumber the old, but they also read more books than the old, on the average, because they are more curious and have better eyesight.
Another important finding of the survey was that a large majority, 58%, of those who bought non-school books for personal reading spent P200 or less on these books for the entire year. Obviously, affordability levels for books are quite low because of the widespread poverty in our country.
Finally, the survey found that readership of non-school books tended to be higher among:
• Those with higher levels of education,
• Those who attended private, rather than public, schools,
• Those from higher socio-economic levels who had higher personal monthly incomes,
• Those from urban, rather than rural, areas,
• Those who were younger in age,
• Those who were not married,
• Those who had libraries in their homes and offices,
• Those whose social networks also liked to read, and
• Those living nearer to bookstores and public libraries.
Some Constraints for Book Publishers
The most important constraint for book publishers at the macro level, as shown by the SWS survey, is the widespread poverty in the country. The fact that the majority of buyers can only afford to spend P200 or less per year on books means that the effective demand for books is only a small proportion of the potential demand of our large population. In turn, this breeds a vicious cycle whereby publishers are forced into smaller print runs that cause higher unit prices that unavoidably result in less total sales.
Another important constraint is the mismatch between the books that the best Filipino minds write and the needs and preferences of readers. Most Filipino books are still written in English though most readers prefer books in Filipino. The best Filipino writers still concentrate on writing fiction (novels, short stories, plays) and poetry in English, while 9 out of 10 book buyers want information books. Because of class differences in lifestyles and experiences, the content of the best Filipino literature in English is often at odds with what most readers want from fiction, so they turn, instead, to the movies, telenovelas, and romance novels. The gap between most readers and the best writers exists in many other ways—even in the visual aesthetics of books. The covers and layouts of books on the Philippine literature shelves are highly Westernized—clean, crisp, modern, and sparing in the use of space. Those on the more masa shelves like the spaces for the romance novels in Filipino and the texting humor booklets are more crowded and baroque, closer to the aesthetic of the masses. Most readers ascertain which books were written for them through their visual look, so they shun the literature shelves and crowd the other ones.
The small, but affluent, A and B market is fluent in English and should be the natural market for Filipino literature in English by the best writers. Unfortunately, this segment is also highly Westernized and prefers books by foreign authors. Some of them are even unaware that there is now a fairly large body of work by Filipino authors in English.
The limited reach of bookstores in our country is another limiting factor. All publishers sell the bulk of their production through bookstores, since this is more efficient than direct sales to the general public. Therefore, the market for books of publishers is basically that portion of the total market that has access to bookstores.
In an article in the December 2004 issue of Book Watch, Karina Bolasco of Anvil Publishing, Inc. (a sister company of National Bookstores and one of the larger publishers) said that Anvil’s research in 1995 showed that there are, at most, 2,500 bookstores in the entire country, or one bookstore, on the average, per 34,000 people. The Anvil mapping of these stores showed that most of them were concentrated in Metro Manila and the National Capital Region (NCR). In Mindanao, there are far fewer bookstores and the average in Regions 9 and 12 is about one bookstore per 200,000 people.
In our experience, the figure of 2,500 bookstores is misleading, for most of these are marginal outlets that don’t have the capital to carry many books and that often close down within a year or two of opening. About 70% of our annual sales are through the dominant National/PowerBooks nationwide chain, about 25% are through direct sales, and only 5% percent are through other chains and bookstores. For us, therefore, the market for books is largely those who buy books from the National chain.
This has advantages and disadvantages for Milflores. On the plus side is the efficiency and reliable payment system of the National chain. This chain is also expanding rather rapidly, from about 40 outlets in 2000 to 79 branches today. And it is nationwide, with a good distribution system to its many outlets in the Visayas and Mindanao.
On the constraint side is the fact that some regions, like the Bicol region, have no National bookstore, so that we are unable to sell books efficiently there. It should also be noted that selling books through the National chain is very competitive, for this chain imports a lot of books and a visual appraisal of any of its branches will show that there are about 9 imported books for every local one on its shelves. In addition, the National chain also has three publishing units—Anvil, Cacho Hermanos, and National Publishing. We must compete with the books of their own publishing units on rather unequal terms. We sell on consignment, while their own publishing units are immediately paid for the books they deliver. We are also charged a higher sales commission, 40% at this time, than their own publishing units, which gives the latter a terrific pricing advantage. Finally, their own imported and locally published books are better displayed on their shelves than ours are.
Despite all these, however, I must say, in fairness, that it is largely the success of the National chain in selling books that has made it possible for small publishers like Milflores to survive and thrive. This, despite the fact that, according to Bolasco, book sales constitute only 15-20 percent of the total sales of the National chain.
At the operational level, local printing, though relatively cheap because of lower labor costs, is generally of poor quality due to outdated technology and poorly trained workers. We sometimes get as much as 5-10% rejects in our print runs. This forces us to inspect each and every book to protect our readers and our reputation. This is costly because the print runs of some of our most popular books in our English grammar series are 10,000. Some printers also try to cut costs by using paper of lower quality than that specified by the publisher.
An operational problem stemming from poverty is that some readers use bookstores as public libraries—they read books while standing without buying them. This destroys many books—our rate for popular books is about 5% of the books we place on the shelves. All bookstores simply return damaged books and publishers have to take the loss. This has forced us to wrap all our books in plastic to discourage reading without buying, and this has increased our production costs.
These are some, not all, of the constraints facing book publishers in the country. I mention them not to paint a dark picture, but to lay the foundation for creating realistic strategies for successful book publishing that are based on a sound knowledge of the market and the constraints to book publishing and selling in the country. Some of these strategies may be useful to universities as they try to maximize the utilization of their research assets.
Some Creative Strategies for Book Publishing
1. Mass education through commercial books. A large number of Filipinos read books and most of them do so to obtain information and gain more knowledge. This fact presents an opportunity for publishers to produce books that are both socially useful and profitable. The best writers in the country have much to offer readers, provided that they address the needs and wants of readers and the obstacle of language in their writing.
I stumbled on this possibility by accident. While immersed in the world of cockfighting as a professional breeder from 1990-95, I embarked on documenting what I had learned about the sport and sharing this knowledge with ordinary sabungeros through a book. The first one was published in 1993 by Anvil and the response of readers was so good that I went on to write four more titles on different aspects of the sport. The continued popularity of the series kept me going and I included in the series as much as I could of my training and international and local work experience in science and in development, including genetic theory, public health, identifying and educating gifted children, using computer programs to track breeding lines, etc. Then I turned to fiction and wrote twelve cockfighting short stories to express my insights on the Filipino human condition and our social situation and included these, as well, in the sabong manuals.
I really expected my readers to abandon me at some point because I was not really writing about cockfighting any longer, but about much larger issues, though it was all expressed in cockfighting terms and situations. They never did. In fact, they chose my complicated books over the simpler, more formulaic, cockfighting manuals on the same shelves. Today, twelve years after the first book came out, the entire series is still selling well in bookstores.
At the insistent urging of the late Speaker Ramon Mitra, I learned how to write in Filipino at the age of 56 in order to translate my manuals and make them more accessible to less educated readers. This also worked and the sales of my cockfighting books increased exponentially.
I reflected on this experience when I established my own publishing company in 1999 and founded it on my cockfighting series of books. I concluded that there was really no need for well-educated writers to pander to the masses in the way that romance novels and telenovelas do. So long as there is a firm bond between writer and readers, like the shared passion for cockfighting, the writer can be as complicated as he needs to be and most readers will appreciate it. Since the class divisions that fragment us are not total and it is virtually impossible for our social classes to lead completely mutually exclusive lives, all intellectuals have some kind of intersection of life with the masses. The writers among them can build on these intersections of life by writing books about them that seek to inform and educate rather than turn a quick profit by formulaic writing that panders and stunts the intellectual growth of readers. In doing so, such writers would build benign intersections of life that are mutually beneficial to the intellectuals and masses and contribute to the centrifugal social forces that reach across class barriers to create a common culture and nation, in contrast with centripetal social forces that channel values and actions toward ever-shrinking circles of class, high-walled subdivisions, clans, and, ultimately, self above all. Such centripetal forces can only create intersections of life that are characterized by violence and exploitation, like when renegade poor policemen kidnap rich Tsinoys, or rich movie producers churn out mindless, escapist films to exploit poor moviegoers.
In more practical terms, Milflores engaged several dozens of the best, award-winning writers to contribute to humorous anthologies on popular topics like shopping malls, insomnia, beauty pageants, being a Noranian, etc. We also published collections of humorous essays by good writers on migration to America, pregnancy, the single life for women, the gay world, etc. We only focused on the popularity of the topic of the books—we never told our writers what to write and never asked them to simplify anything for the mass market. In fact, we always selected manuscripts where the writer poured everything he/she had into it, for we believe that books with great passion are the best ones, or to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir, “In some sense, every good book is a cry for help.”
We often found this passion in young writers writing their first book. We also often contracted young cover designers and illustrators, in keeping with the dominance of young readers in the country.
Some of these books mix literary genres and contain essays, fiction, and poems. All of them provide useful information on their popular topics, though the predominant tone is humorous. Like in the case of our cockfighting books, the mixture of genres and of straight information and humor in these books has not deterred readers from buying them, proving that most readers are sophisticated enough to be postmodern by virtue of the complexity of modern Philippine life at all levels.
We are always searching for good manuscripts on popular topics in Filipino, and we translate our books when we can, because we know that most readers read in Filipino.
In response to the rapid deterioration of English in our country and the clear desire of Filipinos to improve their English in order to earn more here or abroad, we approached a number of senior professors in English at the University of the Philippines to put together a series of self-learning booklets on English grammar. The first one, Nouns and Pronouns, came out in 2003. Today, we have nine titles in our English grammar series in the bookstores. This series has exceeded the sales of our cockfighting series because it appeals to a much larger market. It is now the most important line of Milflores.
The pricing of both the cockfighting series and the English grammar series is within the affordability levels of readers in our poor country. The prices of the former series of nine books are from P150 to P190 per copy, while that of the latter series, also comprised of nine titles, are from P95 to P195 per copy. This was made possible by breaking up the subject matter of both lines into discrete units that don’t overlap, so that each title is small enough to be reasonably priced. Though readers will need the entire series in both cases to derive the full information benefits, they can buy the titles one at a time. In effect, they are given the option of purchasing the entire series in “gives”, rather than being forced to buy one large, all-encompassing volume at a price they can’t afford.
2. Efficient distribution. Our distribution system is an important factor in our growth. We realized early on that though books are not really a consumer good, nevertheless, they would have to be distributed efficiently, much like consumer goods, in order to maximize sales. This is not easy to do, for books are relatively low value items that are retailed in several shelves in many outlets. In our case, as a small publisher with only five years of operation, this still means the tracking of production, inspection, wrapping, storage, delivery, sales, and collection of well over 200,000 individual books, with different sales prices and bookstore commissions, in several hundred shelves in about a hundred retail outlets nationwide. Anyone who has tried to do this knows that this massive amount of data can only be processed with the help of computers.
The computer program we have devised, using standard spreadsheet technology, tells us what has happened to every single book we ever produced in the past five years—whether it was sold, damaged, is still on the bookshelf, or is in storage. Our tracking system also enables us to make sure that, almost all of the time, none of our books run out in the bookstores, that there are always sufficient copies in every bookstore to forestall lost sales. This is important, especially in the large National/PowerBooks branches in major cities, where the sales are very brisk during peak seasons like Christmas and school opening in June. For this reason, since our computer monitoring system is dependent on the bookstore sales reports that are issued only once a month, we often resort to physical counts of our books on the shelves of the largest National/PowerBooks branches in Metro Manila during the peak seasons.
From observing buyers in bookstores, I noticed that there is significant impulse buying of books. This makes attractive covers, good blurbs, and shelf positioning important sales factors. The advantage of a series of books rather than a stand-alone volume is that if the series is displayed on the same shelf, it has a better chance of attracting the attention of an impulse buyer rather than a single volume. This is one of the reasons Milflores tends to publish entire lines of books, like our cockfighting series, our English grammar line, our series of humorous essays, with identical or similar types of covers, so that they will be more noticeable on the bookstore shelves when they are displayed altogether.
An interesting aside to publishing a series of related books is that, often, the later books in the series tend to sell less than the first ones because of market saturation. The question then arises—for how long should the publisher keep on producing additional titles in the series? The answer, of course, is provided by Business Economics—for as long as marginal revenue exceeds marginal cost. The marginal revenue of each later volume in a series of related books will tend to fall because of declining sales, while the marginal cost of these volumes will be stable or will gradually rise due to inflation. Business Economics tells us that publishers should continue producing new titles in the series for as long as the latest title continues to be profitable, even though it may be much less profitable than the earlier ones, since this latest title still adds to the profits of the publisher in absolute terms. This analysis can also be applied to successive printings of one title, where the sales decline with each new printing and the costs remain the same or increase over time.
3. Selling through alternative outlets. Though bookstores are, by far, the best sales outlets for books, nevertheless, their limited number in our country means that a substantial number of potential readers cannot be reached through them. A number of alternative outlets already exist, among them: websites, specialized distributors to libraries, the Fil-Am market in the U.S., and other groups, provincial book fairs, the periodic book caravans to schools by the U.P. Press, the large annual book fair of the Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP), etc. We have tried all of these with varying degrees of success in augmenting our sales through bookstores. The least successful have been the websites.
One of our interesting experiments was to sell our cockfighting series of books in poultry supply stores where breeders of fighting cocks get their feed and other supplies. This worked very well for a number of years for we found large chains of poultry supply stores in Bicol, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The largest, Pacifica-Agrivet, is owned by the Mercury Drugstore chain. We sold many thousands of our books through these chains until their market was saturated and our books stopped moving. Apparently, their customer base is narrower than that of the National bookstores and the flow of new customers into their shops is much less. However, our success in selling our cockfighting books in these poultry supply stores enabled me to boast to my fellow writers that I was the only one in the country who could sell his fiction in such stores. On the other hand, I also confessed to them that some of the unsold copies were eaten by the rats that proliferated in these stores because of the chicken feed.
We also tried to sell our gay books in gay bars and shops in Malate and our book on malls in the hotel and airport shops. This was hardly worth the effort for it resulted in meager sales. We were marginally more successful in selling our book of children’s stories in some children’s clothing stores in the malls in Metro Manila.
4. Niche marketing. Philippine society has become quite large and complex due to our big population, exaggerated class divisions, age stratification, urban-rural differences, regional cultures and languages, etc. In view of these, all books can now only hope to reach a segment of the market and not the entire market, though, of course, the market segments for each individual book can vary a great deal in size.
We are sensitive to this fact in our publishing. When evaluating manuscripts, we always ask ourselves what market segment the book was written for and how large that segment is. The clearer the market segment of the book and the larger it is, the better the chance that we will publish it, provided, of course, that the writing meets our quality standards. We also base the size of the initial print run of a new book on the size of the market segment it was written for.
We also try to suit the production of the book—its size, type of cover design, layout, and illustrations—to the tastes of the market segment it intends to reach. Thus, a collection of funny essays on the angst of youth would be designed by young artists. A book on the heartaches and foibles of life as an independent single woman would be designed by young female artists. A book of humorous essays on the gay life in Metro Manila would be designed by a gay artist. And so on.
The market segment that the book was written for guides us in applying for purchase orders for specific shelves in the bookstores. Whenever possible, it also guides us in using alternative sales outlets, like in selling children’s books in clothing stores for kids in the malls.
Finally, we have used the concept of niche marketing in a somewhat different sense—to identify market segments whose needs and wants are not, or are being inadequately, met by local publishing; in other words, gaps in local titles. This was how we identified some of the titles that we have published.
For example, our 2000 book, “The Milflores Guide to Philippine Shopping Malls,” edited by myself, was conceived because despite the immense popularity of “malling” in the Philippines, no local book on this phenomenon had yet been published. This book contains informative and entertaining essays by 27 of the best writers in the country, many of them major award winners like Butch Dalisay and Krip Yuson, on 35 malls nationwide.
“Nightmare Journeys …,” our book that I mentioned previously, was similarly conceived by identifying an important aspect of Philippine life for which no local book had yet been written.
Our series of nine titles on English grammar was originally identified as a viable series of books because:
• Knowledge of the English language had rapidly deteriorated in the past decades,
• A very large number of Filipinos want to improve their English to increase their earning power in the era of globalization,
• Almost no local books on English grammar were then available, and
• Our needs in this respect were being met through the importation of cheap, but low-quality, English grammar books from India and Malaysia.
5. Minimal Overhead. Knowing that book publishing in the Philippines is quite a risky venture, we consciously planned our company to be a no-frills operation with minimal overhead as a major strategy for survival and success. The idea was to concentrate our limited capital on the production and marketing of books rather than on a large staff and office.
We have very few employees and no printing press. We outsource to contractors the design of covers, illustrations, and layouts, and all printing. I edit all the manuscripts myself and we do all the quality control and distribution and collection in-house. The actual retailing is done, usually on a consignment basis, by a large number of bookstores nationwide.
Through this strategy, we have been able to achieve rapid growth with a tiny organization, for, though our own staff is very limited, the actual operations of Milflores are augmented by many dozens of authors and contracted graphic artists, the hundreds of workers in the printing presses that successfully bid to produce our books, and the thousands of employees of the bookstores that retail them.
Implementation of this minimalist organizational strategy has been greatly facilitated by the advances in Information Technology (IT), like personal computers (which now have remarkable capacities for producing books and documenting business operations and transactions), the Internet (for globally accessing manuscripts and selling books), the fax machines, and cell phones (for doing business night or day outside the office). This is a prime example of the synergy between IT and book publishing.
These are some of the strategies that we have devised to successfully publish and sell books in the Philippines. I hope that some of them will be useful to you.
Antonio A. Hidalgo