There is an unmistakable romance to the solidity of a print book in your hand, a sure, familiar weight that comes with the smell of fresh ink and paper. There may not be a more dazzling shopping journey than just walking through a brick-and-mortar bookstore, the rage of colored covers and titanic typography lying in wait for you.
As much as e-books and online shopping have grown to become increasingly accepted and perhaps even necessary, both of the analog book experiences need not be lost, even in the time of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Ilia Uy has been working for Fully Booked for four years now and is the customer relationship and digital marketing manager. “We have long wanted to offer a subscription service to our readers because signing up for a book subscription is like giving yourself a monthly gift of new stories and fresh pages,” she said. “It encourages people to read more and get excited about new books. However, subscriptions entail a lot of logistical and purchasing coordination so it took us some time to figure out the best way to offer value to bookworms who will subscribe.”
In 2019, Fully Booked launched its Fresh Read subscription service. When you sign up for this service, you select one of four categories—fiction, nonfiction, young adult or intermediate readers—for P799 a month, and Fully Booked will choose a newly arrived title that will be delivered to your doorstep.
Who does the curating matters. Uy is one of the “resident bookworms” who select books for Fresh Read. Her own tastes run toward literary fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, history and current affairs, and middle-grader books. “I love quietly tumultuous stories that explore relationships and how people are shaped by them, such as ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin, ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S. Lewis and ‘Still Life as Tornado’ by A.S. King.” Uy recommends sci-fi/fantasy titles from Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang and Ursula Le Guin; memoirs by Anne Lamott, Ta-Nehisi Coates and food writing from Michael Pollan. She also loves Filipino graphic literature such as work by Emiliana Kampilan, Arnold Arre and the late Gerry Alanguilan; as well as Edgar Samar’s “Janus Silang” series.
Recent Fresh Read selections have included “A Long Petal to the Sea” by Isabel Allende and “Weather” by Jenny Offil for fiction; “Hunger” by Martin Caparros for nonfiction; “If These Wings Could Fly” by Kyrie McCauley for young adult; and “Stand Up, Yumi Chung!” by Jessica Kim for intermediate readers.
“As much as possible, we make sure that the next selection isn’t similar in style or theme to the last book to give our subscribers a varied selection.” For now, Fresh Read only chooses foreign titles for its program. “Selecting from locally published books is definitely something we will be looking into in the future,” Uy said.
The whole point is to surprise you with a new book but one within the realm of your interests. “It’s a great way to expand your reading horizon,” Uy explained. “Plus, the Fresh Read subscription is at a fixed monthly price and Metro Manila subscribers get free shipping—provincial subscribers get a discount shipping rate—this, actually, ends up costing less than buying the book itself outside of the subscription.”
Print is alive and well
Contrary to first impressions, the convenience of technological developments such as e-books and online shopping do not herald the death of the physical book. “Most avid Filipino readers are looking to build their own mini-libraries,” Uy said. “E-books can function as a sort of filter to evaluate which ones you want to physically own. Many readers who end up loving a title they first read as an e-book will look for a print copy to purchase as part of their collection.” This is all part of the lasting and continually evolving love affair between Pinoy readers and books.
Subscription services for books are certainly a newer idea for Filipino bibliophiles, but the highly developed delivery culture means that ordering books online and having them delivered to your doorsteps has both a safety and a diligence aspect to it. “Even prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many readers have been ordering books online,” Uy concurred. “This makes sense when you understand that readers do a lot of prepurchase research online on Goodreads, review sites and social media before finally choosing to buy a book. Completing the transaction online is an organic consequence of the modern customer journey.”
The pandemic has had a negative impact on shipments and so the Fresh Read program is a little behind on its monthly deliveries but Fully Booked hoped to be back up to speed soon.
Fresh Read is an example that Filipino book lovers and booksellers will always find a way, and yet even those running this service long for the carefree days when one could freely peruse bookstores without trepidation. “Going to a bookstore is an experience that I don’t think can be replicated virtually. Bookstores also serve as public spaces for people to gather and meet,” Uy said.
“I think Filipino readers still very much enjoy the physicality of being in a bookstore and being surrounded with these great books that you couldn’t all possibly read in a lifetime. There’s an irreplaceable joy to that experience. Subscriptions like Fresh Read will be a part of how readers discover new books but it’s unlikely to be a reader’s only way to get their hands on books to fill their shelves.” INQ