In 2019, Aklatan, the biggest showcase of the best publications by Philippine publishers, was held at the Megatrade Hall 3 in SM Megamall in November. Bookworms swarmed the huge hall to get the best deals from the latest offerings from all-Filipino publishers.
It’s going to be different this year.
Aklatan, organized by the Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP), will defy the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the recently imposed modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila when the book fair is held online for the first time through popular platform Shopee.“We started Aklatan in 2019 because we wanted a venue for both mainstream and independent Filipino publishers to showcase and sell their books,” said Ani Rosa Almario, BDAP president. “We are continuing this tradition by doing Aklatan again, this time online.”
There were doubts whether Aklatan could actually be done in these dire circumstances, but then the decision to go online required adjustments all around. “All the participating publishers had to onboard with Shopee and learn its ins and outs as quickly and as efficiently as they can,” Almario said. “Not all local publishers are well versed in e-commerce so doing this online book fair was really a big change.”
It goes beyond just the software. “The greatest challenge will be for publishers to reach out to a different audience, to expand their reading space,” she said, but adds there is something that could be good for them as well. “The surprise gift is that this challenge can be done by going online. We will be reaching places not previously reached by physical fairs and brick-and-mortar bookstores.”
The latter bookstores are once again adversely affected by the pandemic and now, more than ever, online selling seems the way to go for book-selling and book buying. Both the retailers and the consumers seem ready to embrace this relatively new way of scratching their local bibliographic itch, whether they’re searching for the newest mainstream releases or the rare secondhand first-edition. The diversity of the companies involved reflect this.
“We are expecting that it will be a success given the amount of attention our posts are getting on social media,” Almario said, but adds it’s not just about sales. “But really, we’re hoping that it gains attention for all our local publishers and authors. We want to create a new selling venue for our publishers, especially our independent ones. Aklatan is also a form of capacity-building for our local publishers—it’s a way to educate them about selling and marketing online. Helping them become more resilient in times like these.”
With the broad range of books available, Aklatan expects that buyers will be both young and old. “It’s the biggest as it involves over 40 local publishers,” Almario said. “It’s significant because it’s the first time we’re going online.”
Beyond just the selling, the book fair is about offering support to an industry under duress because of COVID-19 in many ways.
“Aklatan is just one of the many ways that BDAP is helping publishers get through this difficult time,” she said. “After this, we will be holding webinars benefiting all our stakeholders. We’re also gearing toward doing a digital version of the Manila International Bookfair in November.”
The first publisher to use the name “Aklatan” for its book-selling event was pioneering Visprint, Inc., which Almario said generously “lent” the name to BDAP last year.
How does it work? Prospective book buyers visit the Shopee site, buys a book among the many presented, and Shopee takes care of the rest, of shipping the actual print book to the buyer. It may be an online bookfair, but the books on sale are mostly, if not all, hard copy, a titillating combination of the old and new in the book world.
“We partnered with Shopee because we knew of their reach and expertise, and they were responsive to BDAP. Aklatan is the result of numerous meetings within the BDAP board. We knew we had to help the industry get back on its feet.” Shopee after all is popular, successful and efficient as an online selling platform for Filipinos and there is no reason books cannot become highlighted the way Aklatan will do.
Usual suspects and then some
Participating in the 2020 Aklatan are: 19th Avenida Publishing, Adarna House, Alpha Stream Marketing, Anvil Publishing, Asia/Pacific Circulation Exponents Ateneo de Manila University Press, Ateneo de Naga University Press, Bookware Publishing Corp., Central Books Supply, Chapter House Publishing, Christian Literature Crusade Church Strengthening Ministry, Cunanan Map House, FELTA Multi-Media, FEU Publications, Forefront Book Co., Inc., Great Books Trading, Institute of Spirituality (ISA-Jecho Publishing), MSA Publishing, New Day Publishers, OMF Literature, Our Daily Bread Ministries Philippines, Philippine Christian Literature, Inc., Phoenix Educational Services, Inc., Precious Pages and Lampara House, Saint Mary’s Publishing, Salinlahi Publishing House, San Anselmo Publications, St. Matthew’s Publishing, Summit Media, Tahanan Books, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, University of the Philippines Press, Wizard Publishing Haws and WS Pacific Publications.
Almario said that Aklatan’s going online may indeed be the beginning of a kind of revolution in the way books are sold in the Philippines: “I am looking forward all the things our publishers will be learning after doing Aklatan. This will definitely be the first of many digital events we’ll be holding to revive the book industry.”
Aklatan is no band-aid solution, no one-off gimmick. Ani Almario said, more than anything else, it is a testament to the Filipino’s love for books, and the extent they will go to acquire them.
“The Filipino reader is resilient and will surely survive the pandemic. We’ve noticed that our buyers and readers have been quick to shift to online means of getting the books they need or want. There are also new sites and resellers of books on social media. Everyone is trying to get books to readers.” INQAklatan: All Filipino Book Fair will be held on Shopee on Aug. 16-18. Visit shopee.ph.