Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Some Links On Bootleg Books In Vietnam

My sincerest thanks to Zen In Darkness for sending these interesting links on the book industry in Vietnam. Please do take the time to read them and to find out a bit more about the book industry in our Southeast Asian neighbor.

High Book Prices Make Reading A Luxury
Bill Could Allow Foreign Businesses To Import Books
Bootleg Books In Cambodia And Vietnam
A Google Search On Vietnam Book Piracy

While reading these articles, I was looking for clues as to what fuels the demand for bootleg books there, or rather, what drives the people there to read, to channel their resources toward books and reading them, over other items and activities. It's easy to see that economics plays a role. Expensive originals raises the demand for cheaper fakes; just see the DVD and CD market here for music and video in the RP. One would think that cheap, bootleg books would be undermining our bookstores here in the same way that cheap, pirated DVD's and music CD's are undermining our video and record bars. And yet, we don't have any bootleg books (not that I know of). Is our reading market really that small? The number of bookstores we have here belies that notion. Maybe it's as simple as no one has thought of selling fake books?

Again, I am in no way promoting piracy, whether of books, music, or film; it's against the law. This topic has caught my interest solely because I'm trying to learn a bit more about reading in our country, especially in comparison to other countries.

20 Comments:

Anonymous tyron said...

1. We have our own version of book piracy, imo. There are photocopies of expensive textbooks and even rare, out of print, seasonal or specialist (and therefore very very expensive) books in universities. But it's driven more by the need to study than the basic passion for reading. And also I know that UP's Main Library also pays yearly royalties so that students can own books, especially the rare ones, so it's not purely piracy.

2. Don't take it hard on us. I've read in the Inquirer some years before that Filipinos are one of the most avid readers in Asia, except that the survey taken didn't specify what materials Filipinos read (Inquirer Libre on the way to work maybe?).

3. Could it be that book banning is one of the drivers of book piracy? Take this as mere speculation, but I'm coming from the fact that movies not shown or banned here in the country (porn! porn!) are readily accessible in the bootleg market.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

And don't forget the ability to download pirated books from the internet.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Dominique said...

Reading one of the articles you linked to gives me the impression that the Vietnamese writer was faced with the same questions we are, e.g., expensive book prices, no one reading, etc.

Tyron is right: back in college, we would also photocopy books -- not fiction, though, but textbooks. Up to now that's still being done today, though I think to a lesser degree because of availability of info from the Internet.

5:33 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi Tyron, Mike, Dominique. Thanks for your comments.

I liked what was said that local piracy is driven by a need to study and not by a passion for reading. If Vietnam and Thailand have pirated books that are being bought by people who don't need to study them, doesn't imply that there's a large enough market there that is into reading? What I gathered from the articles was that people didn't want to read because books were expensive. But with the presence of accessible and cheap pirated books, more people started to read. Or am I reading it wrong?

As for banning books to make people want to read them, well, as one of you said, the internet's always there. And frankly, I'm not sure I'd like to see books banned, even if they'll be available as bootlegs. :)

I guess the root of this topic for me is to find out why those countries seem to have bigger reading markets than we do. And also to find out how to get people to read more local writers.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has to do with the presence of an intellectual culture, especially influenced by Confucianism. It's not just Vietnam but other neighboring countries, including Thailand, Singapore, India, and South Korea, where Confucianism, Buddhism, or older traditions are influential.

For example, in India popular toys for children include puzzles, which might foster an appreciation of math, which in turn might influence reading. The same probably takes place in Finland in terms of music education. In Seoul monorails, one won't be surprised if he sees up to half of the passengers in a car reading, and not tabloids but periodicals like business magazines and serious fiction. In Russia and in other European countries, students rise and remove their hats when a professor enters the room. In a survey conducted by a Russian national daily, the youth were asked to name their heroes. Those who topped the list included famous Russian artists and scientists. In the Philippines, the most-read newspaper in English will probably reach a circulation of a few hundred thousand; this can be compared to periodicals like *The Bangkok Post*.

In the Philippines, a similar survey was conducted a few years back, and showbiz entertainers topped the list. A local title is considered a bestseller if it sells only 5,000 copies or so. If students read, it's because they have to for classes. (Hence, the references made earlier to bootleg textbooks.) Finally, it does not help that the country has one of the poorest educational systems in the region. It has one of the largest average class sizes, fewer years of education, less funding per capita for education, and so forth.

It's possible that the closest that the country had to valuing an intellectual culture was Rizal and the illustrados, as Rizal in many ways is very much like Russia's Pushkin. Unfortunately, U.S.-style pop culture (and Philippine commercial pop culture influenced by the same) coupled with a poorly funded educational system and cultural institutions (e.g., consider the number of libraries in the Philippines, funding for museums, etc., lots of Philippine films deteriorating or now lost, etc.) might have derailed that influence.

10:37 PM  
Blogger bhex said...

I guess the root of this topic for me is to find out why those countries seem to have bigger reading markets than we do.

sir, i'm concerned that you might be idealizing the readership of india and vietnam. india still has a very low literacy rate (61% according to the CIA factbook) and you've said yourself in your previous post that reading is a big thing among the "social" classes there. so the middle and upper classes there may be passionate readers, but perhaps no more passionate than our middle- and upper-class literati are.

moreover, i don't think it follows that the indian literati who buy pirated books are also passionate patrons of locally made books... although since india's publishing industry seems to be a LOT healthier than ours, it's possible.

as for vietnam, i'm still reading through the links on your post, but for now it does seem like VN readers and RP readers have similar problems, and the only advantage the VN has over us is having more and cheaper books. for the record, our countries' literacy rates are quite close, too - their 90% vs our 92%.

12:51 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@anonymous: Hi, I think I read that same survey, where showbiz celebrities topped the list. I do hope that there's a turnaround and people will veer more toward "intellectual" pursuits, without considering them elitist or snobbish.

@bhex: Hi, Ms. Air Supply! :D

I did consider that I was making a false conclusion from the presence of pirated books in Vietnam, that their existence there did not mean that people read. I have never been there, unlike my relatives. But according to their anecdotes, locals and foreigners alike buy pirated books there like anything. And pirates wouldn't produce products that don't sell. I guess I just found it telling that Pinoys buzz around fake DVD stalls like flies around dead meat, but would they do the same if someone set up a stall for fake books? That there are none here tell me that they might not.

You know, you may be right, and I could be wrong, and there's an opportunity here for pirates to set up a place to sell fake books!

Eherm...

Just thinking out loud. Again, piracy is against the law!

(Excuse me...I must make a few long distance calls to printer contacts in China--just kidding)

9:25 AM  
Blogger Dominique said...

In the earlier post, you let drop that the prices of bootleg books were P40 to P150. That falls within the range of an "impulse buy" here.

Just because they're bought doesn't necessarily mean they're read. Could be with the intention of reading, or could be that it looks nice on the shelf. Regardless, the price is right.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

You need to consider language, too. Most of the pirated books I saw when I was in Hanoi were in Vietnamese (or translated into Vietnamese). The English books catered mostly to tourists and expats (e.g., Lonely Planet, books about the war, etc.).

1:31 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@Dominique: Haha! I'm reminded by your comment of some people I know why buy and buy books even if they haven't read yet what they had already bought!

@Mike: Really? Wow! To be honest, I'm even more envious now! I'm for people reading in any language, but that the Vietnamese read in their own language...wow! I wish Pinoys would read as much as they do, in Tagalog, or any language!

I remember on a visit to China I saw people milling around stalls selling Chinese books. I saw Harry Potter books (as well as other Western books) translated into Chinese, and people were buying them alongside those by Chinese authors. I had no way of knowing if they were originals or not (I highly suspect, "not"), but they were buying them to read.

Of course, piracy does take away from the legitimate profits for writers, publishers, presses, etc., so that's a bad thing. But people are reading!

2:00 PM  
Blogger bhex said...

I wish Pinoys would read as much as they do, in Tagalog, or any language!

according to the 2007 NBDB readership survey, pinoys would vastly prefer to read tagalog over english, and the enthusiasm for reading romance novels or "pocketbooks" is still holding strong. i wrote down my thoughts on this in the latest ROD column for Manila Bulletin, but uh... doesn't seem like my thing made the online edition. maybe i'll post it on the ROD blog sometime...

to be honest, sir, i'm against the very idea that pinoys don't read. we DO read, we are eager to read - but what we read, how accessible quality reading materials are to us, and how we understand and appreciate them, are the things that i think truly need looking into.

4:02 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Okay, Bhex. Point taken. I'll hold on to that, and I do hope you're right. In the meantime, I do hope PGS is succeeding in getting more younger Pinoys to read. Let me know when your article is up and I'll link to it. T.Y.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous tyron said...

Like I said before (and I dedicate this comment to Anonymous), don't be too hard on ourselves. Look at the bright side. And for all I know solutions are everywhere and some are being done (like the angels at Read or Die).

Now if only a GMA exec out there is reading these comments, will you please give Mel Tiangco a book of the month club segment?

Just one of my wild ideas.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Dominique said...

I did some research and found an NBDB report. You know how many copies of the trashy Tagalog romances get published every month?

20,000.

If Ma'am Bhex's observation about Tagalog being the preferred language is correct -- and I believe it is -- the same applies to Bisaya, Hiligaynon, and others in the other parts of the Philippines.

One thing I've found with the Mindanao literary community that I haven't found in either Manila or Dumaguete is the drive towards other regional languages. For an example, see the archive of Dagmay online (created and maintained by me).

8:07 AM  
Blogger Dominique said...

Ken, taking Bhex's observations and a statement you made earlier ("I wish Pinoys would read as much as they do, in Tagalog, or any language!"), I think the direction should be pretty clear:

Philippine Genre Stories should come out in Filipino.

No, I'm not joking.

Among the initiatives of the writers guild here in Davao is translation. It doesn't have to be done by the original author, just with his permission.

Think of the possibilities:

"Ang Kalagitnaang Prinsipe"

"Ang Pang-isang daan at Isang Miguel"

"Ang Mga Damgong Tigre"

"Ang Yawa Aduna Sa Bahin"

"Kahumot sa Panakot"

8:54 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

You know what, Dominique? I've been seriously considering that for some time. I've been considering one or two original stories written in Filipino, and having some current ones translated. Thank you for bring this up, because I know that you are in support of this.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Kristel said...

I like Dominique's idea, Sir Kenneth. Though perhaps for the interest of your publication, you can test the waters by doing a Filipino-language flash fiction contest? Just a way to challenge writers to try out genre stories in Filipino in 1000 words or so.

I know some amateur writer *coughlikemecough* would like to try it out and a small word count Filipino does seem less daunting.

I'm glad this topic is generating a lot of discussion.

11:00 PM  
Blogger EK said...

Please, an equal mix of English and Filipino stories. That, or two publications should be made (one in English by you and the other, Tagalog, one by someone else). Different kinds of people might read them, but both would be stirring literature in the right direction.

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, keep in mind the following:

Only around 50 percent of Filipinos graduate from grade school. Out of the remaining 50 percent only around half will finish high school. And out of those who finish high school, half will make it to college. And from those who make it to college, half will graduate.

Up to 60 percent of Philippine schools lack some or most of the following: classrooms, desks, principals, books, electricity, potable water, blackboards, and roofs.

The ratio of textbooks to students is around 1:3, the same for desks. The average class size nationwide is 60 (compared to 25 for Asia).

The country requires ten years of pre-tertiary ed compared to 12 or 13 in the Asian region.

According to the latest TIMSS, the country is ranked near the bottom (again) in Science and Math. In recent diagnostic exams, students received an average grade of 30 percent for English, Math, and other subjects.

In previous national exams (the country is one of the few in the region that no longer has those) students received average grades of 10 percent for Math, 30 percent for English, and around 70 for Filipino.

It's possible that data submitted to groups like the UN might have to be studied further. For example, the country has a high admission rate for schooling but also a significant dropout rate. One news report states that padding in results might be involved (e.g., 60 points added to an average score of 60 points to get 120 points out of 180). The literacy rate mentioned might refer to basic literacy and not functional literacy.

There are probably only around 5,000 libraries in the country, and each library might have only two thousand or so volumes of outdated books, most probably donated. That's one library for every 18,000 or so citizens. This is expected given what is mentioned above concerning the condition of schools.

2:26 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@tyron: A Book of the Month sounds like a good idea. If indeed there are more readers out there than we suspect, then that segment should be a hit.

@kristel: Thanks for your suggestion! A Filipino flash fiction contest in short journal/newsletter form might be more feasible, just to test the waters. I think that's possible. Maybe in one color first, with b&w artwork. Hmm...

@ek: opinions are split as to having a mix of two languages in one publication. Some say it might be worth a try. Others think that it should be separate. I really don't know what to think. I guess the best way to find out is to try one or the other...

@anonymous: thanks for sharing the data. Education is indeed a factor. I was hoping that even those who don't have access to an education can then start reading on their own just to help themselves. And of course, get entertained/enjoy what they're doing in the process. Feels like shooting at the moon, sometimes.

Hey, no need to be anonymous, you know. Please do identify yourself. You're more than welcome here on the PGS blog. TY!

10:54 AM  

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