ANI ALMARIO: "Our main goal, then as now, is to educate and entertain the Filipino child."
ONE FOR THE BOOKS: PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR KIDS
The country’s first publisher of children’s books proves there is a big market for all-original stories steeped in Filipino culture, experiences, and values
The local children’s book industry has been faring quite well lately, as shown by the noteworthy growth of Adarna House, the country’s first and largest publisher of children’s books. And local titles of children’s books are selling even better than their foreign counterparts, even if more of the latter are being carried today by Philippine bookstores.
This overall growth of the market for children’s books can be gleaned from the 2006 sales figures of National Book Store, the country’s biggest bookstore chain. As reported by Jaileen F. Jimeno, deputy executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the bookstore chain sold 88 percent of its stock of children’s books in 2006, up two percentage points from the previous year.
The Adarna House has been a major proponent of locally produced children’s books as well as a leading contributor to the growth of the industry. It was established in 1979 specifically to produce a series of storybooks in support of the mental feeding program of the Nutrition Center of the Philippines.
Since then, however, it has grown into a major publisher of children’s books that feature all-original stories steeped in Filipino culture, experiences, and values, with Filipino children as their central characters.
Appointed to form and head the creative team for the storybook series was Virgilio Almario, the well-known poet and literary critic as well as a founding member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY). He assembled the team of authors, editors, illustrators, media practitioners, and researchers that created the highly successful Aklat Adarna storybook series.
With the completion of the Nutrition Center’s storybook program, Almario decided to continue the Aklat Adarna series with funding from the Children’s Communication Center (CCC), a foundation for the production, promotion, and dissemination of educational materials for children. In 1980, when the CCC found itself in need of a distributor and publisher for its growing number of titles, it decided to put up the Adarna House. (On June 25, 2003, Almario was proclaimed National Artist for Literature for his outstanding contributions to the development of the Philippine arts.)
“We got a government grant of P3 million for our initial capital,” says Ani Almario, daughter of the Adarna House founder and currently its product development manager. “Our main goal, then as now, is to educate and entertain the Filipino child.”
The Adarna House has since been pursuing this objective by coming up with illustrated children’s books, enlisting many of the country’s notable children’s book writers and illustrators to do them. Aside from its use of Philippine situations and local color, a major distinguishing feature of Adarna House books is that all of their illustrations are typically done by the artist in freehand, not by computer graphics as is the case with many children’s books today.
Before publication, each Adarna House title undergoes an intensive development process lasting as long as nine months. Oftentimes, several versions of the story and the accompanying illustrations are sent to as many as three respected authorities in the field to check their narrative merit, factual accuracy, and fidelity to Philippine culture. Copies are also sent to several schools for focus group discussions among children, educators, and parents. Based on their feedback, the story and illustrations are then screened and tweaked for about a month before the book is finally printed.
“The feedback we get also helps us in determining what new book products to create,” Ani Almario explains. “However, no matter how elaborate the book’s design or how much sweat we pour into its making, we don’t put very high margins on the price of the finished product. For instance, the cover price of our most popular format, the storybook, is only P65. Our most expensive books go up only to as high as P500 to P600.”
From this cover price, Almario says, the author and illustrator each gets a 5 percent royalty fee. This is in addition to a modest monthly fee of P15,000 or so paid to each of them while the project is ongoing. This level of compensation is obviously not enough to sustain their livelihood, she explains, so they can only do their work with Adarna House part-time and have to work on other jobs outside the company.
Almario says that the Adarna House sells an average of 7,000 copies of its books a month, but a particularly popular title can sell as many as 10,000 copies a year. As of today, the publishing house has already come up with over 150 original titles. Its most popular and best-selling titles are Ibong Adarna (The Adarna Bird), in print since 1981; Alpabetong Filipino (The Filipino Alphabet); Si Pilandok at ang mga Buwaya (Pilandok and the Crocodiles); and Ang Alamat ng Ampalaya (The Legend of the Bitter Gourd), an imaginative series that teaches good manners and conduct.
Over the years, the Adarna House has expanded its product offerings to include educational support materials for parents, teachers, and adults who work with children, such as charts, posters, reference books; and alternative reading materials such as graphic novels, poetry, and preschool books for often-neglected markets.
“Our new products are usually released from August to September in time for the annual Manila International Book Fair,” says Almario. “We’ve also established a network of bookstore outlets and sales coordinators all over the country, making us one of the few local children’s publishing houses whose books are available nationwide.”
Still another venture that Adarna House has gone into is the holding of various community educational programs and school events. Among the former are Biyaheng Adarna (The Adarna Travels), storytelling sessions in low-income barangays during which Adarna books are distributed free; Klasrum Adarna (The Adarna Classroom), free workshops for preschool and elementary school teachers on how to teach literature in a fun way; and Kuwentong Adarna (The Adarna Stories), a summer workshop on the Filipino’s cultural heritage.
Among the latter are Adarna House’s long-term reading campaigns in public and private elementary schools and the various child-welfare programs that it runs in cooperation with such entities as Gawad Kalinga, McDonald’s, and Smart Telecommunications.
“Usually, it’s the parents and teachers who buy our books, so a lot of our workshops are geared towards them,” Almario says. “We’ve found that parents are more receptive to children’s books if the stories in them have a moral lesson. They also want books with instructional value in school, such as those that teach math.”
She says that such children’s books have an inherently lower sales potential compared to academic textbooks. “We’re not raking in millions in Adarna House,” she says. “The business is not particularly lucrative. We earn just enough to support our staff.”
At any rate, she says, Adarna House has not only succeeded in achieving its goal of helping Filipino children but has also become an institution in the Philippines. “Our company has been making steady progress, and we are now planning to go into more product lines, such as nonfiction and young adult literature.”
Working for Adarna House is Liza Flores, one of the country’s well-known and accomplished children’s book illustrators. She has done the illustrations for such Adarna House titles as Nagsasabi si Patpat (According to Patpat), Spider Story, and Chenelyn! Chenelyn! Flores began illustrating for children’s books as early as during her sophomore year as a visual communications major at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
“There,” she recalls, “I discovered the Ilustrador ng Kabataan [Illustrators for the Youth], an association of artists committed to the creation and promotion of illustrations for children, and I thought that joining it was something worthwhile and enjoyable doing. As a member of the group, I met a lot of authors, publishers, and other illustrators and this heightened my interest in doing illustrations. It got me into collecting children’s books as well.”
Together with two designer friends, Flores runs a design studio that offers brand design, graphic design, and Web design. Among the studio’s clients are the Diliman Preparatory School, the Electronic Yellow Pages, The Chocolate Kiss, and Summit Media.
“There’s a big market out there because illustrations can be used for or applied to so many things other than books,” she says. “It’s just a matter of being aware of the value of your craft, of being creative, and of knowing who the target audience is. An illustrator can sell directly to end-users or else partner with a person or an organization that can produce and distribute the product or idea. There are a lot of possibilities.”
For example, she says, she created a line of button pins and small sketchpads last year and asked a friend to sell them for her at a Christmas bazaar. “At that time, I did it just to test the market salability but it surprised me that the line had done so well,” she says.
For her artworks, Flores uses various drawing tools ranging from colored pencils to drawing pens, and she executes her concepts even on such unusual materials as gift wrappers and newspaper pages. She says that it takes her about two months to illustrate a children’s book. “That’s from the time I get the manuscript to the time I deliver the final art to the client. I do all the illustrations myself, and when I am done, I submit them to the publisher, who then takes care of scanning and photographing them for incorporation into the layout of the book.”