Landscapes and Changes: Indie Publishing from Two Perspectives

Indie publishing in the Philippines still has a long way to go, and INDIEPUBCON 2021’s long roster of discussants and their individual concerns and advocacies prove that there needs to be a concerted effort to sustain the effort, so that indie publishing thrives despite the most challenging of times. To a great extent, the responsibilities of finding solutions to old problems in independent publishing falls on the shoulders of young creatives and/or publishers who chose the path of publishing, based on different principles and causes.

The Indie Publishers Collab PH (TIPC-PH) is one of the first few attempts to solidify a common cause among independent publishers who come from different walks of life and work in unity towards a common cause. How the effort will crystallize in the coming years, will be up to people like Cindy Wong of 8Letters Publishing and Maria Kristelle Jimenez of Rebo Press Book Publishing and Vox Populi PH.    

Marketing and Publishing: Cindy Wong

Cindy Wong is the cofounder of 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing and is the INDIEPUBCON 2021 director. She co-founded 8Letters six years ago with Marigold Uy, and over the years, they published fiction and non-fiction titles and attempted to foster community among writers through retreats and workshops. They are also engaged in indie publishing services for self-publishing titles.

According to Cindy, TIPC-PH was an active effort in the part of the publishers to band together despite challenging conditions.

“When The Indie Publishers Collab PH (TIPC-PH) was organized at the height of the pandemic lockdown in 2020, its vision was simple: to gather together active, independent, small presses that might assist each other and work together given their unique experiences of publishing in the country.

“Without the support of mainstream institutions, and functioning primarily under the radar, there was a need to bring together these publishers towards establishing a collective to work on common projects, improve the conditions of independent bookmakers, and map out the important contributions of independent cultural workers in the publishing industry,” said Cindy.

When asked about how indie publishing provides avenues for writers, she has this to say:

“The space provided by the indie publishing scene is flexible not only to the community’s needs, but also to the expression needed by the artist. We don’t look at the fan bases of the writers nor the trends.

“Of course, sales and return of investment are also important for sustainability purposes, so we try our best to market the books, sometimes by setting the trend ourselves. I can’t reiterate enough that what can be found in the indie publishing bookstores will add the flavors and elements needed in the literary world. We believe in what we put out there thus, the willingness to risk and experiment beyond the mainstream bookstores.”

Breaking the Status Quo: Maria Kristelle Jimenez

Maria Kristelle Jimenez is the founder of Rebo Press Book Publishing and is the current editor-in-chief of Vox Populi PH, a youth writing organization in the Philippines. According to her, indie publishing’s core is in resistance and breaking the status quo and challenging the powers that be.

“Indie publishing has its own humble beginnings through the tedious effort of several writers and artists to ‘break the status quo.’ Breaking the norm provides an avenue for writers who have the passion, skill, and propensity despite their minimal credentials or social capital to get the large publisher’s interest. With these efforts, indie publishing creates a breakthrough by giving a good platform for well-skilled writers or even starting writers to expand their literary portfolio and experience,” said Kristelle.

Kristelle sees hope in the expanding digital landscape, but nods at the fact that challenging conditions are still obstacles to indie publishing success, and the community is still faced with concrete challenges.

“The pandemic is a mixture of blessing and a curse for the indie publishing scene. Those who could fully adapt to the digital interface have gathered audiences commonly attached to purchasing books in large bookstores. However, since most of the books published under indie don’t reach the shelves of large bookstores in the country, events like this provide the necessary leverage to continue pushing through in releasing books.

“Unluckily, not everyone has the technological advancement or knowledge to continue working in the digital space. As a result, several indie publishers rely on physical areas (festivals, conferences, book launches, and other related events) to reach potential readers/consumers of their books. With the health guidelines restraining the possibility of social gatherings, several publications downscale their production, even shut down their once bread and butter, focusing on other sources of income,” she said.

Kristelle was also straightforward about the problems that plague the community and prevent further growth. According to Kristelle, the financial and external factors co-exist in hindering the growth of the indie scene—and the community must also address its internal challenges too.

Additionally, for the collective to thrive, the entire indie publishing community must share their time and effort. The main reason why the indie community is still in its shackles is the lack of cooperation with the community itself. Therefore, the publishers must take action that is not limited to their own benefit as this will also speed up the process of improving the overall condition of the collective.

And what of TIPC-PH and similar efforts? Kristelle is cautiously optimistic and emphasizes the need to unite and overcome challenges.

“Indie publishing and TIPC-PH still has a long way to go. While this is the start of setting its historical footmark, the collective must remain dedicated and in harmony to surpass all the challenges within and beyond their publications,” concluded Kristelle.

This year’s INDIEPUBCON is a testament to just how much work remains to be done in this budding industry. As the gyres of global capital continue to threaten small sectors in the Third World, we are perhaps at a “do or die” precipice where our actions now will determine the direction of what’s growing or what is left of independent publishing in the Philippines. Only time will tell how powerfully the combined efforts of independent publishers will send ripples into the near future.

This event is made possible by the National Book Development Board. Vox Populi PH is the official media partner for INDIEPUBCON 2021.

Published by Marius Carlos, Jr.

Marius D. Carlos, Jr. is an editor, author and translator based in Pampanga. He is the Creative Coordinator and a founding member of Vox Populi PH. He is the author of two books and has published locally and internationally. His works have appeared in Rappler, Business Mirror, Philippines Graphic, Breaking Asia, and the Philosophical Salon. Marius is a freelance professional engaged in SEO copywriting, content SEO and making websites for business rock. He writes for businesses and agencies at The Content Experts PH (contentexpertsph.com). Email him at marius@contentexpertsph.com

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