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January 19, 2008



I'm not reading as many books as I would like (well, I'm reading a lot of textbooks but I'm not sure if that should count) ... but such is life. On a semi-related note I recently read this awesome book by Pierre Bayard on "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read." He says that you should never let the fact that you haven't read a book prevent you from publicly stating your opinions on it. Funny guy.

Mike Calimbas

Books are inverably going the same direction as newspapers, cassettes, dvd's, and everything else. We live in the digital age where all this media is going to be aggregated online. Naturally, that is going to lead to a decline in traditional methods of gathering information.


Is reading really in decline? Bookstores seem to be doing good business.

Tomas Henry

>>Bookstores seem to be doing good business<<

Well, probably because they do sell novelty items and textbooks. When it comes to literature, the bookstore in my hometown in Germany (3000 inhabitants) has by far a larger choice than the National Bookstore in any of the big malls, be it in Makati or in Cebu...


Thomas, perhaps that holds true for National Bookstore, but I was thinking more of bookstores that focus on honest to goodness books like 'Fully Booked' (in Power Plant and Bonifactio High Street), 'A Different Bookstore' (in Bonifacio High Street, Eastwood City and Greenbelt), 'Power Books' (in Megamall and Greenbelt) not to mention discount bookstors like 'Books for Less' and 'Book Sale'. Their selection compares with other bookstores in Southeast Asia. If reading is in decline, why are they all springing up?


cvj -- I agree that the options for reasders have improved greatly over the 10 years I have lived here. In the old days there were almost no good bookstores -- as I lived in Manila, Solidaridad was my local bookshop and it was (and is) an excellent one.

Things have improved since then but from a very low base changes always seem dramatic. When you compare the number of bookshops in Manila with those in your adopted city Singapore, there are still very few here.

Incidentally, grateful though I am for its presence, the economics of Fully Booked have always been a mystery to me. I owned a publishing company for seven years so I have an idea of the economics of the book trade and I just can't figure out how Fully Booked can carry such a huge stock on such a slow turnover. There must be over $1 million of books in the Rockwell branch and I don't see that the turnover of stock makes that an efficient use of capital. Sure, bookshops iun London and New York carry similar amounts of stock but their cash registers are ringing all the time (and they are still in financial straits). My theory is that the owner is a very good buyer and has negotiated (i) very good discounts from overseas publishers (on the grounds that "If you support me you support the reading habit in the Philippines and build your market"), and (ii) long credit terms. I hope he is not relying on long payment terms, because that is a chicken that eventually comes home to roost. If you don't pay your bills on time publishers will put you on stop and from there it is a rapid decline (I saw that happen very clearly with the Manila branch of the Australian branch of Dymocks in Robinsons Manila which started off as a quality bookseller and fairly quickly eroded to a stationer selling a few books -- i.e., a direct competitor to National Bookstore and in that fight of course there was only one winner.

Jon Limjap

Well, Fully Booked in Rockwell has been around for almost a decade now (it's been there since the mall was put up) so they may be doing something right.

Books, unfortunately, are not only competing with audio-visuals but are also competing with parallel versions of themselves: online e-books, audio books, and to some degree, magazines, blogs, and other online content. I do not believe that most of the people who surf the net go there to watch youtube: many times I watch youtube to provide context to or as an appendix to something that I read. I guess the concern would be the younger generation, whose interest with reading must be piqued somehow.

Sometimes I wonder how other parents fare with this. My 3 year old is fairly interested with books because we always make an effort to give time to it: in the mornings TV is the norm, in the evening before bed it would be book reading time. She appreciates (and enjoys) both, so I am not worried much about her treatment of books, but I wonder how other kids treat books.

palma tayona

i believe that in this country, we are slowly experiencing an "upsurge" in reading. there has been quite an active movement at a level where it matters most to cultivate readers - and that is amongst children. these are being done quietly and steadily by individuals and groups who believe firmly that cultivating reading amongst children can give us hope, reverse this burgeoning illiteracy and develop critical thinkers for the future.

to cite specific examples, there is a group of fathers who volunteer in reading to school-age children. the Philippine Board of Books for the Young is slowly gaining muscle in promoting reading for the youth. several publishing houses of children's literature are earning profits with their publications and are turning out a lot of titles. several more publishing companies and foundations are getting formed and are actively participating in the market. writers' groups and illustrators for children are steadily increasing in numbers as well. in the south, oral traditions are being placed in print and being sold at street market level. even the seemingly lowly comics tradition is getting a comeback. as compared to a decade ago, there are indeed more choices to read these days.

in this country, despite all that hullaballo about illiteracy and the onslaught of the internet/digital age, there exists that quiet and unnoticed movement that promotes reading for children. all is not lost. there may be a twilight in readership, but through affirmative action with our children, this twilight can be reversed.

maybe because some studies in the past showed the decline in critical thinking developed through reading or perhaps the slow decline of functional english amongst the youth became a kick in the butt to wake some individuals up and start to do something about it. regardless of these reasons, perhaps it is high time for many of us to show our children an alternative to the internet and youtube. reading can be fun. it is a delight and it is real learning.

please allow me to boast a little. i am glad my nephews and nieces have cultivated a healthy habit of reading. at least now i know, the books i have gathered through the years won't end up in the dustbin or locked up in some dusty cabinet but will be happily dog-eared and creased because young hands and eager youthful minds are now digging through the words embedded in its pages.

the twilight can in fact, after the dark cold night, turn into a glorious dawn.



Jon -- That's true, Fully Booked has been around for a while and is even opening new branches so I guess the huge financial risk they took has paid off. Good for them.

As for the impact of reading and TV on child development, I don't know whether you had time to read the New Yorker piece, but toward the end (page 4 of 5), it cites research on this, including this: "In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily."

Palma -- Wow, this is all really encouraging! Congratulations to you and all like-minded parents and uncles and aunties. It is true that it can be too easy to become gloomy about the so-called demise of reading. As cvj and Jon point out, the opening of big book stores must mean something. As you say, the move back to books is likely to be incremental and led by groups such as the Philippine Board of Books for the Young rather than by grandiose government programs. Great stuff and thanks for the comment.


Not only is tv supposed to slow down the learning process for children -- even educational videos (like Baby Einstein) may not be all that good:



Come to think of it Torn, the cash register does ring more slowly in Fully Booked Rockwell (i almost never have to queue) although it looks like business is more brisk in the newer Bonifacio High Street branch. Of course, they still don't compare with the lines in Borders and Kinokuniya here in Singapore.


- I see Fully Booked as a supermarket bookstore. What I mean is that it is like Rustan's. You enter it, it is huge, and you think: great choice. There is not much choice there! You can have five meters of the same drink, of the same shampoo, the same sauce, etc. In the end, you are very limited in you selection. Same with two hundred copies of the latest XYZ. A different bookstore and Solidaridad are the only ones deserving deserve the name bookstore here.
- Economics?? Take the luxury shops at Greenbelt 4. They have been around for some time. Seen customers in them? Maybe selling is not the only raison d'être for a shop...
- Competition to books? I don't think audiobooks are a competition to books. People who use them a lot also read a lot (or cannot read any more and listen to them for this reason) or listen at places where they could not read (exercizing, driving...).
- The first quote is worth an entire blog...


As far as nonfiction (i don't read fiction) goes, i think Fully Booked has as rich a collection as A Different Bookstore.


Quite a few of the shops in the malls are really 3-D walk-in billboards. They're there to put the brand's product on display, not to actually move the product. The cost of labor is in the Philippines is so low that the economics of retail don't really apply.


haha. one of the reasons why I abandoned the world of adland. I wanted to read more... and here I am buried under bibliographies for my masters... dissertation on phils next...

Lester Cavestany

I read in "Trends 2007" that book sales are up by 3% - "TRENDS 2007 estimates that total publishers’ net revenues in 2006 reached $35.69 billion, up 3.2 percent over 2005’s total, and that unit sales in 2006 exceeded 3.1 billion." (http://www.bisg.org/news/press.php?pressid=42)

So maybe, people are still reading books. But I'd have to agree with you that there has to be a big push so that books are still marketed as soul companions.

With regard to the Asian/Philippine market, I'd like to share with you an article by Karina Bolasco, the publisher of Anvil Publishing (6-time publisher of the year in the Philippines. It's entitled, "The Task at Hand" Here's the link:

send money to philippines

well reading in general is not on the decline but the fact is that most of the people now go onto the net for reading ..
Amazon kindle readre is another example of the same.
Reading will never be dead .. that is for sure .. people love to read but with so many competing things like video games etc it is harder to take time out


Reading for recreation and education is one that is bound to decline in a world of increasing recreational choices and educational methods. Were human beings better off pre or post television? As a cause and consequence of our changing world, what we think, how we learn and our sense of self evolves.


Reading for recreation and education is bound to decline in a world of increasing recreational choices and educational methods. Were human beings better off pre or post television? As a cause and consequence of our changing world, what we think, how we learn and our sense of self evolves.


Hmmmm....I'm incredulous. But, like they say, "those who can't do teach". Well I think the same goes for reading. In the same vein, "losers read books, winners write them".


Torn, you might want to check out an upcoming lecture on the Future of the Book at the Oxford Internet Institute. I can't make it to the lecture but they usually upload webcasts.

ulysses araña

reading a book is not enough. one has to be selective of what she reads. this depends of course on one's interests. i love reading contemporary anglo-american philosophy books because they are more friendly and consistent with what i love: science. the best science, popular science, and philosophy books are published by oxford university press, cambridge university press, harvard university press, mit press, and blackwell. most bookstores here in the philippines are deplorable because they do not have science and contemporary anglophone philosophy books from these publishers! one can easily tell the intellectual quality of what most filipinos read just by the absence of these books in our bookstores in the country.


Maybe we can't really know for sure whether people are reading less or not and why/why not, unless a proper survey is taken. As with things like this, proper information is crucial otherwise we're just talking about assumptions and opinions.. which won't do real help.

I can think of one of many reasons why less people may be buying physical books: I have ebook readers and I get ebooks a lot. It is definitely more convenient to use, as you can carry hundreds of titles in your bag. Compare that to lugging around one bulky hardbound. I still prefer physical books though, in some inexplicable way. Sometimes I end up getting both a real and ebook copy.

I read an average of 3 books a week, I have loved reading since I learned how to. My father has his own library. My mom only reads self-help and educational books, she can't stand fiction. My aunt loves to read all kinds of books and poetry. My sister likes to read, too. My brother doesn't read anything other than comics and some books about racing. I love reading everything, but not so much books on management. He he =) Reading runs through the family I guess.

Most of my spare time is spent on reading. I help plenty of people out with research and reading assignments like book reports essays etc. I just enjoy it a lot. You can find me in used book stores like Books for Less and in higher end bookstores like Fully Booked. One of my ultimate joys is going through antique books in old bookstores abroad and finding beautiful though dusty and age-stained first editions and author's editions. We don't seem to have those here in Manila.. If any of you guys know of stores like that, please tell?

I think the love for reading is something you pass on. You get it from someone you trust, like I did from my dad and other family members. My sister didn't like to read before. It wasn't something "fun". She'd keep asking how come I read so much.. I just told her I find it fun. She'd pick up books I've read and with time, she learned to love it too. If it's forced on you like some teachers would on their students, you only get more turned off, seeing it as a chore.

Just by reading in public, you encourage people to do the same. I see this happen a lot with my friends. I always have a book with me and with many of my spare moments, I read. They see me and get curious and sometimes borrow my book when I tell them how good it is. And that's how it starts..

So.. pass it on. =)


Hi Crisel -- a very good comment, thanks.

There are some old books (mainly connected with the Philippines) in the bookstore on the top floor of megamall A (just before you start the bridge). They are a bit mahal though. Apart from that, I agree -- we really need a good second-hand bookstore. Do you know about "Avalon ph." It's a great service:


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This was an age of innocence and happiness.God bless you all, and God bless America !

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