What does a Philippine university publisher look like?

March 22, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Karryl Kim Sagun

Books and I go way back. Being born to a family of publishers’ representatives, I was fed and raised thanks to (sales of) books; choosing librarianship as a profession, I lived and breathed books; and doing my PhD thesis on book trade, I guess I could say I will eventually die around books.

12301715_1059159460802033_6055092013254209304_nThe article Fulfilling the Cultural Without Forsaking the Commercial: University Presses in the Philippines from the Perspective of Three Directors (co-authored with my supervisor Dr. Brendan Luyt) is a by-product of the first completed study in my very much ongoing thesis, where I employ phenomenological methods on analysing experiences of contemporary publishers and booksellers in the Philippines. In this article we engaged with directors of presses in the top-ranking universities in the Philippines—the Ateneo de Manila University where I worked for four years as a librarian before moving to Singapore to pursue my PhD, the University of the Philippines where I completed both my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees, and the De La Salle University… where a pretty library building I’m fond of was recently erected. Due to their very lean organisational structures, these directors also serve as publishers of their presses, acting as initial gatekeepers on deciding which books have the potential to be published before sending them out for peer review.

Now if you imagine these press directors to be suit-wearing, highfalutin word-using, profit-crunching businessmen, our work is evidence that while this image may be by and large accurate in North America (at least, based on extant literature), the reverse is true for the Philippines. This perhaps can be attributed to the fact that Filipino publishers are not accorded the same formal education and training in publishing (and hence had to learn the ropes in more unorthodox ways), or that those working in university presses come from a more academic background compared to their counterparts in the West. With their PhDs in literature and decades of teaching experience, they surely conduct their businesses in ways deemed neither customary nor failsafe in most traditionally-run presses.

We found these results quite surprising. Given the context that the Philippines is a developing country, one would assume that going by tried and tested formulas would have been the most logical way of operating their presses. From taking risks in dealing with money, breaking away from their established niches, venturing into electronic books (and sometimes accepting “defeat” and going back to print), as well as being aware of their unique mandate as university press directors and publishers—our main objects of analysis have significant lessons to offer not only for those who are in book trade, but also librarians in the periphery who do business with publishers and booksellers every so often. After all, the university publishers from the Philippines may be dealt with a different set of cards—but so far, it seems they are playing their hands right.


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