More than books: A look inside the Manila International Book Fair

The Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), now on its 36th edition, has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for Filipino lit lovers and bookworms. Known for its bargain prices, with discount rates as high as 90% off, and sightings of local and international authors, the MIBF has become an annual staple for those looking to satiate their needs for stories and books in general. Within the halls of SMX Convention Center lie countless books, from the popular to the rare. More than books, however, there are the people who support and advocate for Filipino literature and beyond, proving that the MIBF is more than just a convention of books and discounts.


Nooks and crannies

When entering the convention center, one can’t help but be taken aback by the sheer size of the venue, housing a variety of brands and distributors looking to present new titles and beloved classics alike to bookworms. It is important then to acquire a copy of the fair map happily given by the secretariat. The map showcases a blueprint of the event, as well as the list of all the exhibitors and their respective locations in the fair. If the bookworm isn’t averse to walking the whole floor, the journey could lead to some unique and fun finds.

One such find is the booth of Meganon Comics, which ushered in a new wave of Filipino indie comics. Tepai Pascual, one of the artists under the said company, said that, as a kid, her family used to go to the book fair regularly as a tradition of sorts. “We decided to exhibit last year kasi we wanted to try out kung bibili ba ang tao dito ng comics,” Pascual says, regarding the move that some pundits would call risky. Indeed, the market for indie comics in the Philippines is rising, slowly but steadily. “Local comics were expanding and we wanted to try different audiences,” says Lyndon Gregorio. “It worked very well last year, and we tried it again this year,” he continues.

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With so many options to choose from, time isn’t always on the bookworm’s side, especially in a book fair like the MIBF. The undiscovered booths, overlooked due to low visibility, have a unique take on literature, but they don’t get visited often enough. It has been said that books give a rare glimpse into other cultures and traditions, which can be ironic when booths that feature different cultures and lifestyles get shunned in favor of other, more popular, alternatives.

Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish organization located in Manila, has been in the festival for a few years now. Isabel Tarrero, an exhibitor, said that the fair is a good way to help promote the activities of the organization, as well as film festivals and concerts that feature Spanish works. “I think it’s nice that we promote the cultural stuff because this city has a lack of [it],” Tarrero states. Manuel Perez, head librarian of the said organization, thinks that events like these are important for making connections with librarians, students, and those who are interested in Spanish. “We are disseminating the Spanish language and the Spanish publishing,” Perez notes, adding that this provides an opportunity to look for people who are gunning for a headstart in learning new cultures—an education, to some.


A community for culture

“People don’t usually read books, but you come here and it’s all your crowd,” Lyndon Gregorio states, when asked about the growing community of MIBF followers. Every year, the number of people attending spikes, according to the exhibitors themselves. This isn’t just a plus for business, but also for awareness of differences causes. Paolo Herras, an artist and a colleague of both Gregorio and Pascual, says that Meganon Comics’ cause is to create awareness for indie Filipino comics. “Our secondary objective is to become sustainable enough to join again next year,” Herras adds.

One thing the MIBF helps foster is the sense of community around collecting and appreciating books. Partaking in this tradition is Tradewinds Bookshop, a bookstore located in Intramuros, Manila, focusing on Filipiñiana books and memorabilia. Tradewinds has been participating in the fair for 25 years, taking a leave of a year or two, but the bookshop has been doing its share of keeping the culture of Filipino lit alive and present. Marie Japson, the manager of Tradewinds, says that their exhibition has been attracting more customers, increasing the attendance in their store. “This is our chance to introduce our books, specializing in Filipiñiana, to some buyers, schools, and collectors,” she notes.

“We are able to maintain [the activity], especially [for] those collectors who can’t find books in other bookstores,” Japson adds. The book fair ushers in collectors, whether local or international, to pore through and appreciate the different selections of literature available for their collection, a commune of different people acquiring knowledge through different ways.


Acquisition of knowledge

While the casual bookworm buys a book or two (or six), many bulk purchases are being made inside the fair. Those boxes with marks of institution and school names? Those were purchased by schools for their libraries, which makes the MIBF a hunting ground for new books to be perused by students and teachers alike. “On the library side, it’s good that they can see everything here. They could all find one place to get everything they need,” Wesley Sagun shares regarding the bulk purchases made by schools in the MIBF.

Sagun, a book marketer and representative for CRW Marketing Services, is currently taking up Masters of Marketing Communications in DLSU, allowing him to explain how important the MIBF is. “We’re here to promote the books [themselves], and the people who are selling the books are actually our partners,” he adds regarding the relationship between publishers and marketers like him. “It’s all here so the service grows, a customer grows, and the industry grows.”

Granted, not everything about the fair is amazing, according to some of the exhibitors. “We were saying, ‘Oh my goodness,’ we are not gonna be visible because we’ve been blocked,” remarked Tarrero when a line of bookworms flocked in front of the Instituto booth for a signing. Aside from spatial qualms, some exhibitors have seen the way the book fair works in terms of relations to bookworms. “They play it very formal, very straight. Here [are] some books, buy it,” Lyndon quips regarding the manner of activities in the fair. Wesley agrees, saying “It’s a very good book fair, but, as time progresses, everything becomes systematic.”

Still, it’s important to note that, for 36 years, the Manila International Book Fair has been bringing together families and friends over the common love of literature. Tepai, who admitted to attending regularly when she was a kid, says “Yung mga bagets noon, na naging parents na, they bring their kids in din. So it’s part of culture.”

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to book geeks’ relationship with literature and the importance it has over one’s life. “If you have your book and you know that it’s yours, it’s different and you can feel the book,” Sagun remarks, capturing the hugely personal effect books have on people. After all, artists aren’t the only ones who create and ignite with passion; readers also have the potential to keep the fire stoked and going. Pascual perfectly sums up the atmosphere of the event for readers and writers alike, sharing, “Then again, it’s the high; it’s the joy of touching the paper, of smelling the paper, smelling the books, seeing lots and lots and lots of books.”

Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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