Monday, July 21, 2003

Perceived Value

One night, at National Bookstore – Galleria, I chanced upon a locally-produced newsprint komiks issue (the title escapes me), and browsed thorough it just to see if there’s been any improvement in the production values over the past ten years. The story installment I found myself reading was about a young muscular dude who, in an effort to rake in some extra dough, decided to try his luck as a strip dancer in a gay bar.

The piece attempted to go manga, but the art was obviously rushed despite its four-color glory. The writing wasn’t much to gush about either. I hoped that what I saw wasn’t representative of the whole komiks lot, but I couldn’t help but suppose otherwise. There wasn’t any long-term value stamped on it, merely a quick-fix story that holds no longevity.

If Philippine komiks publishers intend to sustain themselves over the years, they need to rethink their strategy when producing their products. And I’m talking about an overhaul. This assumes, of course, that they still have a soft spot for the medium. Otherwise, they can always opt to try other publishing projects and forget comics altogether.

Most specialty products have only gained a modicum of success through niche marketing. In this day and age, one couldn’t simply toss a product to the four winds and pray that it finds its audience. It becomes an issue of identifying a specific audience and giving them what they might possibly want, and this has to be affixed by a good enough level of value to get the identified audience to buy.

Culture Crash and Questor Extreme Mangamania have been successful in attracting a young market who are into manga and anime. The manga-inspired art and the excellent production values are arguably the main hook of these publications, and they’ve got that niche market down pat.

The audience I’m interested in are the 18 to 35 year-olds of the lower A to upper C crust, who are mostly latter-college students and urban professionals who have a good amount of disposable income. These are the people who have had exposure to comics as kids (whether it be the Illustrated Classics, the National Book Store reprints, Funny Komiks, or the imported Marvel and DCs) but who may have ‘moved on’ from the medium when life got… well… more serious.

The theory states that it’s possible for these people to go back to comics if the stories (words and art) speak to their more mature sensibilities, and if these stories are packaged in a format that enhances their value. Like my recent preference for square-bound grafiction, or comics produced in a book format.

Admittedly, competition is fierce, especially from those other forms of entertainment vying for a slot in the market’s limited budget. But value is relative. There are those who’d sacrifice a bit of their weekend ‘gimik’ funds to get a Php3,000 pair of jeans. There are others who bet their bucks on computer and console games but give little priority to their wardrobe. And because value is relative, it is malleable, and the market I’m interested in is more ready and able to try something new.

This should not, however, discourage those who work so hard to make photocopied comics. Even if Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class was printed via risograph, it won a National Book Award on the strength of its content. I’m coming from a marketing standpoint here, acknowledging the importance of packaging in selling a product. Or, put in question form: If you had the money and wanted to buy a sexy-girl publication, would you go for a sleek glossy FHM or for a blotchy newsprint Bukaka?

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