Aleks Tan is the Chief Operating Officer of OMF Literature, the leading publisher, importer-exporter, and distributor of evangelical Christian literature in the Philippines.
1. OMF Literature, as a publisher and book store, caters to (and dominates) a specific market i.e. the Christian sector. What is the secret formula behind your growth and dominance?
There is a secret formula? Sorry I would certainly like to get my hands on that! Seriously, I don’t think we have a “secret formula”. OMF Literature celebrates fifty-five years in publishing this year. That’s a very rich legacy and solid expertise. And we, the current management and staff, feel grateful and blessed to be building on the work of faithful men and women who had come before us. They have modeled a very strong commitment to the power of Christian literature to impact lives. We are just happy to be receiving the baton from them, praying we do a good job during our time.
By God’s grace, OMF Lit is growing, and it’s humbling to hear that you feel we have “dominance”. (That’s such a big word!) Although our products appeal primarily to Christians, we are thrilled to see our titles being well-received by a wider audience. Our children’s books imprint, HIYAS, is home to many award-winning writers like Luis Gatmaitan and Grace Chong. Our titles that deal with practical issues, like Ardy Roberto’s Ang Pera Na Hindi Bitin and Ronald Molmisa’s Lovestruck, continue to make the bestsellers list of National Book Store and other general stores. But the work before us is still great: we envision every literate Pinoy being impacted by our books and drawn to Christ as a result.
2. With countless titles out there both foreign and local, how do you choose which books to prioritize in terms of marketing? How do you market them?
It’s quite a challenge. In addition to publishing Filipino authors, we also republish or license titles from Christian publishers in the US and UK for sale in the Philippines and, in some cases, in neighboring Asian territories. Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, originally published by Zondervan, is by far our best performing republished title. We also import titles from the US and UK and distribute them in the Philippines. Perhaps among the imported authors the most familiar to your readers would be John Maxwell, the pastor-turned-leadership-guru. All in all, that adds up to thousands of titles.
Our original and republished titles bear the OMF Lit imprint and so, naturally, they are prioritized in our marketing efforts. We feel very proud of our original titles penned by homegrown authors, and so we work hard to give them a fighting chance in a market dominated by Western author brands. Bibles are also a very important category in our distribution efforts. We make sure that the market’s needs for all kinds of Bibles, in varying translations and price points, are met.
The best marketing for books is still word-of-mouth, and so we try to stimulate that through social media, reviews, and in-store visibility.
3. Since you are also a salesforce with targets, how do you strike a balance between books that you know are good vs. books that you know will sell (but not necessarily with deep content)? I would guess the Publishing and Marketing depts. deliberate on this a lot.
You should sit in during our Publications Committee meetings where folks from Publications, Marketing, and Sales have impassioned debates about the merits (and demerits) of titles in consideration! Of course our “north star” during these discussions is our Mission Statement. While we are a non-stock, non-profit organization, we do not receive donations and financial support from external sources; we generate revenues and ensure viability through the sale of our books. As such, we try to be very good business people with an aim towards profitability that will, in turn, ensure sustainability for the ministry. Having said that, we also know that our purpose as an organization is not profit generation, but lasting influence on and contribution to the spiritual development of our people. So consequently we publish some titles that may not be good sellers but address the needs of a small group of readers.
4. What are the common challenges/problems of big publishers? What about bookstores?
I believe that the biggest threat and opportunity, depending on how one looks at it, for traditional publishers and book sellers is digital technology. Personally, I am more excited than threatened by this. I am a tech enthusiast and it blows my mind to think how digital is changing–and will continue to change–the landscape of book content creation and delivery.
5. Let’s compare ageless titles, dying ones, and trends. Which books themes are highly sellable these days? Which ones are not? Why do you think so? Please cite examples.
That’s a very big question. At this point it might be good to note that as a Christian publisher, OMF Lit’s titles are based on the message of one very, very old book–the Bible. We believe that the message of Scriptures is timeless and will continue to captivate generations. Of course, that message is presented in various ways across a very broad spectrum of topics and themes. In terms of format, a majority of the market continues to find devotionals–daily, bite-size readings usually to last a year–very appealing. Many customers buy these to give as gifts, so we continue to keep this category thriving. Bibles too are a significant category. In addition to the many different translations and versions, there is great variety in packaging and supplementary content.
In the past years we’ve seen the growth in leadership and management literature; Christian publishers like OMF Literature have contributed to this very dynamic conversation. Of late, we have been focusing on publishing Taglish titles that apply biblical truth to practical issues such as finance and relationships. So far we have had success in this venture and look forward expanding our offering.
Follow-up to above question: For local authors, what kind of materials are you looking for at this time?
I’m glad you asked! In addition to the Taglish titles I’ve mentioned earlier, OMF Lit is building its digital publishing program and we are looking for writers–content providers–who are comfortable with the digital environment, have a vibrant Christian faith, are talented communicators that are able to resonate with a younger audience.
6. How do you connect with your readers? Any specific or regular activities? What about through social media (aside from the usual Facebook or Twitter messages)? Do you have a special approach in responding to the needs of your market?
As a publisher with very limited marketing budget, we have always needed to be creative and resourceful in our marketing, employing mostly “guerrilla marketing” tactics. That’s why social networking technology has proven to be a great blessing to us! We continue to grow and nurture our social media space to provide an opportunity for our readers to interact with us. Having our own bookshops–ten in all, spread across the nation–has also given us a means to keep our fingers on the pulse of our readers. I must admit, we still need to do a better job of building intimacy with our readers so we can know how best to meet their needs.
7. What guidelines does an OMF Lit employee adhere to in running a big publishing house and bookstore?
More than hard and fast rules, we want to create a culture that’s anchored on our Mission Statement. In more specific terms, we are guided by a set of principle statements that OMF Lit’s Board and Management have crafted to amplify the company’s Mission. These govern our thinking and our conduct. Here’s a link to our Mission Statement and Guiding Principles.