Economics and Baybayin

I responded to a post on the Baybayin Facebook page the other day that revolved around the topic of why some of us charge for our Baybayin work. This has come up more than a few times over the years but with the recent renewed interest of Baybayin in the Philippines it’s time to clarify.

The Baybayin economy is very small and there are only a few of us sucessfully monitizing it. I’m going to tell my story but I’m pretty sure it will echo those of my colegues.

When I 1st got a Baybayin tattoo, I wanted to find a site online to post it. I didn’t find one, so I created PinoyTattoos.com. People complemented the tattoo and asked what it meant. When I broke it down, they started to ask for my help in doing translations. I remember the 1st time I saw my handwriting on someone’s skin; it blew me away. I wanted more, so I offered FREE translation consulting and artwork publicly to see what the demand would be as an experiment. Within 2 months, I got overwhelmed with the requests. Keep in mind I had a fulltime job at the time. After seeing the demand, I got into business charging a minimal rate of $5 per word. After a year, that started to take up a lot time. I then decided to double my rates to see if it could even out. If I lost 1/2 my customers, I would still be making the same amound with time to spare. The customers did not drop and I was the owner of a profitable little side business. I used the money to pay bills, eat out and reinvest in the Filipino community by creating FREE resources like Baybayin.com and traveling around the San Francisco area teaching the script. Booths at these festivals cost $200-$500. I would be lucky if I broke even selling my artwork. There would be some days I would loose $100 plus gas, food and parking. It didn’t really matter be because I was making a little though my online Baybayin services. If I didn’t make some money, I wouldn’t be able to do all of these things. There would be no PinoyTattoos.com, Baybayin.com, book, documentary, mobile application and FREE consultations. All of these projects have a cost associated to them running in the thousands.

Here’s a partial list of my reoccuring expenses to run my Baybayin business

  • Web hosting
  • Domains
  • Ecomerce service
  • Support system
  • Mailing list service
  • Part-time assistant

That doesn’t even include a new computers, hardware, software, contractors, cellphone and internet services. Don’t forget about travel and food expenses for events.

As you can see, it’s a lot. People often ask me how am I able to do all of these projects with the cost and time involved. It’s because of a healthy Baybayin business. Without it, FREE resources would cease to exist.

A perfect example is David Lazaro of the Bathala Project. This dude would spend hours and hours creating videos spreading Baybayin. He recently finished a course in graphic design and is now a freelance designer. Because of that, his blog and videos have pretty much stopped. Why? I haven’t talked to him about this but common sense would tell me that he needs to make a living. Baybayin will not pay the bills. If he was making $4K a month off Baybayin, would he still be doing it? Probably. Who can blame him for putting his Baybayin projects on hold? Nobody can and because of the the reality of life that everyone has to deal with. We have lost (for the time being) a good contributor to our growing community.

I appreciate people who are advocating the use of Baybayin in everyday life but the resistance will always be the external factor of money, especially in the Philippines. How will learning this dead script put money in my pocket tomorrow? That’s why students in the Philippines hate it. Look at Twitter and all you see is people bitching about having to learn this stupid “Alibata“. For the most part, you don’t go to school to get cultured or practice social skills. You go to hopefully learn to use your inherit talent or learn a new trade to make a living.

One of the reasons Baybayin dissapreared was due to economic factors. It simply wasn’t in demand and still isn’t. However, with the use of technology, right marketing and a little hustling – Baybayin can be brought back and be viable. In order for Baybayin to become mainstream, people must be able to make money with it as a skill. I’m not talking part time doing 3-5 translations a week or the occasional tshirt sale, I’m talking about 40-80 hours of work. That’s the goal. Create products, art and services that are so compelling and new that the market will take notice.

While it might be a turn-off and I may seem like a capitalistic Amboy that I always walk about money and Baybayin, it’s because I want to do this full-time.

5 thoughts on “Economics and Baybayin

  1. If practicing Baybayin is just a pastime or hobby to you, then more power to you! Mabuhay ka!

    But those of us who want to do this full time, we need to take care of our families and make a living too, so we need to earn some monetary returns from our work with Baybayin. Paano ako mabubuhay kung ninanais kong buhaying mainam ang ating Baybayin?

    I have been researching and developing faithful-to-traditional “Baybayin Modern Fonts” and making them available for FREE several years now through the “Anak Bathala Project” blog; with the ultimate goal to promote awareness of the Baybayin Script and  our Filipino Heritage through modern technologies such as digital art, typography, video games, publications and commercial applications; in turn reviving the use of Baybayin to a certain degree in our daily lives.

    The project began in 2004 with the development of Anak Bathala: God Spawn, a non-commercial top-down 2D MMORPG, the first Filipino MMORPG. Anak Bathala: GS featured Filipino culture and mythology within the context of a role-playing adventure videogame, showcasing Filipino indigenous war suits, weaponry, locales, and ancient Baybayin script throughout the game’s designs. Development hit a snag around 2006 and the game was put on hold. Currently, the game is being revamped and developed by BHM Games Studios and Shinen Media; both companies based in the Philippines.

    In 2005-2006, I took the Baybayin script fonts developed specifically for the Anak Bathala game and made them available to the public. Thus started the Nordenx Baybayin Modern Font Foundry.

    I have been slowly writing a book since the project’s inception, but the Anak Bathala game’s storyline proved to be epic and can not be contained in just one form of delivery. Currently, my book is unfinished but our young & industrious team members at BHM Games Studios and Shinen Media has forged on with the Anak Bathala graphic novels which are set in the expanded universe of the Anak Bathala realm. A first volume introducing the hero Kalem is about to be released very soon, published by our partners at BHM Publishing House Inc.

    Other books, board games, fonts, online games, apps, toys, and apparel are also in the works and will be available online sometime in the near future.

    Am I making money right now? The answer is “very little to support myself let alone my family”. In fact, I’ve lost a lot of money and invested a lot of time and hard work on this project. But thanks to the generous support of my entrepreneurial partners and my friend BHM who heads the PemCor Group of Companies, one day soon we hope to be able to sustain a decent income for us to, through our projects, continue supporting and promoting the use of Baybayin.

  2. I would want  people to know that anyone who does this, from my experience, is doing it as a labor of love.  It’s true that we get income from what we do as baybayin business men and women but I don’t know that people fully understand what it’s taken to show what we offer.  We study baybayin, put it into practice, learn to use the tools to showcase the script, strive to preserve and educate through what we do and put our art “out there” for scrutiny and inspection.  I just pray we’re all able to keep doing what we have SUCH a passion for and there will be people who will appreciate it along the way…

  3. Like most people, my interest in Baybayin began as a hobby. I would practice every chance I could and educating anyone who had a few minutes to spare.

    Growing up as a Filipino-American I observed a lack of identity in the community and decided to take my new found skills and integrate it into another hobby of mine which was wood burning. At the time I saw many Filipinos and Fil-Ams gravitating towards the Polynesian culture primarily Hawaiian and Tahitian. I would often see people wearing Hawaiian Heirloom jewelry with their “Hawaiian” name transliterated on the vertical gold pendants. So, taking a cue a from that, I decided to develop handmade pendants with Baybayin as my focus. Thus began over 15+ years of my craft.

    The materials I use for my pendants are raw. The bamboo I use are harvested, cut, split and sanded by hand. The Narra material come in small planks that are milled down to size, sanded and cut by hand. The cotton cord I use needs to be cut to size, and most beads I use need to be drilled larger to accomodate the cording. Then there is the process of woodburning borders in most cases, then putting all the pieces together to create a blank pendant ready for an inscription. To create just 100 blank pieces takes at minimum a week to finish in addition to a full time job. I’m a one man show but I have the support of family and friends who have watched my craft develop over the years.

    For me, to go from one festival to another means I need to cover my initial expenses first and foremost. Then apply whatever my total sales were to the next event. With booth fees anywhere from $200-$500 these days for arts and crafts, I would need to make 2-3 times the cost of the booth. You aren’t gauranteed the turnout for each particular event, and if you haven’t made “booth” the first day of a 2 day event, you are in a deep hole. Some events are more of a bust than others. This isn’t a game for the timid nor is it the best business model. It is afterall, a niche market but, has the potential to cross over to mainstream.

    So while most people may look upon us artisans as “just trying to make money” or “exploiting”, how else do you think you can actively spread Baybayin? Even “free” means someone had to spend money to make it happen right? It takes the root of all evil “money” to do it. There are two ways to benefit from Baybayin, monetarily and personal fulfillment. I can honestly say I’ve had success in both. While I may not be at the next festival, know that I give every ounce of my talent to spread Baybayin both online and offline.

    My very best wishes to all my fellow artisans in your endeavors.

  4. Biblically, making a living out of what you make your life in is just right. Where will the full-time preacher get sustenance but from his flock? (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

    The sad thing is, this world makes a killing on dead artists — they’d first want the artist to starve to death or kill himself before they buy his work. Ah, Van Gogh–they paid you peanuts when you were still alive and capable of creating greater works than what you left us.

  5. If people really value Baybayin, they should be happy that some people get paid “financially”, not just bragging rights. Artists in the Philippines are rich in talent but are POOR! We made them poor, the Pilipinos ourselves, by not paying for their services. Mahilig kasi tayo sa LIBRE, insult as this fact is, this is the cause why  we as a nation and people are POOR. If we value our heritage, we must PAY! We pay in money, time, knowledge and wisdom. Let us start by paying monetarily. Isipin natin, let us think about this. When the foreigners see that we give monetary value to our arts then they would also follow through in thinking that we dignify our compatriots.

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