Emmanuel Sison

Making reading affordable

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By Rose May Y. Cabacang; Photos by Lester G. Babiera

SisonIT HAS been said that good things come with a great price. But for Booksale founder Emmanuel Sison, a good read need not be expensive.

For as low as five pesos, anyone can already buy New York Times bestsellers and even rare fiction and non-fiction titles from Booksale. Quality second-hand books, including hard and paper-bound book novels, comics, magazines, and text books are sold at very affordable prices.

With a reputation of selling quality, yet affordable books, people still frequent the 86 branches at Booksale nationwide even in the face of economic slowdown. “Other companies thought that because there’s recession, people will stop buying books. I say no, the book buyer and book lover would forego eating but he will buy his book,” said Sison, president and chairman of Visual Mix Inc., which owns all Booksale stores.

Unlike other companies that were slapped by the recent recession hard on the face, recession proved to be a pat on the back for Sison. Visual Mix was hit hard during the Asian financial crisis of 1997 because it was not prepared. A saying goes that bad luck comes in threes, but once is enough for Sison. When the recent global economic recession hit the Philippines, Visual Mix was prepared.

“Before, all businesses operate on bank credit, you import products using letters of credit then you pay the bank. In 1997, banks closed these credits and in turn several companies lacked sources of bank credit. It was really tough but we managed to survive,” he told the Varsitarian.

He added that during the 1997 Asian crisis, no one was willing to lend credit but the recent recession was just ‘survivable.’

Sison, 67, imports his books with the help of his daughters from the United States and sells them in Booksale at cheaper prices.

“While they were holding back, I was doubling my importation in such that my problem was where to store the books I imported. I doubled my importation because they were giving away books in America at 60 to 80 percent discount,” he said.

Poverty, polio and prostate cancer

Before becoming a successful businessman, Sison struggled from polio and poverty. Sison, however, did not let these get the best of him. Instead of drowning in self-pity, Sison used his impairment as a motivating tool to be an achiever. He worked hard to achieve his goals.

“This impairment made me compensate,” said Sison, whose right arm is shorter than the other. “In my old reckoning, I believe that I should be left six feet under the ground. But I dreamed. Although it can’t be fulfilled, at least you dreamed.”

To finish college, Sison, for four years, worked as an assistant to the secretary of the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (Philets) under the UST Rector’s scholarship, for four years, despite his impairment. He earned a degree in Literature from Philets.

“When I reached college, I took matters into my own hands,” he said. “That’s what I also taught my kids. They hated my guts because the discipline was too much. I asked them to stand on their own.”

Sison also earned extra bucks by writing term papers for students. In the process, he also honed his writing skills, which he was already harnessing as an editor of Philets student publication Blue Quill and a news writer for the Varsitarian.

The drive to realize his dreams pushed him to enter advertising and marketing. He taught marketing for a few years at the Graduate School of Business in De La Salle University and in UST from 1970-1982.

“Intellectuals do not have money. I decided to make mine through advertising and marketing. Besides, with marketing, you have a lot of readings and a little economics here and there,” he explained.

In 1997, Sison was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Having experienced polio, he already knew how to deal with the pains of cancer, which he considered just another challenge written in his life.

“My other arm is shorter than the other, it’s because of polio. Other people would easily give up but I did not let polio stop me from doing what I want,” he said. “Now I am faced with prostate cancer, but the way I see it, cancer has helped me become stronger.”

Sison declined chemotherapy. Rather, he chose alternative medicine treatment, taking 24 vitamins and medicines every day.

Living life to the fullest inspired him to start writing his third book If you still want to live, which will hit the stands soon. His first two books, Tales from the Land of Salt, were a two-part compilation of folk tales and legends from his home province Pangasinan.

Birth of Booksale

Coming from a poor family, Sison recognized the troubles of high school and college book lovers who struggle with expensive books.

“I am a book lover myself and not all people could buy books because of the high prices,” he said.

While walking along the busy streets of Recto and Avenida, which are filled with sidewalk book vendors, Sison got the idea of selling second-hand books at low prices.

He set up the first outlet of Booksale at Cinema Square in Makati in 1980 with a capital of P20,000. Rare books, comics, romance novels, magazines, both old and new were sold in the store with a dreamy and bookish ambiance that effortlessly grabbed the attention of book afficionados.

“Unlike other bookstores, Booksale offers people the reading environment they want. With no one bothering you, and giving you all the time you need to choose a book at affordable prices. Who would say no to that?”

For Sison, Booksale has helped his crusade to cure the deteriorating culture of reading by espousing the belief that a good read need not take your lunch money.

“I’m lucky not only because I made money from the books I love, but also I made other people happy through these books.” he said With reports from Mary Joy T. de Lara Tomasino