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 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 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,, 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.

The man behind the Baybayin on the new Peso bills

The Baybayin community is quite excited with the new Peso bills just announced. This isn’t the 1st time Baybayin has been on our money. It’s been on Peso bills in the 1940’s on the Katipunan flag and most recently a microscopic “Pi” on coins. These new bills have an actual word spelled – Pilipino. You can see it partially on the bottom right front of the bills. Too bad it has to be held in the light to be seen.

The moment I saw it, I knew it was one of Paul Morrow‘s fonts. For those that don’t know, Paul is actually not Filipino. He’s a white guy from Canada who knows more about Filipino culture than most Filipinos.

I reached out to him to see how felt about having is work on the new bills. To my surprise, he didn’t even know about it. Here’s his statement:

From what I can see in the photos, it is definitely my “Tagalog Stylized” font, which I created in 1992. I would need to see one of the new bills up close to see if it is my current version or an older one, which has some very minor differences.

Nobody from the Philippine government consulted me about using one of my fonts, but I have always offered them for free on my website, so I can’t complain. It’s definitely in the public domain now. Actually, I feel honoured, even though it was not the government’s intention to honour me.

I assume that whoever designed the bills wanted a modern look and chose this font over my other fonts, which are historical replicas of old typefaces. My website and the information sheet that is part of the font’s download state that my “Tagalog Stylized” font is a modern interpretation of the old baybayin script and is not historically accurate.