Hooked and bootlegged: Story of a piratess*

* Reposted from TwentyFourProject by Camille Diola, Claire Jiao and Jovan Cerda

There is no such thing as overtime in her line of work. Twelve hours in the office is a daily affair, even on weekends and holidays. There is also no such thing as illegitimacy. After all, times are hard.

“It’s for the kids,” said Airah, a mother of six, who wakes up at seven in the morning and works from 9 AM to 9 PM. Every day, she sets up stacks of pirated DVDs and groups them into the most recent releases and the high quality, Blu-ray versions of classics and months-old movies in her stall at the Metrowalk.

"We always have time here, at home we don’t,” Airah, who is fluent in Maranao, said in Filipino. For others with a regular job, working until 10 in the evening is beyond overtime, but it has been a way of life for her. Vacation time? Airah hardly has one.

“We only close when all other establishments (in the area) close,” she said, explaining that she only gets to rest whole days once or twice a year.

Not only is her work schedule tight and demanding, her meals are also irregular. Airah has breakfast and lunch at noon with four of her relatives who also man the booth. They take turns in entertaining customers who usually arrive two hours after the open for business. They end the day with a quick dinner before finally heading home.

“My husband, who has another job, takes care of the kids until I get home,” Airah said. She cleans the house for the next day before she goes to bed if her family doesn’t watch DVD movies first.

Airah’s youngest child is four years old, and her eldest is 13. Only three of her six kids go to school though, while the rest alternately help her in the store and take care of house chores.

Given rather difficult circumstances and economic conditions, Airah finds selling bootlegged videos – technically a criminal offense in the country – a safe and a profitable means of livelihood.

“Whenever we hear we are going to be apprehended (by authorities), we always discover beforehand,” Airah said. These unnerving instances only happen rarely though, in fact they are considered contractual concessionaires.

“We pay for our posts here, and we have a management,” said Airah. She explained that all other DVD storeowners in the area purchase from a common supplier and pay monthly fees for the space. “(Retailers) actually don’t have competition here because we’re all similar (in endeavor).”

Around 80 discs are sold on a good day. With each DVD costing Php40 to Php50, Airah and her team earn around P3,500 daily. They divide this sum between the five of them and contribute equally in paying the P6,000 rental.

Long hours on the job are highlighted by loyal customers who buy 10 to 20 titles all at once and doubtful ones who complain about their last purchases. Airah encounters different personalities and consumer behaviors each day, and her cheerful disposition helps her deal with them.

“We try to be understanding,” Airah said. Knowing some of the copies she sells might be defective, she accommodates her customers’ requests to exchange as often as possible. “If they are rude, we wouldn’t sell to them anymore. Sometimes we give their money back, depending on their attitude. If they are nice, we readily return the money.”

Being a businesswoman, albeit an illegitimate one, she makes sure she gains the trust of consumers. She offers to demonstrate selected DVD titles with a television set and a disc player to new costumers to ease their doubts.

“Loyal costumers don’t try the DVDs anymore, they only return the copy (when it has defects),” she said.

After all, Airah is also a costumer. Every two weeks, they order titles from a bulk supplier and acquire ones. Titles of new movies are sold to them at P10 a piece while copies of original DVDs cost P20 to P30 each.

Some new copies are recorded from cinemas but despite their poor quality, people still buy them. “There are really those who can’t wait for better copies,” she said. In any case, Airah is not the kind of seller who recommends titles to the indecisive ones. Lying, for her, is a business strategy.

“When they ask if a film’s good, of course we say yes,” Airah said. “In the end, we just want it sold.” #

photo by Andres Rueda on Flickr