On the other, however, the very ease with which such a magazine can be set up makes it possible for a boom in such digital publications, without adequate gatekeeping when it comes to quality. Moreover, all these magazines in India expect writers to write without being paid, a policy that may not attract the best writing.
Indira Chandrasekhar, who started outofprint as a platform for writers of short fiction related to the Indian subcontinent, explains where her magazine stands in this scheme of things. Excerpts from an interview:
What are you by design? A marketing whiz or a writer?
Neither, actually. I am a biophysicist and hold a doctorate in the subject. My field of study concerned the dynamics of biological membranes, which I pursued in India, the US and in Switzerland.
How does a digital literary magazine fit into this life?
I was on a sabbatical in 2006. It was the right time to indulge my love of writing and write the stories that had been waiting to come out. So I did. And then I realised there were few publications in India where I could find homes for them.
Sign of our times?
Well, it made me look for publications overseas as well as in India, and print and online magazines like Cosmonauts Avenue, Eclectica Magazine, Far Enough East, Pratilipi, and The Little Magazine were happy to take the stories. But it still left me with a feeling that India needed a place where fiction writers could publish their work outside of books.
Is that how Outofprint came to be?
Yes, but not quite so easily. It took a long time. My daughter Mira Brunner and I had been mulling over the idea of a digital magazine for some time, but it just had not translated into action. Finally, the Jaipur Literature Festival acted as a spur. It was a huge catalyst, being in the thick of literary chatter.
How long did it take to finally launch the magazine? What were your main concerns?
We considered and dropped the idea of a website. It would take up too much focus and energy. We decided on an online magazine, where creative writing could be showcased without the whole thing flattening our own creative curve. My niece, Samhita Arni, and Mira helped a lot with ideas and inputs and when a friendly and equally idealistic Bangalore-based concern offered a low-priced helping hand to set it up, we were ready to roll. That was almost five years ago, in September 2010. We launched Outofprint with minimum fanfare.
How difficult has it been sustaining Outofprint? You are in what can best be described as a dying space.
I would tend to disagree. Fiction is a part of all our thought processes. I believe there are more people writing fiction than ever before. However, we try and choose writing of a literary quality. Has it been easy? Yes and no. We are constantly strapped for money and are unable to pay our contributors. But the stories and attention the enterprise has got, though not huge, as well as social media and word of mouth publicity, has kept the magazine robust. The good news is that we never lack for quality material.
Surely there are advertisers who would wish to address your readership base? Have you not tapped them to get money in?
We took a conscious decision to avoid advertising and the pressure that comes with it. One loyal sponsor helps keep us afloat. For now, the saving grace for the editors is that we can hide behind the anoymity of e-mail when telling aspiring contributors that there is no renumeration for their contributions. But I hope to find means to fill that gap too.
Does this existence in an ivory tower not seem a bad idea?
No, no, we are extending ourselves. Outofprint is working out ways – like running co-branded competitions with print publications that widen the basket for entries and offering prizes in kind. We have started including literary translations and focussing on special, contemporary issues.
How does literary fiction blend with contemporary issues? Sometimes they appear mutually exclusive.
Our latest volume is an example of how beautifully we can blend both. All the stories in the issue, as well as essays which we have included for the first time, focus on sexual violence. Samhita Arni and Meena Kandasamy were the editors for the issue.
Did the experiment find favour?
It worked wonderfully. We got a tremendous number of entries. And while we were coping with reading through them all, another idea took root. One thing leads to another. Many of the stories that came in were stark and real but not literary in flavour. We decided to start a blog titled Mapping Sexual Violence.
Interesting. How has that been received?
The response has been good, but slow. People are writing in and sharing experiences, solutions, stories. The good thing with the blog is it can hide the writer's location. More important, it fills a need. If it picks up, we will move to including vernacular writing. It was a valuable suggestion that came from a former editor, Mira Brunner, who was involved in the discussions and brought up issues of safety and emphasised the importance of the need for the multilingual. And, yes we need to expand beyond our still very urban base. Which the blog should do as it gathers force.
Is this a one woman operation?
No way. Even though it is a quarterly, it involves a lot of work. And putting many heads together works better in creative enterprises. My main collaborators live across the globe, so Outofprint is handled by three people living in three countries. That is the wonder of an online magazine; location is not an issue. We recruit illustrators and translators as we go from issue to issue. The community keeps growing. Both of collaborators and contributors. Outofprint should, with luck, continue to thrive.
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