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Fehmida Zakeer | Updated on April 20, 2018 Published on April 20, 2018

Web of musings: The growing number of online publications dedicated to creative writing also offer exciting visual productions that print magazines cannot match

Anupama Krishnakumar

Indira Chandrasekhar

Literary e-zines in India are getting creative juices flowing with their promise of abundant online publishing space for writers big and small

About a decade ago, you could actually count on your fingers the number of online literary publications in India. Today, there are several publications dedicated not only to creative writing but also exciting visual productions that print magazines cannot match. Indira Chandrasekhar, founder and managing editor of Out of Print magazine, says online magazines serve as a bridge between classical forms and a relatively new medium, between traditional writing and new explorations. “It simultaneously offers writers the excitement of uncharted possibilities and the safety of familiar ways of telling stories.”

 

New writers, especially, have a platform in which to explore the boundaries of their work. Sucharita Dutta Asane, editor at Kitaab magazine, says this space for experimenting and finding one’s voice is valuable for a new writer. “What also helps, and this is where I often step in as editor, is hand-holding the writer, for that little nudge, the little encouragement. It also exposes the writer to the first experience of being edited, of learning to see the gaps in storytelling and craft, and thus to work towards a polished draft.”

Chennai-based writer Meera Rajagopalan points to yet another vital role played by e-zines: “They help readers find good writing, especially writing set in a local context.”

However, owing to the very nature of the medium, online publications often have a short lifespan. This leaves writers worrying about their oeuvre when publications cease operations... when the domain name expires, the magazine fades into oblivion and, with it, the work of its contributors. As Delhi-based award-winning writer Anubha Yadav puts it, “This idea of a magazine that carried my work just vanishing overnight, with no warning or intimation, and with no real plan of archiving its backissues. This is very scary for me.”

Vani Viswanathan, one of the founders of Spark magazine, concedes that while it is relatively easy to start a web publication, sustaining it is a different matter altogether. Describing the effort that goes into bringing out their magazine unfailingly on the fifth of every month, she says the challenge is to devise a long-term strategy. When she and Anupama Krishnakumar started Spark in 2010, they decided to keep it non-commercial in every aspect, including the theme and the e-zine’s look and feel.

Anupama Krishnakumar

 

Independent literary publications in India typically run on the intense commitment of a few people, who are usually not in it to make money. As Chandrasekhar says, “I don’t think any editor is under the illusion that they will make their fortune by publishing a piece of literary writing. The interest, for the editor, lies in the work itself — in finding a piece of writing, refining it, if need be, curating an edition of the magazine — in other words, providing a well-managed publishing platform for writers.”

The Bangalore Review, which completes five years this June, was forced into a nine-month hiatus after two of its founders left for various reasons. Suhail Rasheed, managing editor and founder, says he decided to use the break to redesign the website and restructure the board. But the redesigning took longer than expected and it felt like it was perhaps ‘the end’. Then an article appeared in BLink — ‘Sold on poetry’ by Aditya Mani Jha — on the revival of poetry writing in India, which mentionedThe Bangalore Reviewas one of the few new e-zines promoting young and established poets alike. Rasheed says this spurred him to renew his efforts to bring the publication back to life.

 

Despite the hiatus, the submissions never stopped coming, he says, adding that creative non-fiction works are rarer to get. The reason could be lack of remuneration. “We have not been able to find a revenue model yet for The Bangalore Review and, hence, not been able to remunerate our writers till date,” he says.

Divya Dubey of Earthen Lamp Journal says it is not easy to monetise the content carried by online literary magazines, as “people prefer to advertise (if at all they do) in publications that have a huge circulation and well-established international contributors. To achieve that, you need deep pockets to begin with”.

The solution lies in having either a constant source of funding or a regular inflow of ad/subscription revenues, says Krishnakumar of Spark magazine. By virtue of being non-commercial in nature, the e-zine venture often requires the founders to bear the cost of value additions such as design changes or marketing efforts, she says.

Viswanathan is not so sure about the feasibility of the paid subscription model for e-zines, “People think twice before they choose to subscribe to something as niche as a litmag, unless it has a long-established reputation,” she argues. For her, any lasting solution would take the form of generous monetary support from people who love the written word.

Fehmida Zakeer is an independent writer based in Chennai

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Published on April 20, 2018
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