A little over two years ago, I got an email inviting me to take part in a new editorial project based on an almost extinct animal: a print literary magazine. I had no idea who was leading it, who would be writing in it or what it was about.
The invitation was appealing because it was communal: at least ten people had to sign up to buy the magazine, since due to costs it would only be shipped in packages of ten. The price of the magazine was 15PD$ – currency that stands for local Saturday Newspaper Price and was minted with the objective that the publication would not have one price in Spain, for example, and then twice as much in Guatemala, but an analogue amount in each place (which by the way didn’t turned out to be as accurate). Only prepaid copies would be printed, so as to save paper I’m assuming, and most crucial in these days, to prevent bankruptcy after only one issue if it didn’t go well.
There was a sceptical enthusiasm about it so I signed up, and only later I went and found out what Orsai was. Back then it was a blog, and there would be a magazine, they said. Pioneers followed the developments of the magazine, the leaks on who was going to get published there, what it was going to look like, feel like and smell like. We were a bunch of bookworms, and we thought we were nostalgic about print and that was the reason we were supporting the project. What we didn’t realize – at least, back then I didn’t – was that we were being nostalgic about print all over the Internet: sending emails, commenting on blogs, opening new blogs, buying online, using social media to talk about this, etc. Very, very rapidly a huge community formed around Orsai. There were conversations about the project on social media and right in the Orsai blog between complete Spanish-speaking strangers on opposite sides of the world. By the time Orsai N1 came out in early 2011 and the copies reached eveybody’s home a community of thousands was built. Two years later, Orsai has become an editorial project including not only the blog and the print magazine with a few electronic versions (issuu, pdf, kindle, ipad, web), but also a bar – also funded with reader’s money – and finally a small publishing company with about a dozen books under its brand. Orsai is no longer a grassroots nostalgic-for-print project, but the story of a pretty successful company as well. To give you an idea, the print version of issue N1 sold close to 11 thousand copies, issues 2-4 an average of 7 thousand, and issues 5-10 over 5 thousand. Not only that, the total downloads of pdf and other digital versions should by now be close to a million – which really signals its digital “side” is more powerful than the print one.
I have been intrigued by how Casciari and Basilis have managed to convince people their project is a good idea (and worth spending money on) and the one answer I can offer is by making them feel part of the whole enterprise. This is easily said, but as I’m exploring, it implies on the one hand a wide-scoped distribution and publication system, and a complex medial and textual apparatus. Please take a look at the images which hopefully will illustrate some of the concepts I have only mentioned so far and am currently exploring for my dissertation.
….to be continued.