Julián Chappa interviews Hernán Casciari, author from Argentina and the founder of Orsai Magazine. Translated from the Spanish by Maria Cristina Fernandez Hall.
Hernán Casciari founded Orsai magazine in
2010. The magazine publishes chronicles, essays, fiction, short
stories, feuilleton and comics. It combines the best of cultural
magazines from the early twentieth century with a look to the future.
The project started as a blog and merged into a magazine in 2010. By 2011, it had become a publishing house and cultural bar. Orsai is
becoming more established because readers perceive it as their own, as a
model of “what a literary magazine should be in the 21st century”.
Orsai contains no publicity. In Argentine soccer jargon, orsai is used as a deformation of the English “off-side”. By extension, in colloquial River Plate language, orsai applies to anyone who does or says something inappropriate or out of place. Orsai strays
from traditional modes of distribution: anyone in any part of the world
can become a bimonthly distributor, and is paid in advance. Orsai has been selling 5,060 annual subscriptions in 20 different countries.
Because Orsai was born from genuine spontaneity, it involves people in a way that the biggest editorial firms cannot. Did you revive the critical and community spirit of the people?
I think I deserve little merit here. People will always be more
involved in amateur projects with no lucrative ends, especially if they
can identify with its ideas, than in professional projects that get
their funding from the market. Thanks to internet networks many such
projects have emerged.
Are you demonstrating the fact that another (editorial) world is conceivable?
A few years back it became possible to turn things around because intermediaries stopped being necessary. Projects like Orsai will
only be remembered as the beginning of a transition that had to happen –
in editorial fields and all others, too. We aren’t demonstrating
anything: readers are simply taking an active position. And authors,
little by little, are starting to understand this trajectory.
How did the creation of Orsai fit into your life’s journey?
Orsai was born as a blog ten years ago when there were
barely any blogs. Its texts then turned into books during a time when
there were hardly any books born from blogs. Later, it turned into a
magazine with no publicity when magazines like that were hard to find.
The idea is to venture, to see what lies beyond, to find enjoyable crags
to follow along. In this respect, Orsai and myself are very similar.
Did you get to the right place by doing everything backwards?
If my wife were here to interrupt us, she would tell you that “doing
everything backwards” is my approach to all situations. There isn’t any
merit in this, either; I always do everything backwards, and 90% of the
time, things turn out terribly. But whenever that 10% turns out well, it
gets a lot of press.
How many copies does Orsai sell and in which countries?
This year we printed 5,000 copies. We don’t need to sell any more to
cover our costs. Argentina and Spain are the two countries where it is
distributed the most, but the magazine reaches 18 more countries.
Senegal, Aruba, the Virgin Islands, and New Zealand are some of the most
exotic of these. We have two distributers in Germany – one is in charge
of our readers in the north, the other one of the south. Our magazine
is very popular in Europe.
What do you see on Orsai’s horizon for 2013?
We will have a long talk with Chiri, Orsai’s
editor-in-chief, in October or November. He wants to turn Orsai into a
university. I want it to become a women’s hockey team. There will be
By embarking on Orsai’s voyage did you turn into an editor and did it change you as a writer?
My friend Chiri is much more of an editor than I am. He speaks with
the authors, he takes care of them and goes over drafts with them. He is
the one that looks out for collaborations to see if there is anyone we
might like. I also do that sometimes but my role as project director
takes me to other areas: logistics, web hosting, distribution and so on.
I don’t feel like an editor. I wish I could dedicate myself entirely to
editing, but in this stage of the project I am like a small town
orchestra: I play a lot of instruments but I don’t tune any of them.
Your goal was to reach a critical mass of 5,000 subscribers by 2012. How is that working out?
We started April with 4,300 annual subscribers, so we only need 700
more to meet our goal. We will get those before the end of the semester
and I believe this will make our website very interactive. Reaching
5,000 will change our project entirely. It will be lovely.
Some of your early followers complain that they cannot get
loose copies anymore. Have you thought of an option for readers who are
getting cast out of the Orsai 2012 model?
Yes, of course: the free PDF.
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