A Letter to Our Subscribers
We at the SAMAR Collective would like to give you an update on our activities and let you know what's going on with your magazine.
First, some history: as you may know SAMAR was started in 1992 as a print magazine. In the wake of the destruction of the Babri Masjid and with Bush Sr. in the White House, the founders of SAMAR responded to a dire need for a progressive alternative to the South Asian media that were then available in the US. Two volunteer collectives got to work, one in New York City and the other in Austin, Texas and the South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection was born.
The first issue dealt with such topics as safer sex and South Asians, US foreign aid to India and a profile of a Bangladeshi poet from Harlem. Over the next ten years the issues kept coming, sometimes twice a year, sometimes only once, but always as often as the dedicated folks behind SAMAR could manage.
SAMAR Goes Digital
Sometime in 1998, SAMAR took its first tentative steps onto the WWW. The idea seemed alien at the time, but by early 2002 we had a full-fledged website with full content for new issues and selected articles from older issues. Three issues of the magazine -- Nos. 13, 14 and 15 -- were published both in print and online.
At that point we came to a crossroad. The burdens of producing and distributing a print magazine through an all-volunteer collective of harried New Yorkers, as well as financing it with a relatively small subscriber base, as well as maintaining an up-to-date website with full content, were becoming overwhelming. The year between the autumns of 2002 and and 2003 saw production come to a crawl.
We decided then to undertake an experiment: we would publish two issues of the magazine exclusively online and see what the response looked like. Our hopes were that we would (1) reach more readers without diminishing our accessibility, (2) cut our expenses to a fraction of what they were when we published on dead trees, (3) foster a greater sense of dialogue through the use of interactive features such as per-article discussion boards and (4) shorten our production cycle so that we bring you more vital writing and in a more timely way.
Under this plan we published Issue 16 online in December, 2003, Issue 17 in May, 2004, and now Issue 18 in November, 2004, an accomplishment which suggests that we can indeed be quicker on our feet in this new medium. The other results are also encouraging. In the month of June, 2004 alone we received some 12,000 page views on our site, four times greater than our traffic a year earlier. And although it's a bit apples-and-oranges, we suspect this represents an incomparably greater number of readers than the print magazine ever had.
And these new folks are not just reading, they are responding. We have seen lively discussions around Biju Mathew's two-part series of editorials on the state of the South Asian Left (with a third installment added this issue), as well as a pair of reviews of Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam.
So it is with all this in mind that we have decided to continue publishing SAMAR as a web-only publication. Although we all loved the print magazine, the physicality of it, the inky smells, and of course the enduring presence it had in libraries and other institutions, it is no longer realistic for us to keep producing it. We are still actively thinking of ways to make sure that the archival aspect of SAMAR is not lost. The most obvious step we can take is to fill out the online archives with more content from the first decade of SAMAR.
The Bottom Line
And now we come to the crux of the matter: we realize that many of you have paid-up subscriptions which entitle you to copies of a printed magazine which no longer exists. Organizing a full refund for our entire subscriber base, with hundreds of checks in small denominations is something which is quite beyond our capabilities at the moment. Therefore we would like to prevail upon you to consider the balance of your paid subscription as a contribution to the SAMAR Collective so that we may continue our work in this new medium. If you elect not to do this, please drop us a line at collective at samarmagazine dot org and let us know that (along with your current address) so that we can start the refund process.
But we really, really hope we can count on your support. Your dollars will go a lot farther on the web than they did in print and with your help we can look forward to another decade of action and reflection.