Online magazine, the Rumpus, embraces snail mail

Carolyn Kellogg
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Fans of the online literary magazine the Rumpus recently opened their mailboxes to find a missive from its founder, Stephen Elliott.

In one way, this was entirely routine — he sends out emails that mix personal stories with links to new website content almost every day.

In another way, it was absolutely new: The mailboxes they opened were not on their computers but near apartment lobbies, doorways and the end of driveways. The Rumpus had sent them a traditional letter, on paper, with a stamp, envelope and signature.

Letters in the Mail is the first print edition for the online magazine. The first letter was from Elliott; most will be literary. Some to come will be from writer and editor Dave Eggers, comedian Margaret Cho, graphic novelist Dean Haspiel and author Jonathan Ames, the creator of the television series “Bored to Death.”

Subscribers pay $5 a month to get three to four of the letters delivered to their mailbox. It’s an inversion of the assumption that online is easier and more direct than the U.S. Postal Service, which some now call “snail mail.”

Yet readers of the online magazine have embraced the idea. The response has been positive: In just a few weeks, close to 1,500 people have subscribed.

What’s going into the envelopes may take the form of letters, but they’re actually like very short short stories. In this way, the Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail is following in the footsteps of the innovative magazine One Story, which for $21 per year prints and mails to subscribers a single short story every week, in an elegantly designed pocket-size format.

A variety of features are being added to Letters in the Mail to make them feel personal: doodles on envelopes, real signatures or return addresses should the recipient want to write an author back.

“People miss getting letters,” Elliott wrote. “They’re willing to pay for them.”

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