Jack Boulware, founder of Litquake, considers the demise of publishing and journalism

San Francisco literary festival prepares for its first ever conference dedicated to digital publishing

Mary Zheng/File

Related Posts

In the technology boom that was the ’90s, the Bay Area was buzzing with innovative start-ups, emerging IT companies and Silicon Valley excitement. Hidden in this expansive push toward the future of the tech world was a small community of San Francisco bookworms hungry for a city that had once been the pinnacle of the literary landscape. Enter Jack Boulware, one of the co-founders of Litquake. Litquake, a literary festival that began in the late ’90s, has now developed into a well-curated program of readings, conferences and talks. In an interview with The Daily Californian, Boulware talks about the changing world of publishing, the future of journalism and his love for the spirit of the Bay Area.

On the humble beginnings of Litquake: Litquake began in 1999 as a one-day festival called Litstock in Golden Gate Park. A small group of writers brainstormed this idea at the Edinburgh Castle, a Scottish pub in the Tenderloin, which at the time was hosting literary readings. One of the reasons we wanted to create a new festival was because in 1999, nobody in the Bay Area seemed at all interested in literature. We folded the festival when the economy crashed. But people liked the idea, and a year later, Jane (Ganahl, co-founder of Litquake) and I put together a larger committee and relaunched it as Litquake.

On the development of the festival: We had capped the festival at nine days total for some years, but we have added more programming throughout the year. We’ve launched a free podcast of live recordings from our archives, increased our programming for teens and expanded to include more national and international authors. We have franchised our closing night Lit Crawl (literary pub crawl) to several cities throughout the U.S. as well as London. And we have also forged sustainable partnerships with so many other arts and cultural organizations that, in some ways, the end result truly is a group effort from the entire Bay Area community.

On the so-called demise of publishing and journalism: People will always want to read physical books. E-books are only 20 percent of the total market, and that number seems to be holding for the moment. Journalism, however, is undergoing a massive change. It’s much easier to consume news online than via physical papers and magazines. I personally believe that people are not stupid, and they will naturally gravitate to a more curated news experience as opposed to “10 Photos of Cats Yawning” types of content. As with the music industry, the creative people are getting shafted right now. A magazine article that I would be paid thousands for in the 1990s would be a 300-word online story today. The pay would be abysmal, and the only standard for quality is the number of comments and shares via social networks. I hope that changes.

On what to expect at Litquake’s Digital Publishing Conference: The Bay Area is one of the country’s largest markets for books and reading. We are the acknowledged hub of technology. But there’s never been a local event that explores this intersection of both traditional publishing and digital publishing. Many people have asked Litquake over the years, “Where is the industry headed? How can I get published?” So in a way, we launched the digi.lit conference to learn why. We’ve assembled a stellar group of both traditional and digital publishing experts, authors, agents and booksellers to explore the future of how we read and write. We want to avoid the hype and hyperbole of many such conferences and give people some straight information … on where this intersection of traditional and new may lead.

On his love for the spirit of the Bay Area: Some people have said that Litquake could not have emerged in other cities. From the beginning, we were an all-volunteer organization, and for the most part, we still are. That’s a very Bay Area thing — to embark upon a project because you’re vastly interested in doing so and not just because it comes with a dental plan. The city is … the birthplace of blue jeans, television, Corn Nuts, slot machines, the fortune cookie, Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” mass-produced LSD, rock posters, personal computers and so many other things. I think once I start talking about Corn Nuts and LSD, it’s probably time to stop. Thanks for doing this.

Litquake will host digi.lit, a one-day conference that attempts to demystify the new digital publishing landscape by putting attendees in the same room with representatives from fifteen traditional and non-traditional publishers, on June 29 at SPUR Urban Center. The event will feature successful authors, respected agents and editors, graphic designers, marketers, and booksellers with a roster that includes Jon Fine (director of author and publisher relations at Amazon), author Neal Pollack, Salon and New York Times literary critic Laura Miller, Stanford professor, author and blogger Keith Devlin, authors from The Atavist and TED Books, Brook Warner of SheWrites, plus literary agents April Eberhard, Laurie McClean and Ted Weinstein as well as representatives from Chronicle Books, McSweeney’s, Wattpad, Byliner, Blurb and more. 

Tickets are priced at $225.00. To learn more, visit www.litquake.org/digilit.

Contact Addy Bhasin at [email protected].