∞ Macworld Expo 2010: Success story or a disaster waiting to happen

I’ve been attending Macworld Expos since 1996, or thereabouts. Every year the excitement leading up to a Macworld is intense and exciting, but sadly this year is different. We are just over a month away from the beginning of the 2010 show and trying to find someone that is truly excited about Macworld is tough, to say the least. I think it’s easier to find someone excited that Wednesday will soon be here.

In fact, many of the developers that we count on to deliver the big news at Macworld Expo are not even attending this year. If you go, you will not see Adobe, Quark, Epson, Griffin and most notably, Apple.

Apple said that last year’s Macworld Expo would be its last and while many held out hope it would return this year, it hasn’t. The effect of Apple leaving cannot be underestimated — Apple’s presence can make or break a trade show.

Take a quick look at the history. Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo Boston/New York — it failed; Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo Tokyo — it failed; Apple pulled out of Apple Expo Paris — it failed.

Macworld Expo has to contend with some new competition in the space now — CES. The iLounge pavilion will host almost 100 companies at this years consumer electronics show, splitting the developers between the two shows.

Many companies you would expect to see at Macworld Expo are now attending CES, presumably for its larger crowds and media. Companies like Griffin, iSkin, Macally, RadTech, Rocstor, Tunewear and XtremeMac, are all well-known to the Mac community, but will attend CES this year, instead of Macworld Expo.

Apple’s booth not only brought in people, it brought in third-party companies to exhibit. In past years, Macworld Expo boasted hundreds of exhibitors — a look at its Web site today shows 157.

After Apple decided to stop exhibiting at Macworld Expo, some analysts declared the show dead. It doesn’t appear to me that a lot has changed in the last year that would save the show from what many believe to be its ultimate fate.

I have spoken with countless developers who have decided they will not attend Macworld Expo 2010. I’ve heard many tales of what they consider to be unfair pricing by IDG to exhibit with little consideration being taken for Apple’s absence, to not being sure they will get enough media coverage to warrant the trip.

I’ve talked to many people in the media that are already writing the Macworld Expo eulogy. That’s not a good sign.

Apple not only backed out of exhibiting, it also canceled the keynote presentation. Typically these were given by Steve Jobs and were truly a sight to behold.

A Jobs keynote attracted press from all over the world, which, in turn, gave press to all of the third-party developers exhibiting at the show. People would start lining up in the wee hours of the morning just to get a seat at the back of the keynote hall. I doubt that will happen this year.

It was at these keynotes that Apple introduced many of its products over the last 10 years. People came to expect it. But not anymore.

With the introduction of its retail stores, the iPod and iPhone, Apple quickly realized it could summon the world’s press anytime it wanted — it no longer needed Macworld Expo’s stage. Apple has been holding its own hugely successful media events for several years, introducing products like the iPod, MacBook, and others.

You can argue that Apple should exhibit and support the Mac community, but that’s a moot point. Apple is bigger than the Mac community now — it is a consumer electronics company that appeals to all walks of life.

As you can imagine, after 15 years in this industry, I’ve come to know a lot of the developers personally. I really hope that Macworld Expo 2010 is a success for them.

As for the future of the show — I don’t hold out much hope. For the first time since 1996, I will not be attending the show. Instead, I’ll be at the NAMM music trade show covering news from those Mac developers.

Editor’s Note: I worked at Macworld magazine from 1999 to 2009, which is owned by IDG, the same company that owns IDG World Expo, organizers of Macworld Expo.

  • Frank

    I share the feeling Jim. Every year I’d look forward to Xmas, NYD and Jan’s MW. Now there’s simply no substance to get excited about unless.hmm, yourself, Peter (Cohen), Shawn (King) and Bynkii provide the entertainment!! 😀

  • John Baxter

    On the other hand, I just saw a complaint that the CES party list is tiny compared with CES glory years. And Ed Bott just tweeted that he is cancelling his trip to CES.

    So a smaller MacWorld isn’t unique.

  • I attended MW Expo Boston in ’88. First time I’d ever been to Boston. The drive itself from Chicago was a mini adventure.

    Those were the glory days of seeing and talking to real Apple people from the Golden State and seeing new products which local dealers never had, or at least they weren’t up and running.

    Apple authorized dealers then were a wild variable. The internet was non-extistent.

    But the trip was time-consuming and expensive, so I never went again.

    I don’t regret Apple pulling out. And I wouldn’t say that they abandoned us. Quite the opposite: Apple Retail Stores are its modern way of reaching out to us consumers in a far more effective and tantalizing way than via expo’s. They’re all clean and modern and well lit, sales people are generally knowledgeable and competent and enthusiastic, everything is on and connected, etc.

    One silly thing I remember about the MW Expo I attended: I walked for miles around those exhibit halls lugging large bags I filled with product brochures and junk. And when I got home I simply dumped it all in the trash. What a waste.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Good to see you again Daniel. I think we’ve all been through carrying those bags around 🙂

      • You, too, Jim!

        You know, the other pretty silly thing about expo’s is the gross inefficiency of the paradigm: vital company personnel having to extricate themselves from their respective frantic workflows at home to traipse across the country just to stand around at booths and then answer the same questions repeatedly for x number of days before they return home and try to catch up.

        Of course, that used to be sort of worth it in the ’80s before the internet and before Apple Retail Stores. Maybe it was comparable to the old “tent revivals” of yesteryear when there were relatively few preachers and that was the only way to “spread the word” short of people having their own churches.

        Yes, I’m an Apple zealot–I’m Mac and I’m proud. People should have things to be proud of and want to tell others about it, damn it! 😉

  • I have witnessed the collapse of the Apple Expo Paris (that used to draw more visitors than the MacWorld Expo), and the London show when Apple dropped out. I just can’t be optimistic about the future of MacWorld. It is really sad for developers like us because these shows were a great opportunity to catch up with the whole ‘Mac World’ from clients to distributors, the worldwide press and the Apple crew. WWDC does a good job for gathering developers, but just developers. The Apple shows were the fastest way to be spotted as developers. It is during one of our first Paris shows that we were spotted by a German TV channel, signed deals with Japanese, European and US distributors when PulpMotion was still in beta. From 2 persons, Aquafadas has grown to 45 employees. I’m sure it would have been much slower without all these great encounters (special mention for you, Daniel).

    So I dream of something that would enable a regular get together of developers, marketers, Apple (not only the techies), press and distributors, in order to share good laughs, crazy ideas, business development and the chance for new talent to emerge.

    • You make good points there, Claudia.

      But weren’t all those “great encounters” rather riding on the coat tails of the big name exhibitors and the substantial expense of their attending the expo’s? If it somehow proved to be a still worthwhile investment for them, they would most likely still be so investing.

      So the onus now is shifted to these smaller players. But we now have tools, courtesy of Apple and Adobe, such as Adobe Connect and iChat, for example, with which we can come together much more cheaply to make all these same key deals and commitments, don’t we?

      • It’s not over yet! One of the biggest reasons for companies to exhibit is press coverage, and while many of the press won’t be there, some will. And for one journalist to write up a glowing piece on a small developer, that can make the trip worthwhile right there.

        I do think, though, that the solution going forward is to move the event out of S.F. and into a smaller area, more affordable for developers and press. Something middle of the country, or maybe Austin, and focus on mild weather months.

        • I think that any way you look at it that it’s a dwindling spiral of interest, and even a dwindling spiral of necessity–on anyone’s part, whether exhibitor or attendee.

          It’s up to the exhibitor, primarily, to determine the value of the endeavor.

  • Pingback: Chuck Joiner: The value of Macworld 2010 | The Loop()

  • Fabio

    Also dropped MacExpo in London and it failed.

  • Eric O. Gold

    What I will GREATLY miss is something that ONLY a “trade show” MacWorld can provide – one-to-one contact with product designers, engineers, product support personnel, etc. for many of the software products that I use regularly (this includes Apple personnel). I found that many of the folks that came to MWSF were extremely knowledgeable about their company’s products (often more knowledgeable than the tech support folks who you could reach the rest of the year via normal channels) and more importantly — they had nothing better to do but to listen to my laundry list of questions, complaints, and suggestions. In many cases I got to talk to the actual developers of the software (and sometimes hardware) I use and was able to glean invaluable information from them, as well as communicate my desires for future features of their products.

    Having a 20 minute face-to-face discussion with an Apple engineer is something that could only happen at MacWorld and it is what I will miss the most.

    I live less than 30 minutes from San Francisco, so I will probably go this year just to see what the ambiance and atmosphere is like and how useful the interchanges are, but I agree that this is likely MacWorld’s last hurrah…

  • Tyler

    Exactly. I doubt that any trade show is doing better this year than last, given the current economic environment.

  • And honestly, I think the Apple engineer, usually very far removed from customers, will miss this as well. It gave them the chance to talk and address problems the customer has/had, features they would like to see, etc. WWDC helps, sure, but that is not the end-user, but other third-party developers.

    Apple needs outlets that allow people within Apple (not just Apple store personnel) to interact with the end user, if for no other reason than inspiration and validation on their work.

  • I’ve been attending and exhibiting at MacWorld since they first held MacWorld. First as a Mac enthusiast; then as a Mac product developer (we built a hard drive for 512K Mac); then as an Apple’s-owned CLARIS software developer; then as an Apple engineer. Recently as an independent Mac software developer and Mac enthusiasts.

    For me, the interesting stuff at MacWorld was never the big booths. (They were always good for providing comfy chairs.) The interesting stuff at MacWorld has always been the little discoveries you find around the edges – the card table booths, the mom-and-pop startup doing something completely crazy or unique. I’ve seen many, many of those little edge discoveries go on to become pillars of the Mac and tech economy.

    This year I’m going to be exhibiting at MacWorld as an iPhone app developer. I’m quite excited. IDG has made it very attractive for iPhone developers to exhibit this year.

    Clearly no one needs MacWorld to see and touch Apple’s products. They have glossy stores all over the place that do a great job of that. And really do you need MacWorld to see what iPod peripherals Griffin is offering this year? No, just visit http://www.griffintechnology.com.

    What you need MacWorld for is to discover those cool edge apps and applications that you never imagined existed.

    Hopefully, this isn’t the end, and that MacWorld can figure out how to continue to be an important venue for discovery like it always has been.

  • Long live Steve’s keynote presentations.

  • Agreed!

  • I have to agree, reluctantly. Another bad sign is that the real show (i.e., the Expo) doesn’t start until Thursday, not the advertised start date of Tuesday.

    • Macworld Expo has, for many years, featured days of pro conferences prior to the opening of the exhibit hall, or as you put it, "the real show."

      Previous years the exhibit hall has opened on Tuesday and closed early on Friday. This year, it opens on Thursday and stays open for a full day on Saturday – a change some exhibitors had requested, presumably to draw visitors who can't take off time from work during the week.

      This is an opportunity to draw new attendees to the event, not a "bad sign."

  • Hi, this is a great site with amazing info, keep up the good work!