∞ 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.