∞ Chuck Joiner: The value of Macworld 2010

Yesterday, I joined in the debate on Twitter over Jim Dalrymple’s article, Macworld Expo 2010: Success story or a disaster waiting to happen, discussing the value of Macworld 2010 and why I didn’t agree some of Jim’s more dire conclusions. Last night, Jim joined me for an episode of MacNotables to discuss the topic. Jim also offered me the opportunity to post a rebuttal piece on The Loop, and I accepted because a number of Jim’s points need to be challenged or at the very least, counterbalanced.

Under the heading of full disclosure, however, you need to know that I have a media trade agreement with Macworld 2010, am working with them to produce “The Road to Macworld 2010” series on MacVoices, am scheduled to speak on the Music Theater stage at the show, and also discussed the need for the community to take an activist approach toward helping make Macworld 2010 a success on Mac Roundtable Episode #75. I don’t aspire to journalistic objectivity, and don’t pretend to be unbiased on this subject, which may or may not qualify me to challenge some of Jim’s comments. You decide.

With all that said, let’s take a point-by-point look at Jim’s article.

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

A very black and white, attention-getting, and two-extremes title. The reality is that success will be in the eye of those who go, and a “disaster” is highly unlikely, but the headline did its job and got everyone’s attention.

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.

All true, although Adobe all but bowed out of the show last year, and Quark’s presence at Macworld has been inconsistent over the past decade. Neither of these should be seen as bellwethers of any kind, or even enter into this discussion.

With the exception of Griffin, the other companies named are very large and appealed to a very specific market. Nothing wrong with that, but their booths weren’t make or break destinations for the majority of show-goers (not counting Apple, of course).

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.

True, but there are some key differences this time around. With the possible exception of Boston, all of these shows were smaller in scale to start with, and were costly to attend…more costly than San Francisco for many developers and vendors.

San Francisco is and always has been the flagship show, and a flagship is much harder to sink than a frigate.

With all the shows Jim cites, there was always another option to fall back on, an alternative place to exhibit: San Francisco. It also meant that the cost of attending more than one had to be balanced.

Now, there’s really only one choice.

If one really feels the need to see and touch Apple products at the show, a short walk to the Union Square Apple Store will give you all you can ask for…including whatever they’re planning for the January event.

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.

Comparing CES and Macworld is a bit like (sorry) comparing apples and oranges. CES is consumer-electronics, with the very broad focus that implies. Macworld is Mac and Apple-focused.

An entire Macworld dedicated to the Mac and other Apple products is a far cry from one pavilion that is iPod and iPhone-focused.

CES is an industry trade show, no matter how you spin it as being open to consumers. Much has been made of how anyone can attend, either by faking credentials or by the simply taking advantage of CES’ lack of diligence. In either case, this isn’t a show that markets to end-users. It isn’t geared to consumer attendees. It is industry and media focused, and that’s radically different from the Macworld experience.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Apple isn’t going to CES either.

If a Mac developer’s goal is to meet distributors or negotiate volume deals, CES may indeed be a viable alternative. If they are looking for an opportunity to meet with their customers and interact with the target market, the opportunity is in San Francisco a month later.

I’ve heard from media friends who are going to CES that they have received literally hundreds of request for meetings and invitations to press briefings, and even more press releases. The competition for attention is fierce. One wonders just how much coverage can be obtained in that environment, regardless of the amount of press involved.

Quality vs. quantity. Focused or broad-brush. Developers and vendors need to consider both.

Consumers really shouldn’t even need to ask the question.

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.

There’s also the issue of the economy. Some vendors are having to make a choice about what shows to attend. Some are choosing, on a strictly economic basis, not to go to either Macworld or CES.

Without intending to disparage anyone, take a look at the list of exhibitors registered for Macworld vs. the listing for the iLounge Pavillion at CES. While there are a number of good, established Mac vendors going to CES, there is also what appears to be a high percentage of iPod case and accessory vendors filling up the roster. Is this another case of quality vs. quantity? Compare the lists. You decide.

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.

Let me be perfectly clear here: I have absolutely no knowledge of IDG’s relationship with the Moscone Center or any contracts they are party to. I do know that events the size of Macworld are booked years in advance, with prices set, commitments made and stiff cancellation penalties established. Moscone wouldn’t change IDG less just because Apple decided not to attend, so it is unlikely that IDG has any significant flexibility in their pricing models because of Apple’s decision.

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

How can any journalist responsibly do that on an event that hasn’t happened yet? Aren’t journalists supposed to report and interpret events, not create their own version of reality before it happens? Take a step back, boys and girls.

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.

A Steve Jobs keynote was indeed one of the highlights of Macworlds past, but it was only one of the highlights. Other than doing a fly-by to see whatever new product had been announced, a high percentage of the long-time Expo attendees I talked to spent little time in the Apple Booth, preferring to take advantage of the once-a-year opportunity to talk to the other exhibitors. For them, and for me, Apple’s absence doesn’t change Macworld’s value proposition.

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.

Absolutely true. One could even argue that Apple’s position makes sense on many levels, since it removes the artificial deadline that a scheduled show presents…but that’s another discussion.

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.

Jim’s point is well-taken, even if I don’t completely agree with it. Apple is indeed now bigger than the Mac community. There’s a segment of iPod/iPhone community that has nothing to do with the Mac. Because I’m a Mac user, I still see it as an interrelated ecosystem, but that’s a biased view.

Either way, Apple made its choice. Time to move on.

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.

I’ll give Jim credit here for alluding to something we discussed in more detail on MacNotables: everyone goes to Macworld, or any trade show, for different reasons.

The media attend to obtain stories and cover the event. To get value, they need to get content for their web sites, publications, or whatever.

Vendors and developers attend to meet with, and hopefully sell to, consumers, obtain feedback about their products, interact with each other on a business level, and obtain media coverage.

Consumers go to see the products, learn more about what is available, and to get questions answered and problems solved.

As an independent media producer, I’m going to meet with and interview vendors and developers (hopefully delivering some of that media attention they crave while serving my audience), see friends, and network on both a personal and business level.

Everyone goes through a cost/benefit analysis (even if they don’t think of it that way) and decides to spend their money and time where they get the most value. Jim feels his value will come from NAMM (though I would be surprised if the Mac-related news there approached even a small fraction of that coming from Macworld). Mine will come from Macworld. We both agree that CES doesn’t deliver for us. We will find out later how right (or wrong) we were.

Two other points that need to be made:

First, Macworld 2010 isn’t just about exhibits. This entire discussion has failed to address the Macworld Conference track, arguably one of the best for Mac users of all skill levels and interests. It is entirely possible to go to Macworld, never see the show floor, and still get your money’s worth in training and access to expertise. Very few attendees take to to that extreme, and spend at least some time visiting the exhibitors’ booths. That puts it one up on CES from a consumer/attendee perspective.

Second, and perhaps most important, Macworld 2010 should be viewed as an evolutionary show. Without Apple’s involvement, there is more freedom for IDG to experiment with new activities, attractions and opportunities for adding value. They need to be given the opportunity to engage in that evolution without prejudgement or condemnation.

Don’t make your decision to attend, or exhibit at, Macworld 2010 based on either Jim’s comments or mine. Take a good, hard look at what is being offered and how it relates to what you do. If you see the value, sign up. If not, email the Macworld team and provide suggestions or constructive criticism.

I’m finding as much or more value in attending Macworld than ever before, and believe you will to.

See you in San Francisco.