Whatever Happened to Trade Shows?
Is it my imagination, or did the Macworld Expo happen last week? Yeah ... just checked Google and it did. I missed the whole thing ... I didn't even hear a word about it.
As a person that is focused on the world of Apple Computers and Mac software, it seems strange to me that what was once the biggest trade show in our community is now a silent whisper that comes and goes without making a sound in the news portals. How did this happen?
I used to look forward to Macworld all year. It was a time when I knew I'd see old friends from the show circuit, party a bit, find new business, and generally have a good time.
In 2009 I did a spotlight lecture on the main stage of Macworld ... the very same stage as the infamous keynote presentation. I spoke for an hour on a topic I know intimately well ... "Bootstrapping Your Internet Startup - From $0 to $1M." I was surprised by the full 30 minutes of questions after my lecture. People were happy and eager and generally having a good time at the show.
Where has all that gone?
There's no doubt Apple is an innovator and a trend setter. They've pioneered wave after wave of novel technologies including things like the all-in-one iMac, portable digital music with the iPod, the smart phone revolution with the iPhone, now the iPad ... in so many ways Apple has always been first with new concepts. When Apple does something, other people follow.
Apple is an innovator others love to copy. When Apple failed to show up for the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show in January of 2008, the writing was on the wall ... trade shows were now to become irrelevant. Apple similarly pulled out of ALL trade shows that year including the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in April of 2008.
At the Macworld Expo in January of 2009 Steve Jobs declined to do the Keynote presentation for the first time in over 10 years, and more importantly, Apple announced they would not be returning to Macworld in the future. The final nail was driven into the coffin of the mega trade shows we came to know and love. Apple was now gone, and the rest of the world would follow.
Apple's reason for leaving the trade show circuit was simple on the surface: with over 200 Apple stores spread through every major city of the world, Apple could now directly reach their customers wherever their customers may be, so they no longer needed to maintain a trade show presence. But by talking with friends at Apple I came to realize there was a different reason as well ... money.
Apple's booth's are huge, and they fly hundreds of employees to that booth for each and every show. Many of these people are top system engineers and marketing staff that command high wages. When these people are staffing a trade show booth talking to customers? They are not creating the next wave of novel technologies that produce the company's revenue.
It costs tens of millions of dollars for Apple to do just one trade show. Multiply that by ten or twelve trade shows a year, and you've got a large budget dedicated to servicing customers they already see in the Apple store every day. So there is a huge opportunity cost for a company like Apple when it comes to trade shows. They need to sell a lot of computers to make back this money.
If you're a trade show, having a company like Apple leave is like having Kmart leave a strip mall in the midwest. Apple is an Anchor tenant in these shows. The shows depend upon the revenues generated by billing Apple with booth fees, and they also depend upon the attendees that Apple draws to fill their show floor so they can charge other exhibitors even higher booth fees. When Apple goes, this micro economy disappears.
This year Macworld was a shadow of it's former glory. I never even heard about it. So what about next year? Well, if I had to guess, next year it will be a ghost of it's former self ... quite literally nothing more than a fond memory in the minds of people like me.
Goodbye Macworld ... RIP.