A few weeks ago, before the ADHOC conference, I asked readers of the Mac DevCenter newsletter for their opinions about why so many Mac conferences are struggling — especially in light that Apple Computer seems stronger that it has been in years.
Since that time I’ve received lots of insightful email. I also just read Adam Engst’s piece, Adieu ADHOC. And I had an IM chat yesterday with Andy Ihnatko, who had given heart, soul, and to some degree, PowerBook, to this year’s ADHOC event. Andy confirmed what I had already experienced myself with the defunct Mac OS X Conference (TenCon) — those who attend the smaller shows are enthusiastic and savvy. Unfortunately, from my perspective, there’s not enough of them to pay the bills. Even Macworld Boston 05 had its share of challenges. The Expo floor had fewer vendors than this week’s O’Reilly Open Source Convention, which is known much more as an uber-geek fest than a trade show.
Where’s the disconnect? The Mac platform has always attracted a fevered audience. Where are they?
The most obvious kiss of death is when Apple decides not to participate in a highly visible way. Certainly that has hurt the Boston show (I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary — it’s true. No Jobs, no mobs.) The smaller conferences such as ADHOC and TenCon also feel this effect. When I was conference chair for TenCon, I had a difficult time getting the folks from Apple who I knew my audience would want to see. I don’t blame Apple for this. It’s just hard to get the big names.
Another factor seems to be conference budget. Many respondents say that they can only afford one or two conferences a year (or their employer will only pony up for a couple). If WWDC is one, then that leaves all the other events scrambling for your dollars. Now, that’s a tough market.
And it’s not just competition among Mac events. Many readers cited their other interests, and conferences that cater to them. For example, the same week Macworld was underway in Boston, another event, ComicCon was happening in beautiful San Diego.
Add all of this to a changing Mac audience — which is now everything from ObjC programmers to iPod-only fans — it’s hard to find the sweet spot for both the program and the trade show floor. Bottom line for me is this… wherever Apple shines its light, good things seem to happen. If you want to give your event the best possible odds of success, get Apple involved and highly visible. Otherwise, keep it real small with a low overhead. That way you can cater to a 100 or so enthusiasts without losing your shirt.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!