They Said it Couldn’t Be Done: IDG Pulls Off an Apple-less Expo Hit

| Analysis

It is a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: Exhibitors and attendees believe that without Apple, there is no reason to attend Macworld Expo. Without exhibitors and attendees, Macworld Expo cannot succeed.

Macworld dies. Prophecy fulfilled.

Imagine a different reality for a minute, though. Apple doesn't attend, so exhibitors, no longer competing with the company, get more exposure than ever. Attendees, who have already seen Apple's latest offerings, get to focus on the other companies plying their wares. They get to attend conference sessions where instructors have already seen and perhaps have been able to examine those new offerings -- in addition to the subjects they've long been preparing to explore. The giant spotlight of attention that previously belonged almost exclusively to Apple can now shine brightly on the periphery of the Mac universe.

Macworld thrives. Prophecy of doom averted.

I wrote those words several weeks ago, and as Macworld Conference and Expo 2010 wraps up, it seems clear to me that the prophecy of doom has not only been averted, it has been kicked in the privates, dragged into a back alley and hit repeatedly about the head and shoulders with a lead pipe. Macworld 2010 not only thrived, it flourished -- and any doubts (including my own) about whether there will be a Macworld 2011 should be well laid to rest.

The question about what effect Apple's absence would have on the show hung like a pall over the Moscone Center. Until the show floor opened, that is. From that point on, I literally heard not one vendor or attendee even mention Apple -- at least until I asked about it. It was simply a non-issue, lost in the bustling crowds on the show floor; stomped on by rows of people four or five deep trying to get into exhibitor's booths.

It will be interesting to see how the show is reported on. Try this experiment: if you see "news" articles about the show being a "disappointment," try to determine whether the piece was written by someone actually at the show, or by someone "reporting" remotely. It's not going out too far on a limb to predict that many of the stories of Macworld Expo doom and gloom were written long before the show even started, by people who would never let the facts get in the way of validating their own predictions, shaped -- even inadvertently -- by their own prejudices. No, dear reader, give more credence to the articles written by people who saw the show first hand.

For the exhibitors who stuck their necks out and attended this year's show, the rewards appear to be big. They managed the greatest of marketing coups -- taking the mindshare right out from under the noses of their competitors. Without exception, every exhibitor I spoke with said they were happy with the traffic their booth was getting; many claimed it was on par with previous expos. None said they were not planning to come back again next year.

For the exhibitors who decided to wait this one out, the ball is their court. It is, bluntly, "put up or shut up time." Some wanted to see if IDG could pull off a successful show without Apple. They could and did. It's time now for them to get back on board, or lose ground to their competition and credibility and awareness with their customers. Some (I was not among them) claimed that these vendors had an obligation to attend this year's show in order to support Macworld Expo and the Mac community. Next year, though, those same vendors will need to be here in order to support themselves.

Earlier in the week, some of the IDG folks asked me how I thought the show felt. "It feels like Macworld," was the best way I could put it. There were enthusiastic people looking at cool Mac and Apple-related products. In retrospect, I'll go just a little further. It felt like Day Two and later of Macworld Expo, after the buzz from Apple's opening keynote faded. The initial attention to the Apple Keynote never really lasted much past the first day, and other than the absence of a new Apple product under glass to gawk at, the show floor felt largely the same.

In some ways, I genuinely preferred the fact that some vendors opted out of this year's show. Printer manufacturers always had large booths to show new versions of printers that no one really seemed to care all that much about. Large software companies have had less and less to show over the past several years other than incremental updates to their flagship products. The real excitement has come from the smaller shops -- the one-or-two-trick-pony outfits that find a cool approach to something or a solution the market has never imagined before and wowed us. These are the nimble companies where the fun and interesting things are really happening. The absence of the monster booths has made those smaller outfits easier to find. And while that's undoubtedly good for them, it's even better for us -- the attendees on the prowl for something we haven't already heard about on the web or stumbled upon in the App store.

And while Apple's absence no doubt provided the IDG World Expo staff with plenty of sleepless nights, it seems to have been a liberating experience as well. Freed from Apple's reins, IDG has done some very imaginative things with this year's show, from Conference Sessions that had nothing to do with using Macs, to mobile showcase pavilions that put into the spotlight applications that might not have otherwise gotten noticed among the 139,999 entries in the App Store, to feature presentations that may not have given us "one more thing," but left us with terrific insights and sides that ached from laughing. Now that the question of whether the show can survive is hopefully off the table, I'm eager to see what other enhancements to the show they can pull out of their collective sleeve.

Whatever Apple's motives were for pulling out of Macworld Expo, it may have left us with one thing that I'm sure was unintentional: a better Macworld Expo.

Comments

Barry T. Fulk

Chuck: your comments are spot on. Well done; thanks.

chuck goolsbee

One aspect of Macworld that the industry press consistently neglects are the conferences. I’ve been attending Macworld on and off for two decades. I’ve received far more information and inspiration for attending the conferences than I ever received at a keynote presentation or on the Expo show floor. This year’s conference tracks were excellent. I attended several Users Conference sessions on photography and have been inspired to change the way I use software tools based on what I learned. I presented in the MacIT and PowerTools tracks, and noted that attendance there remained steady from previous years, so Apple’s absence in other parts of the show had no negative impact on the conference tracks. (FWIW: Apple never contributed to the conferences once the attendees demanded that they be technically informative rather than marketing department slideshows. So Apple has been absent from the Conference halls for years prior to their overall Expo departure.)

Apple’s presence at Expo, once the product announcements wrapped up, was never very important to the rest of the show. Sure, it provided topic of conversation, but that is about all. Apple’s booth on the show floor really is replaceable by their retail stores, as it served only to show product. It never provided any useful information to an IT guy such as myself. I gave up going there for anything beyond a landmark to met people (“I’ll meet you at the NW corner of the Apple booth”) Beyond that minor bit of utility, I don’t miss Apple’s presence on the show floor at all.

I was at Macworld for the entire week. My first conference session started Tuesday morning at 10 am, and my last finished on Saturday afternoon at 4 pm. Of all that time I managed only about two hours of time on the show floor at Moscone North, and did not manage to see more than a handful of vendors. My entire week was spent at Moscone West, which is where Macworld 2010 really happened? yet you never hear about this aspect of Macworld from the press.

mithridain

To be clear, I only went to the Expo on Thursday.  I wanted to see certain vendors and was disappointed when they weren’t there.  For me, the show was a failure because of the lack of vendors at the show.  My friends finished walking the Expo floor in about three hours and only had to go to one Hall.  I hope there are more vendors next year.

I understand that the financial health of many companies may not have been good in 2009 so maybe that is why they weren’t at the show.

I’m glad to read that the conference portion was good.  I guess it’s still good for those attending the conferences and seminars.

Doug Nomura

I must concur with the comments of Chuck Goolsbee, and can’t really add much to what Chuck has expressed.  The conference portion was very content rich.  And if you had the opportunity to attend any of the sessions, you would have come away with something you didn’t know before.

But, I would like to express a few comments about the Expo floor.  Before Macworld Expo, I knew there would be fewer vendors, and I checked macworldexpo.com before the show and knew a lot of vendors normally exhibiting would not be exhibiting this year.  And it was with a bit of trepidation, I ventured to the show floor.  I half expected to see a floor dominated by iphone case companies but was very pleased to see the variety of vendors on the floor.  On the last day, I spoke with several vendors and they were all happy with the show.  They were happy with the traffic, the quality of the contacts made, and even the level of the sales.  One first time exhibitor was very nervous before the show, but when the show floor opened they were slammed with traffic AND sales, and by Saturday were very stoked about how the show went for them.  This is a vendor I may have missed had they exhibited at past Expos because they would been have been dwarfed by the big boys and limited to the outskirts of the Expo hall.

I speculate a lot of vendors were conservative with their funds this year and chose NOT to show at Macworld due to economics but they also wanted to see if a show without Apple would still attract people, and have that old Macworld feeling and excitement.  I think their questions have been answered.

llg4nlp

Macworld 2010 was Wonderful

First, all the big Presos were free.  If you missed David Pogue this year, you really really missed out.  It was hysterical.  I don’t know if anything will be up on the web, but being there in person was a total treat.  The room, btw, was filled the engery lots and lots of fun.

John Gruber’s preso was meaty, totally thoughtful, and interesting for those of us who watch Apple as a company.  It was not ‘entertainment’ in the sense that Leo Laporte and David Pogue’s sessions were.

Show floor, in my experience, was crowded some of the time all three days, but toward the end of the day the crowds were less, and it was easier to move around.  There were also some good Podcast Presos on the show floor, also free.  I listen to Mac Power Users, Mac Geek Gab and Mac Roundtable - I caught at least some of all of those.  It was fun to see some of the folks in person that I had only listened to before.

Oh, and the parties were fabulous.  More crowded than you’d expect, but lots of fun.  I danced and danced.

My husband and I spent about $400 for products on the floor - especially on one he would not have bought without being able to get his questions answered ‘in person’. 

I agree that the naysayers either weren’t there, or were looking for specific things that weren’t there, and then missed the good stuff.

jkwilliams

I agree with those above; Macworld 2010 greatly exceeded my expectations -

Unfortunately I had limited time available to attend this year, flying in Wednesday evening and out mid-day Friday, but the costs of travel, hotel, etc., were well worth it. I attended both the Pogue and Kawasaki sessions and squeezed visiting exhibits into the remaining time, discovering plenty of gems along the way.

While it’s financially understandable why companies such as Canon, Nikon, Epson, etc., would pass on this year without Apple’s guaranteed crowd draw, they should reconsider for 2011 given high level of quality floor traffic I saw. This prospective customer will be back next year, with more time and money to spend.

Mike Ridenhour

I visited the Expo this year and did not participate in the Conference activities in Moscone West. 

Considering the Expo floor only…  I am wondering if it makes any sense to hold this expo within a month or two of CES? 

I also attended CES this year… and the iLounge pavilion at CES was very much like the show floor at this year’s Macworld Expo. 

Does the industry need two expos that are so similar in nature—held in the same region of the country at roughly the same time of year?

jkwilliams

Hello Mike -

Like you, I also attended CES and agree that while iLounge was somewhat like Macworld 2010, there were also many worthwhile differences.

That said, the overriding difference is that CES is for the “trade” and Macworld is focused on the rest of us. At CES, the booth staff and information is geared for dealer/distributor relationships. At Macworld the event is for the consumer/user.

You’d also have to agree that CES is a monster in size, noise, navigation and expense. We go to CES because we have to, and to Macworld because we want to.

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