Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Best is Yet to Come?

I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco, but Tony Bennett famously did. And he sang about it once again on Tuesday at the end of Phil Schiller’s keynote. I didn’t get a chance to hear the keynote, but it is now posted to Apple’s website in QuickTime format. Schiller’s introduction to Bennet starts around 1:27, and the entire part (including intro) lasts about seven minutes (including the cutaway to Apple director Al Gore).

Before singing his signature song, Bennett started with the song “The Best is Yet to Come,” a song made famous by Frank Sinatra — in fact, so associated with ol’ Blue Eyes that the phrase is printed on his tombstone.

However, the song was recorded earlier by Bennett in his 1962 album “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” that was later reissued.

“The Best is Yet to Come” is the implausible theme that IDG has been using this week (in various banners around the show) to promote its planned 2010 Macworld Expo. Implausible because Apple says it won’t be back next year, so that it can save $20+ million per show and instead leverage the “100 Macworlds each and every week going on at our Apple stores around the world."

On Wednesday night, IDG held an open “town hall” event for all attendees to talk about next year’s show. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend, but I had a previously schedule class to begin preparing my students for a business competition that begins in a few weeks. Jim Dalrymple of Macworld (the magazine) has the only report I’ve seen thus far on this Macworld (the trade show) brainstorming session.

Some elements in the report made sense. The IDG rep notes that the vast majority of the items on the show floor are not available at the Apple Store, which is certainly my experience. (How many of these are important? Likely to succeed? Those are different questions).

However, IDG’s core challenge is that it must quickly head off a collapse of confidence in its two-sided market. It needs exhibitors to attract attendees and attendees to attract exhibitors — and perceptions are self-fulfilling — so if either side gives up on the Expo, then it’s dead.

Along these lines, IDG is giving away free show floor (but not conference) admission to consumers to build up the promised numbers to sell to exhibitors. According Dalrymple, it also claims “60 companies” are committed to exhibit in 2010, but I count 473 exhibitors for 2009.

Of those 60 are only two major exhibitors — Microsoft (a 40'x40' this year) and HP (the 30'x40' at the best spot in the hall). It doesn’t have Adobe (one of several that abandoned the 2008 show) or Apple (120'x160'), and so far we have no indications as to how many it has kept of the bread-and-butter 20'x20' booths (Brother, Quark, Peachpit Press) that bring in $21.5k each.

On Tuesday, I talked with Robert Cowling, head of Microspot Ltd., a 20+ year Macworld Expo exhibitor who was my archenemy back in the days of the MacPlot vs. PLOTTERgeist war. He was not optimistic. As I scribbled on my notes:

I don’t think it will last. It’s a shame, because it’s a good place for people to get together.
Cowling recalls when the hall was dominated by software, filled with “people looking for a tool for their computer.” Now of course it’s about iPods and iPhones and the occasional Macintosh.

Cowling’s advice to IDG: if you want exhibitors to sign up today [i.e., when the picture is not clear], give them an escape clause if things don’t work out. So far, the evidence suggests IDG remains confident if not smug about its chances for 2010: the current contract asks for 2/3 of the money by May 4 (without refund). In normal years, IDG wants to assume no risks and wants exhibitors to assume all risks, but this is clearly not a normal year — for the economy or for Macworld Expo.

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