Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Future of Trade Shows

It's that time of year: Preliminary budget meetings for the upcoming year. These discussions result in some expenses having marginal value. In '07, as in '06, trade shows are prominently on the list of expenses with marginal value. The question that follows each marginally valuable expense is can the money be spent someplace else more productively?

Webinars, webconferences, the expense and hassles of air travel, the changing nature of the technology industry, and other factors have resulted in fewer trade shows of real value from an attendee and vendor pov.

Black Duck and many other software companies at various stages struggle with the gargantuan efforts and huge expenditures related to each show. Take LinuxWorld, for example. At one time it was THE open source industry's event to exhibit and attend. It was small, non-commercial, technical and included real decision makers. Today's LinuxWorld is not only held in SF but in many places worldwide. It has been diluted. The value has virtually disappeared. Why do it? Red Hat did not even show up at August's LW in SF. Did this decision hurt their market position? I don't think so. How do you spend ~$20k (for a 10x20 booth) more intelligently? There are lots of ways.

I think these marginal shows will continue to be around as long as there's old school organizations like IDG who continue to offer them. Maybe people will show up, but certainly not decision-makers.

It would be better if the open source industry pooled their contacts and prospects via a bonded mail order house, analyze the data and determine a location or multiple locations for an event that allows vendors to impact technical information, sell products and interact with decision makers and real influencers as opposed to tire kickers, high school students and homeless people. Instead of paying a lot of money to an old dinosaur like IDG, the open source industry could derive economies and value from a community organized event.

I am not bullish on the future of trade shows. With dwindling customer and vendors budgets, and alternative sources of information, trade shows are stone pony.

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