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Contemplating the uncertain future of Macworld Expo

Jim Dalrymple has been around the Mac community for years, so when he talks, people listen. That's why yesterday's post at Dalrymple's blog, LoopInsight, was so fascinating and got me thinking about whether or not Dalrymple was right in his assertion that things don't look good for the future of Macworld Expo.

The post was titled "Macworld Expo 2010: Success story or a disaster waiting to happen," and it outlined the reasons why this year's Expo in San Francisco could very well be the last. Dalrymple begins tolling the death knell with a list of the big names that won't be attending the show this year -- Apple (of course), Adobe, Epson, and Griffin to name a few. He then brings up the fact that with a month to go until the doors open on the Expo, there are only 157 listed exhibitors. Many of those exhibitors are familiar to Apple fans, but then again, there are a lot of small and unknown iPhone developers on the list as well.

Dalrymple's point that even the press is turning away from the Expo is more daunting. Without a Steve Jobs keynote to attract the world media, the show seems to be entering its death throes. Less media attention means less attention to exhibitor products, which means fewer exhibitors are going to find it worthwhile to pay the price to display their wares.
I'm an optimist by nature. I'd love to be attending Macworld Expo for years to come. I've been attending Macworld Expo on and off between the late 1980s, when the show was vibrant and thriving, and last year's wild ride. But the signs seem pretty clear to me that my trip to San Francisco in February to the Expo may be my last. As much as it pained me to agree with Dalrymple's rather negative appraisal of the future of Macworld Expo, I had to agree that his comments had a lot of merit.

There are some compelling reasons why this could very well be the last year for Macworld Expo -- at least Macworld Expo as we know it. To begin with, the very name of the Expo shows just how out of touch with the realities of Apple the organizers must be. Anyone who has attended Macworld Expo in the last two years knows that the iPhone, not the Mac, has been the real star of the show. Apple is more than a one-trick pony now, and with a new class of device just around the corner, perhaps a new name and new expo acknowledging the company as a worldwide force in the consumer electronics business would breathe new life into the confab.

Second, a lot of attendees I talked to felt that the "town meeting" at Macworld Expo 2009 at which the future of the event was discussed was a total farce. Sure, it appears that IDG World Expo took some of the attendee suggestions to heart, such as moving the event to February so it wouldn't compete directly with CES. But other interesting ideas, such as taking the show on the road to a different city each year, did not seem to register with the organizers. San Francisco is a horrendously expensive city in which to stay during a trade show, and the huge taxes that are levied on hotel rooms, rental cars, and other staples of the tourist trade add insult to injury. Add to that the horror stories I've been told over the years by exhibitors who have had to pay huge "installation fees" to the union-controlled crews in Moscone Center, and it's no wonder that exhibitors are dropping the show. Moving the show to a different city each year would offer a logistical challenge, but it would give more people a chance to attend the show and hopefully make attending less of a financial burden for both exhibitors and attendees.

Finally, the tired story that "it's all about the networking" should be laid to rest. After Dalrymple's post yesterday, I saw a flurry of tweets stating that the show would never die, since it's the only place that Mac geeks can gather and bask in the warm glow of Apple-tinged fellowship. Well, it's not.

There are still a number of very active Apple-related user groups throughout the country, so you don't need to travel to San Francisco once a year to get the Apple love. Take a look at Chuck Joiner's MUGCenter.com website, and you'll see that there is constant activity all over the country. Even more than the physical meetings, there's now a huge electronic community of Apple fandom. Want to get the latest scoop on all of the new products? Check out blogs like TUAW, follow 'em on Twitter and Facebook, or even join the active chat forums on a number of sites. All of these electronic venues are much more up-to-date than an annual conference and expo. For that matter, even a weekly trip to a local Apple Store will give you tremendous insight into the new products, trends, and rumors that surround the world of Apple.

Some people go to Macworld Expo for the conference tracks, and in many cases those tracks are informative and taught by knowledgeable instructors. But there are other, less expensive training options available. There are local training venues in most major cities, and for those in the hinterlands, online training companies such as Lynda.com can provide the gentle hand of a tutor in a much more comfortable venue.

There are glimmers of hope in recent statements from IDG World Expo. For example, there are as many attendees pre-registered so far this year -- about 30,000 -- as were in attendance in total in 2009. IDG World Expo expects more than 300 companies to exhibit, which unfortunately sounds more like wishful thinking than hard numbers. Some of the featured presenters, such as David Pogue, Leo Laporte, John Gruber and Kevin Smith should ease the blow from the absence of Chairman Steve and the rest of the Apple team. But many of these presenters (Laporte and Gruber, for example) already have hundreds of thousands of faithful online followers who might find it too expensive to travel to San Francisco and get an overpriced hotel room just to see these folks in the flesh.

I've stated my views. I would love to eat my words and be attending the Expo again in 2011. Now I leave it up to TUAW's readers to take up the discussion about the future of Macworld Expo. Take our short poll, and / or leave a comment below.

Will 2010's Macworld Expo be the last?
Yes, it's time to move on258 (32.3%)
No, it IS all about the networking with other Apple geeks178 (22.3%)
The 2009 show was the last real Macworld Expo363 (45.4%)

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