Macworld Expo Limiting the Press

It is almost time for that annual gathering of the Apple and Macintosh faithful in San Francisco, what we all have come to know as the Macworld Conference and Expo held during the second week of January at the Moscone Center. This is THE event of the year, more so in 2006 after Macworld Expo Conference organizers IDG World Expo has pulled the plug on the summer Mac Expo in Boston.

While everyone is finalizing their plans on attending the show, IDG has up and changed a policy that could potentially have an adverse effect on how the show is covered this year. So unless you plan on attending the event in person, you may be curious on what this new policy will mean to you, the Mac users of the world, as well as the Mac (and iPod) vendors who plan on showing off their wares at the show.

In the beginning of November, I was contacted by IDG’s Mike Sponseller, the Public Relations Manager for IDG World Expo. He was asking if we ( would be interesting in doing a live podcast from the Macworld Expo. Chad Perry and myself have been working towords that end, but have been unable to acquire the sponsorship dollars needed. (A lot of interested parties, none with a check in hand.)

I told Mike Sponseller as much, that we are working on attending but have not firmed up plans one way or the other as of yet. On Monday, Mike emailed me, writing, ‘I’ve had a few folks from sign up for press passes. Due to high demand, media badges are limited in number and will be offered at the rate of one per organization or outlet.’

I had been made aware of this new policy a week before, when Roger Born emailed the staff about it. He was worried he would not get a press pass and would be unable to attend. This did not sound right to me. Why would IDG limit press passes to one per organization? What would the rational be for such a decision? So I set out to find out.

Turns out, this is a direct result of the resurgence of the popularity of both the Macintosh and iPod brands, as well as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) moving up a week. (They usually have that expo at the same time as the Macworld Expo is held.) More news organizations want to cover the event this year than ever before. But therein lies the problem. What do you do if you are IDG when you really only have a finite number of ‘media seats’ at an event? There are only so many chairs for reporters and journalists to sit down to do their writing, edit their pictures, or record their video or podcast. There are only so many seats for reporters in the keynote address area, as well as the overflow theater. (Where found its writers last year.)

So this year, the decision on IDG’s part was to limit press passes to one per organization. And not just the ‘Mac Press’ but even to the mainstream press. It sounds like a good solution, no?

From the standpoint of IDG, Mac and iPod buyers, and the vendors who display and market their new products at Macworld Expo, I believe the answer is no, this is not a good solution any way you look at it.

Some of the problems are self-inflicted on IDG’s part. As IDG PR Manager Mike Sponseller admitted, last year they gave out many press passes to those who, really, are not deserving of the name or title. Just because Joe Macuser has a website where he posts tidbits about Apple, that does not make him a qualified journalist or news organization. Much more stringent controls need to be in place at IDG to limit who is legitimate news sources. This should be done without too heavy a hand, however, but it needs to be done nonetheless. And in most cases, a quick perusal of said sites will reveal whether or not they should or should not quality for a press pass. (On a personal note, yes, I do believe qualifies, as we have for years. We bring our readers news from the showroom floor, interviews with vendors, some of the very best picture galleries of the new products, and informed and expert commentary of the products we feel most Mac users would like and need to know about. But besides all that, both IDG and Apple agree.)

People who cover the event under a ‘Press Pass’, it should be noted, are allowed to do so as a courtesy on IDG’s part. They (IDG) are under no obligation to grant free passes to anyone, press or news organizations or whomever, at any private event they run. But realistically, it only makes good business sense to do so.

So why do I feel limiting press passes to one per organization is a bad move? Glad you asked.

First, from the self-interest department. If we,, are limited to only one person (with a press pass) covering the event, that person will not be in a position to bring you, the reader, as much information as we normally would do. This will limit the number of articles or news stories we publish during the Macworld Expo week, and that can have an adverse effect on our bottom line as a publication. The less people who visit our site, the less money we can make in advertising revenue.

If we only have one person covering the event, that person’s time is very limited in what he/she can do. Does that person spend a day doing nothing but taking pictures? (VERY popular if our statistics are any indication.) Do they spend their time hands-on with the new gear you, the readers, are most interested in? Do they spend their time chatting with the PR people of the Apple, Microsoft, or Adobe booth getting the rundown on the latest and greatest coming out over the next year? Do they spend a day going over the smaller vendor booths, finding the hidden gems you may not have otherwise learned about? One person can only do so much.

From IDG’s standpoint, does limiting the number of people with press passes (less people on the showroom floor) hurt them in the short or long term? The less written about the event, the less people online will read about the event and get excited about it, thus less people attending the show in the future. It is the press people who write the about what it is like to attend the event, which in turn gets people excited and yearning to attend.

But wait! IDG has TOO many requests, which is a good thing, right? Again, yes and no. It is great that more news organizations want to cover the event, but bad in that if these organizations only have one person doing so. That lone person is less likely to cover the event as well as a team of two, three, or four people could. (Just ask John Nemo, Owen Rubin, David Weeks, etc. if you don’t believe me.)

What about the vendors? You know, the companies who pay IDG to set up a booth and showcase their latest offerings. The main reason these companies come to these events, and the Macworld Expo in particular, is to get the word out about their new products. While they do indeed love the fact that everyday Mac users (the public) get to attend the show (unlike E3) and look at all the nifty new stuff, it is really a combination of networking with other people and getting the press to come see your new product and write about it.

For every one person who attends the Macworld Expo and visits a booth, many, and many more will read and learn about a new product from an article online, in a newspaper, or in a magazine. So while the day-to-day paying attendees are welcome at vendor booths, it is really the press who the vendors need to talk to. Simply a matter of return on investment.

If you were a vendor, and had spent (as an example) $50,000 on a booth at the event, how would you feel knowing that there will be potentially much less in-depth press coverage of the event? How much return on investment do you get, and at which point then does it become a zero sum gain?

What about the small vendor, stuck way back of the Moscone center, who does not see as many people, does not get the huge crowds, and sees very little press coverage. How much less coverage will these vendors receive this year when there is only one person from a site like ours covering the event rather than a team of writers looking for these small vendors? Will they return next year when they find out there will be less written about their products?

Finally, how will this new policy affect you, the Mac user who cannot attend the event, but instead counts on the Internet to keep you up-to-date on the goings on? One writer, as I wrote above, can only cover so much of an event of this size. If said writer has to choose between covering the latest Microsoft product demonstration, or visit a backpack laptop case vendor, guess which one gets covered? But what if you don’t need the latest and greatest from Microsoft, but really do need a new laptop bag? That is one less article not written that could have been immensely helpful to you.

What about the smaller software vendor who has a fantastic new product, but because the press has been as hamstrung as it is by this new policy, there is a good chance that their product will be covered, thus less chance for you to learn about this product. Not only does the vendor loose, but so do you as a customer and Mac user who could have greatly benefited.

I understand the challenges IDG faces putting these shows together. It is a massive effort, and they do it so well most people don’t even notice how much work went into the planning of the event. (The mark of a true pro.) There are thousands of man-hours IDG spends getting the show ready for that first person in the door. Not only do they have to coordinate with every single vendor, they also have to worry about a thousand small details no mere mortal could comprehend. It is not a job I would particularly want, I can tell you that.

For everyone involved, from IDG to Apple to the vendors to those covering the event like, a successful Macworld Expo is in everybody’s best interest. I want the Macworld Expo to be a smashing success, an event Mac and iPod owners dream about attending. I want IDG to make as much money on the event as they can, so that they will continue to host and plan the event for years to come. I want all the vendors to have a good and productive show so that they will return every year, and continue to create the great products we Mac users need for our computers. I want our own coverage to be great; as it has been in years past, so that more readers (and our podcast listeners) will come back and read about our observations about the event. Helping inform Mac users on the great, and not so great, Macintosh products is the reason I personally created this site over ten years ago.

So it is very frustrating to me when a policy is put into place that has, in my opinion, no positive benefit for anyone involved. I can only hope that someone at IDG will rethink this shortsighted policy, and correct it quickly.

I should note that IDG is aware of my concerns, and we will have more than one person covering the event, albeit without press pass.

I was told that as of Wednesday, November 16th, this policy has been rescinded. IDG contacted me with the following: “We’ve done away with the limiting of press passes. If you’re legitimate media — you get a press pass. If you’re not media or just a blogger or a fan site, then you won’t get a press pass.”

I applaud IDG for correcting this policy, and look forward to a successful, informative, and fun Macworld Expo this year.

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