What is the future of the trade show?

Seems like everyone is withdrawing from trade shows. Apple has removed itself from all trade show exhibits, with 2009 being its final MacWorld. That was the last trade show that Apple had not formally withdrawn from. Apple has better ways to meet the needs of its bigger market – Apple stores! Along the way, the Mac, while still important to Apple, is not Apple. Once upon a time you could pretty much use them interchangeably, but no longer.

Avid, and then Apple’s withdrawal from NAB 2008 seemed shocking at the time, but it makes sense. They have better ways to reach their customers: More cost-effective smaller – but focused on the Apple product – Pro Apps events and better online communication.

Today it became public that RED Digital Cinema would not be attending NAB this year. The stated reasons echo what Avid and Apple said last year: there’d be too many mock ups on the NAB booth because key components won’t arrive until a month later. NAB (like MacWorld) puts deadlines on developers calenders that don’t really suit them. RED will be holding “RED Day” somewhere, some time in the future instead. Their brand is strong enough, so they can do that.

Isn’t it crazy that in April Apple announces a version of Final Cut that doesn’t ship until September of that year? It was barely in beta testing and really not ready to be seen. Not exhibiting at NAB leaves Apple flexible as to whether they announce an upcoming version of Final Cut Studio at a special event coinciding with NAB; or they hold it back until after Snow Leopard ships because it will use features only available in Snow Leopard and not yet announced. Hypothetically. (Please, that is NOT a rumor, it’s a hypothetical case. I know nothing!)

Why were trade exhibitions valuable? There’s the opportunity for direct comparison, theoretically. But the camera folk are all over the place and you’ll probably get a better “shoot out” at a local dealer or through a user group. And you don’t have to shout at anyone to do it.

A Trade Show was a way for companies to get attention, because media focused on shows. But that kind of changed with the Internet. In 1998 my then editor at Digital Media World magazine in Australia wanted a decent article on the latest news. By the next year, he wanted a “color piece” because all the news was on the Internet and he didn’t need no expensive journalist writing that up. (It could have been written in India as one local Glendale, CA website does for its local news.)

They are also a way of stumbling over unknown little companies or technologies that you might not already know about, but with news sites like Digg, Blogs like newteevee.com, freshhdv.com (and another 293 I use to keep in touch) all feeding the latest stream of information, it’s unlikely I’ll miss something.

So why am I going to NAB 2009? To socialize and to see what I would have missed otherwise.

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