May the big newspaper trade show rest in peace

Brandon Mount, Sean Keaveny, Terry Heaton at MediaXchange in OrlandoI’ve just come from a second long day on the floor of the Newspaper Association of America’s “MediaXchange” show in Orlando. Saxotech and AR&D were presenting our local ad network concept to attendees, but our audience ended up being very small. I spoke with many other vendors on the floor, and we all agreed that we would have had zero foot traffic had the conference not served breakfast and lunch in the same room. It was beyond sad. The word “pathetic” comes to mind. Dozens of companies paid thousands and thousands of dollars to take their chances with an audience that wasn’t really there at all.

The model of a vendor-financed show for the newspaper industry is dead, and I can’t imagine there will be another one. On the first day, I heard a lot of “we have to be here, because the decision-makers are here,” but by day three, it was “we just can’t afford to do this again.” We shall see. I’m sure overall conference attendance was way down, but the foot traffic on the vendor floor — with the exception of meal times — was non-existent.

I was reminded again of my old metaphor of the last Whale Oil conference a few generations ago. The new thing was electricity, and the showroom was filled with the latest technology powered by electricity, everything from new electro-powered harpoonery to an electric blade that sliced through blubber like butter to shipboard comforts that only electricity can bring. Inside the conference meeting rooms were session after session (with industry experts) on how to use electricity to better enable the harvesting of all that free whale oil.

The industry had forgotten that they were never in the whale oil business in the first place; they were in the home lighting business, so they could only see the disruption as far as their industry could use it.

I’m going to be pleased to say that I was at this conference, the last of its kind. Old guys like me like to recall such times, and I honestly doubt there will be another one like it. The topic of conversation around the lunch tables on day three among the vendors was how to do sales without spending thousands to come here and stare at the other vendors for three days. That is a sad reflection on the industry as a whole.

And broadcasters — especially the RTDNA who is actually thinking of moving the news portion of the show to a different forum than the NAB — should take heed that the model of bringing together members of a maturing business and paying for it with vendor money is problematic at best. Rethink your view on this before its too late, or you’ll find yourselves in an identical boat one day.

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