Are trade shows dead? My answer might surprise you

Harry McCracken, who used to be the lead editor over at PC World, notes that CES is getting smaller. 22% smaller this year.

I will predict it will be even smaller next year. Why? Because I know many of the marketers at the world’s largest tech companies and they say they are going to downsize their booths next year.

But, I’m also hearing enough people say that they are getting good value out of their investments here so they will increase in size or stay the same.

So, I was wrong to say that CES is going to die. It’s pretty clear that won’t happen.

On the other hand? MacWorld is in the midst of a death spiral. No one I know expects that show to be around in two years. They should have rebranded it iPhone World. That might have saved it. Now? I don’t know if it is savable. IDG is welcome to call me and tell me why it’ll be a strong show, but with Apple and other key vendors pulling out that sure looks dead.

Walking around Broadcom’s booth at CES also taught me a lesson. That the CES show is going back to its roots: interactions between tech companies and the buyers. That’s something that can only efficiently happen in a tradeshow: getting all those people to visit your company’s headquarters just won’t happen.

So, tradeshows won’t disappear. But they will definitely be smaller for a while. By the way the taxi drivers I talked to in Vegas said every trade show this year had smaller audiences than the previous years. Vegas is getting slammed by the downturn (the airport on Sunday was empty, I haven’t seen that in Vegas since the 1980s).

Enjoy this video from Broadcom’s booth
, they show me the chip that will be in the next cell phones coming next year.

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Are bloggers & social networks killing the big shows?

I’ve noticed a trend lately (actually I noticed it back when I worked at Microsoft and my bosses kept refusing to buy booths at conferences, saying they didn’t return the ROI, but that trend has grown and grown big time). Big companies are throwing their own parties to get news out inside of going to big trade shows. Last night I was at Facebook’s party, where they told everyone they had just passed 140 million users. That deserves a blog post of its own, but we’re here to discuss the trade show crunch.

Earlier in the year we attended a day-long event where Electronic Arts introduced a bunch of bloggers to Dead Space, here’s our video with the producer of that.

I’ve watched as Apple invites a few hundred bloggers and journalists into a conference room at its headquarters in Cupertino and gets the news out to the world without having to go to an expensive venue.

What changed?

Blogging and online video.

Big companies are looking at the millions of dollars they spend for booths (not to mention bringing employees to) and are realizing that it’s just not getting the return on investment that they should get.

My sponsor, Seagate, told me they are reducing their spend this year at CES. AMD and Delphi are doing the same thing and I’m hearing about many other companies who will either stop going, or reduce the size of their booths, either this year, if they could, or in 2010 (contracts make it tough to shrink booths as fast as companies might want).

The news is all over the place about Apple’s decision to stop going to MacWorld. It’s being discussed on FriendFeed big time. This post’s thesis got 40+ comments in about an hour.

To me this makes total sense. Why? 44,000 people go to MacWorld. Hell, a lot more people watch Engadget report from that much cheaper conference room.

And Apple has the personal touch already thanks to their stores. They don’t need to meet with consumers anymore in expensive trade show booths that, simply, aren’t a very good experience anyway.

So, what should we expect over the next year? A lot of bad news for big trade shows.

What’s killing them? The Internet. You can launch a product live now from a living room. Thanks to Stickam, Ustream, Qik, Kyte, YouTube, Flixwagon, Viddler, Vimeo, SmugMug, etc and blogs.

Just give the people on Facebook something to pass along and talk about and your product is out there, big time.

I wonder, will 2009’s CES be the last one I attend? I remember when I thought that about Comdex, which everyone thought was too big to die.

I think it’ll be a miracle to see CES make it to 2011. Why? Blame it on the bloggers.

That all said, I’m participating in a bunch of events at CES and I’m tracking them all (and ones at Macworld) on my calendar. Hope to see you there. It might be our last time!