December 17, 2008

Trade shows are dying — only not fast enough

You know, there was a time -- long, long ago -- when I actually relished the thought of going to Vegas. Come to think of it, there was a time when I relished trade shows, too -- back when I was 12 (my dad took me to an Apple show in San Francisco, circa 1982; I loved it, although I nearly passed out from being on my feet all day).

But after five trips to Las Vegas in three years -- all for trade shows (three times for CES, twice for CTIA Wireless), I gotta tell you ... I'm done, both with Sin City and big trade shows in general. Now when I'm in Vegas, I don't gamble at all and I rarely drink; instead, I'm running around all day, hauling a laptop on my back and talking up PR reps, or chatting (uncomfortably) with my (often posturing) competitors.

The good news -- well, for me, anyway -- is that trade shows are slowly dying, and from a reader standpoint, it's no big loss. DigitalLife up and died this year, Apple just pulled out of Macworld, and CES -- while still huge -- is the smallest it's been in three years.

So, what's the deal? Well, CE makers big and small are discovering that it's just as effective (and much cheaper) to hold their own, smaller events as it is to haul their asses -- and mine -- out to Vegas every January. Tech enthusiasts probably won't even notice the change; after all, they're getting a daily parade of gadget news over the Web, courtesy of a zillion blogs (including this one).

But even though CES is the smallest it's been since 2006, it's still the Super Bowl of tech coverage. I've been inundated with calls and e-mails from PR flaks this month (some more insistent than others), with the volume steadily increasing as the days go on. Everyone wants an appointment, but you've got to be judicious -- after all, you won't have time to write (or explore) if you book yourself solid, and getting from one hall to another (especially if you're trekking from the main LVCC to the Sands) can take a good hour. My favorite is when a company books a meeting in a "nearby" hotel; believe me, when you're dealing with the sprawling, cavernous, and confounding hotel lobbies on The Strip, there's no such thing as "next door."

Anyway ... I'll stop my whining. CES is a veritable playground for true tech geeks, and I'm lucky to be covering it. I am. Really. Lucky.

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