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It’s a Small Show, After All

The first Macworld Expo to be held in New York City was marked by smallish crowds, few exhibitors, and little in the way of exciting new products. Most notable were the paucity of attendees and exhibitors; after the crush of the crowds in both San Francisco and Boston in recent years, plus the need for multiple exhibition halls in Boston, this year’s Macworld NYC seemed adrift in the enormous Jacob Javits Convention Center.

The show started on a promising note – Steve Jobs’s keynote was packed, and the press line stretched far back into the recesses of the Javits Center. But then, after I participated in a panel and finally made it upstairs to the show floor, I couldn’t help but ask, "This is it?"

The raw size of the show was well down from previous years, and although the number of vendors may not have been much smaller than at earlier shows, more exhibitors had small booths or tiny kiosks rather than the extravagant pavilions of yesteryear. The show size will undoubtedly be greeted with glee by Apple bashers, but I’m convinced that Apple’s current fortunes are unrelated to the show size. Based on numerous discussions with exhibitors and attendees, here’s what I think happened:

  • New York City can be extraordinarily expensive. Neil Ticktin of MacTech Magazine, which organizes the Developer Central area of the show, estimated that everything was at least thirty percent more expensive in New York. Companies were so flabbergasted by setup prices that they stopped keeping financial details private. One company was charged $6,800 to move two pallets from the convention center’s loading dock to their booth. Those prices scared off many companies, and some large companies attended only thanks to pressure from Apple. One or two small companies even received free booth space because there was no way they could have exhibited otherwise.

  • Some vendors may have decided not to exhibit because of this year’s advertised push toward the publishing market – the subtitle of the show was "The Creative World." Companies associated with markets such as the Internet, programming, and so on may have felt left out of the show’s avowed focus. In retrospect, centering the show on publishing may have been a mistake, since the publishing world is well represented by the Seybold Seminars, and to judge from the new eMediaweekly’s (formerly MacWEEK) claims, the publishing world is heavily cross-platform these days.

  • The three-day length of the show may have distressed vendors that sell a great deal of software because there was one less day to sell than at the more common four-day shows. It might make sense in the future to run the show a fourth day once again, preferably a Saturday, so individuals could attend even if they hadn’t been able to take time away from work. This idea fits well with Apple’s new focus on the consumer market.

  • Moving the show up a month to July from August caused definite consternation. Many companies try to ship products in conjunction with Macworld Expo, and many products that were shown won’t ship for a month or so. It’s hard to sell pre-release software, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the date change played havoc with shipping schedules, reduced revenues from show sales, and caused some companies to skip the show. Plus, attendees were faced with more competition from other events: MacHack was in late June, and Macworld was sandwiched between PC Expo and Internet World, two other large New York expositions. Even people who live in New York City might choose only one of the three events.

  • The planning for a trade show takes place many months before the show itself. Even if Apple’s recent revival indicates a turnaround in the Macintosh industry, the decisions to exhibit at Macworld Expo were made some time ago, when the picture didn’t include Mac OS X or the extremely well-received iMac.

  • New York City was an unfamiliar place for most potential Macworld exhibitors and attendees. Dealing with a new city is difficult and stressful, and that fact was reflected by the small number of parties after the show floor closed. Many companies probably decided that organizing a party in an unfamiliar city, particularly one as expensive as New York, wasn’t worth the effort.

  • Finally, although most of the above reasons apply primarily to exhibitors, the expense and unfamiliarity of the location may have also cut down on the number of attendees, plus the word of mouth about the small size of the show reportedly caused some New York City residents to stay away.

The organizers of this year’s Macworld Expo are applying an old saying to New York City: it’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Next year, Macworld Expo will return to Boston’s World Trade Center (and the new Seaport Hotel complex) from August 4th through 6th. Although IDG Expo Management failed to provide any real rationale for moving Macworld back to Boston, complaints from exhibitors and attendees must have played a significant role. Interestingly, the east coast Seybold Seminars exposition is also moving back to Boston after two years in New York City, reportedly "in direct response to popular demand among both the vendor/exhibitor community and attendees." Along with other issues, it sounds like the city of Boston took steps to lure these shows back.

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