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Follow the Bouncing Expo

Last week, IDG Expo Management announced that the Macworld Expo scheduled for Boston in August of 1999 will instead return to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City from 21-Jul-99 through 23-Jul-99. The press release offered obligatory platitudes about why the show would return to New York, but the situation isn’t as simple as the press release implies. Let’s look at two sides of the issue from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t live in or near either city.

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Bully for Boston — I’d prefer to have Macworld Expo in Boston, because as cities go, I like Boston, especially when being a pedestrian. Boston is a comparatively small city, and you can walk most anywhere, as opposed to New York, where cabs are often required. Boston drivers may be crazy, but in the last few years pedestrians have been downgraded to second-tier targets (getting in front of the car ahead seems to be preferred over scaring the foot traffic).

In Boston, everyone seems to know that Macworld Expo is happening. Waiters in restaurants, hotel staff, and subway commuters all want to chat about the show. New Yorkers didn’t seem to notice – even at the Paramount, which was an official show hotel, the desk staff either didn’t know about the show or were playing it so cool they couldn’t let on that they knew.

Although no one would call Boston cheap, it beats New York. You can do New York on a budget, but New York is so much larger than Boston that it’s too much for many visitors to find inexpensive places to stay and eat, or to figure out the transit system.

Thanks to the high costs, especially in a bad year for the Mac industry, many Mac companies passed on Macworld New York last year, and that could happen again. Smaller companies may not be able to afford a booth, especially considering the expense of housing and feeding booth staff in New York.

No Place Like New York — On the flip side, there are reasons why New York is a better location for Macworld Expo. New York is a media hub. Even though the city disdains to notice Macworld Expo, it’s more likely that Apple, the Macintosh, and Macworld Expo will receive significant media coverage in New York. Steve Jobs loves media attention, especially since trade show coverage is almost all good. Also, it’s easier for industry executives to talk to publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, so the New York location may provide additional exposure for Mac companies.

New York also has space on its side. Boston’s World Trade Center can’t hold Macworld Expo on its own, though more space is available at an adjacent hotel complex. In contrast, the cavernous halls of New York’s Javits Convention Center boast far more space. With the Mac industry on the upswing, more exhibitors may show this year, and some reportedly want more space than last year.

Finally, New York is a much more populous city, which should help attendance. Although pre-registered attendance was reportedly fairly low last year, the word is that there was a ton of walk-in traffic. Aside from the fact that walk-ins pay more, resulting in higher profits, that much walk-in traffic implies that overall attendance might be higher this year.

What Jobs Says, Goes — Rumor has it that the switch is primarily due to a dictate directly from Steve Jobs, but keep in mind that booking space in a place like the Javits Convention Center must generally be done a year in advance. It’s possible that IDG Expo Management booked last year in an unexpected open slot, switched to Boston when they couldn’t get a guaranteed slot for this year, then jumped at the chance to switch back when this slot appeared.

Hosting Macworld Expo in New York may be a better business decision than having it in Boston, due to the larger audience, media access, and location near New York offices. However, trade shows also serve as combination pep rallies and reunions, and for that purpose I think the smaller, friendlier, more familiar Boston works better for the thousands who attend each year.

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