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Quick Hits: Apple Heralds Death of the Trade Show?


Brief scrutiny of today's headlines.

Does anyone remember Comdex?

It was once the top technology trade show, held annually in Las Vegas for about 20 years. In 2000, about 200,000 techies attended, generating about $225 million in non-gambling revenue.

Attendance plunged to about 50,000 in 2003; Comdex was canceled in 2004.

Apple's (AAPL) decision to end its participation in the Macworld trade show after January underscores the declining importance of trade shows in marketing efforts.

Instead, Apple prefers to hold smaller events that it can tightly control. The company held two press events last fall as part of its rollout of new iPod and MacBook products.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Tuesday that he won't appear at this year's Macworld trade show, underscoring its increasing irrelevance to the company's marketing efforts. Phillip Schiller, Apple's marketing chief, will make this year's address.

Jobs' decision to bow out has set off the usual round of speculation about his health, but it's probably just a smart business move. Trade shows are expensive. First, there's travel, hotel and meals – costs that were increasingly hard to justify even before the current economic crunch.

Next comes the expense of setting up and manning a booth. Spending lavishly on booths increasingly seems like a fool's errand, one that produces little more than added expense.

Logistics grew more costly as trade-show attendance dwindled. E3, a trade show for the video game industry, once seemed designed to produce deafness in all who participated. It's now a quieter, media-only event.

Monster conferences are being replaced by smaller, more sharply focused events that encourage discussion between attendees and presenters.

Conferences like Web 2.0 and confabs held by market research organizations such as Gartner appear to represent the future. Tech historians will note that the Wall Street Journal's (NWS) All Things Digital conference debuted in 2003, just as Comdex was dying.
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