Cloud hangs over Macworld's future

As Macworld San Francisco draws to a close, Apple's threatened pullout raises questions about the future of the East Coast installment of the expo.

3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--As the weeklong Macworld Expo here wraps up Friday, questions linger about what's next for the twice-yearly show--particularly whether Apple will continue showing up to the East Coast installment of the expo.

Show promoter IDG World Expo has announced plans to move the summer event from New York to Boston, starting in 2004. Apple Computer has said it won't make that move and added that it is reconsidering whether to take part in the final New York expo in July.

IDG says the show will go on, with or without Apple. However, many exhibitors say Macworld needs the crowds the Cupertino, Calif.-based company attracts. A number of exhibitors say that they would pull out if Apple does, and some say that they would be surprised if the show continues without the company's participation.

The questions around the move to Boston have overshadowed the fact that Macworld has fared better than some other trade shows during the current tech downturn. IDG expects this year's final attendance to be roughly similar to last year's 87,000 and not too far down from the record of 93,000 set three years ago. Booth space at the just-concluding San Francisco show is also seen as roughly on par with last year, according to an IDG representative.

Rebookings for the shows in New York and in San Francisco next year are on par with those made at last year's West Coast show, the representative said, although IDG is being flexible with exhibitors who are concerned that Apple might not make it to the Big Apple.

"If that's a concern, we address it," said the IDG representative. The trade show promoter hopes to know by the end of this month whether or not Apple will take part in the July show. An Apple representative declined to comment beyond the company's earlier statements.

IDG is making backup plans for a scaled-back show in case the Mac maker pulls out.

"As a trade show management company, it's always wise to have five plans," the IDG representative said. "Certainly if Apple is not there, (the show) might take a different form."

In the hole
Apple's departure would leave the show organizers with a huge hole to fill on the show floor. The company's booth alone takes up nearly 20,000 square feet, a huge chunk of the show floor. Its departure also could affect other companies with large booths, including Corel and Hewlett-Packard.

Already a number of key companies have been skipping the East Coast show, including Adobe Systems and Macromedia.

"It becomes dicey if Apple isn't here," said Hugh Amick, vice president of HP's Mac-connect marketing unit. "Then it depends on circumstances."

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If Apple is at a show, HP has to be there, said Amick--otherwise people might assume that HP is abandoning the Mac market.

Corel product manager Travis Lindgren said that the company is always re-evaluating which trade shows it will attend and would reconsider whether to have a booth if Apple pulled out.

"It would be a factor," he said. "It wouldn't be the factor."

A Macworld without Apple would be bad news for smaller vendors as well.

Start-up El Gato Software used last year's New York event to launch its EyeTV digital video recording software. The company would have seen much slower growth in sales had it not been for the attention it got there, said Victor Nemechek, director of marketing for the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company.

"It's such a great vehicle for launching new products," Nemechek said, but added that Apple's presence is a key draw.

"If they don't go, I could see it killing the whole show," said Nemechek, who added that his company would probably try at least one Apple-free show before giving up on Macworld.

Although Steve Jobs' keynote and the resulting crop of new Apple gear is the big reason many of the thousands at Macworld attend, many conventioneers say they come mainly for the seminars and not for the show floor.

"I kind of breezed through the Apple thing," said graphic designer Timothy Baxter, who took two-day seminars on Quark Xpress and on creating PDF documents at the San Francisco Macworld. Baxter said he would still attend the expo, even if the Mac maker didn't.

"It's grown larger than Apple," Baxter said.