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Positive Feedback ISSUE 9
october/november 2003


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Auroville 22: On Audio Shows
by Srajan Ebaen

The just-concluded VSAC show in Silverdale had the alternative audio press attending in droves, thus offering rare in-the-flesh opportunities to meet and mingle. After all, the on-line publishing reality makes it likely that one hasn't yet managed to meet many of one's own writers shy of the occasional phone call. Even less likely are one's colleagues from the competition.

Competition? That perception is, of course, merely a headspace, mostly perpetuated by those for whom the glass is always half empty. They are perpetually worried over their individual slice of the overall pie getting skinnier with each new entrant. The type of publication attracted to VSAC instead wasn't just the half-full crowd. Rather, if the consumption of Alaskan Amber was any indication, they were enthusiasts filled to overflowing with the proper spirit(s).

Iron-man Steve Rochlin had just returned from Italy, to chalk up a total of 60-or-so audio shows covered by him personally over the years. He remarked that finally, audio politics in England prevented him from attending this year's British events. There were three concurrent affairs, with the parent company of HiFi News hosting one while the two competing UK print magazines (with HFN being one of them) each ran their own in close London proximity.

Unlike with publishing where the audience seems positively unlimited, most audio shows restricted by schedule and location may, in fact, warrant the half-empty glass perspective. Just look at Primedia's 2-for-1 plan for 2004 on our own shores. With planned shows in NYC and San Francisco, it takes no genius to recognize that manufacturers keen on supporting the publication's efforts will find themselves financially challenged to a very serious degree. With CES and CEDIA spaced by only a few months from these filler shows, the activity's calender for these four events becomes an essentially quarterly affair. Add in Montreal, Frankfurt, Milan, Heathrow, Tokyo and Singapore. CES and CEDIA are clearly the most important events for US-based firms to conduct actual business. How to support all of these without essentially shutting down business at home to become a traveling—non-paid—entertainer instead?

This is what makes Ron Welborne's new-for-2004 Rocky Mountain AudioFest so exciting. It's a small regional show. It won't be dependent on huge crowds or massive manufacturer attendance to become a success. Modeled on Dan Schmalle's bi-annual VSAC show—affordable, manageable—yet expanded in focus beyond tubes and high-efficiency speakers to audio per se, its central Denver/Colorado location and $69/night Marriott destination makes it attractive for many visitors from whom coastal events might be prohibitive.

Naturally, dyed-in-the-wool audio enthusiasts love audio shows, attend them nearly no matter where and clearly don't have to account for the logistic and infernal financial challenges that participating manufacturers must contend with. From a consumer perspective, the more shows, the merrier. The RMAF event plays to this math while simultaneously downplaying the liabilities for manufacturers. This whole concept shows a keen appreciation for the reality of the market place. Like Silverdale or Montreal, it allows smaller firms needing the exposure to do a hands-on events without spending the first 6 months of their annual gross to do so.

In the context of covering such events for the benefit of those who couldn't attend, the subject of press support reared its head while chatting with members of EnjoyTheMusic and Positive Feedback On-Line at VSAC. Simply put, covering a show costs money—travel expenses, lodging expenses, food expenses. On average, figure $800+ per writer to attend a 3-day show: $300 for the airline tickets, $100/day for hotel accomodations (include two days for traveling) $50/day for food, sundry small extra expenses for airport parking, shuttles, cell phone calls.

Then consider the time it takes to actually write a professional show report (30 hours for my recent VSAC coverage). Add the fact that a magazine doesn't make a penny from publishing them. Rather, magazines spend money to cover—and thereby promote—events whose attendance doesn't benefit them at all. Au contraire. It creates significant extra work and steals time out of the regular schedule.

No wonder then that each publication has to carefully weigh which shows to attend and how many writers to send. The latter becomes a very practical concern with shows like CES that are far too big to be comprehensively covered by a single reporter. How to make a difference? Complimentary rooms for writers. This still doesn't entirely turn around the basic upside-down math—that magazines pay for the questionable privilege to get a story, rather than getting paid to do so—but it does make attendance less painful. Needless to say, if show management did elect to cover accomodations for visiting press members (as Dan Schmalle generously did for this writer) it is also entitled to a fair quid-pro-quo: Comprehensive and timely reportage of its event.

All this by way of hinting at the necessary collaboration and cooperation that ought to transpire behind the scenes like some smart self-adjusting software. If we desire to keep our industry alive and healthy, its various factions— manufacturers, retailers, intermediaries, press and consumers—must work together in ways that are mutually beneficial. We're all interconnected. The relative state of health of each part affects all others.

Doc Bottlehead's VSAC, though small in the scheme of shows, still was—considering the amount of people involved—one relatively large-scale example of how such mutually beneficial collaboration can be practically organized. If Dan and collaborateur Ron Welborne could pull it off, two clearly smaller players compared to large established firms, it becomes obvious that if certain ingredients of their recipe were to miss elsewhere, it couldn't be for lack of doability. It would be for lack of vision and concern first, absence of necessary effort second.

Where audio shows are concerned, the recent England situation and next year's proposed Primedia schedule signal that certain event organizers would be well advised to first actively interface with the actual parties they hope to attract: The manufacturers, without whose presence no consumers would attend. Don't plan the shows first, then hustle like mad for support and with promises you can't keep—plan ‘em together! Why not host a single summer show for consumers and locate it in Chicago, or some other more central locale that offered modestly priced accomodations for visitors and exhibitors alike? Why not consolidate parallel events into one single large one?

On behalf of my colleagues in the press, it bears repeating that if the organizers of such events wished for us pesky writers to cover their considerable efforts, they must begin to consider reducing our costs to do so. I'm serious. Why do you expect us to not only work for free but to actually spend our own funds?

Where the return product is concerned—show reports—the quality and comprehensiveness of the show guide and hand-outs make all the difference about how much extra post-show legwork is required to collect the appropriate and correct information. Especially if the intent is to offer the reader more than just a photo collage with a bare minimum of actual credits (hey that sounds like me - Dave Clark, yikes!).

From a press perspective, personal pre-show e-mail invitations are an easy while effective ploy to alert us to your new attractions. They insure that we know where and how to find you—something which has become vitally important at CES since the number of venues and off-boarders seems to be escalating by the year—and to allow us to do our work more effectively, by minimizing the very real chance that we unintentionally overlook something important and interesting. How easy is it, for example, to post pre-CES announcements on-line, complete with pricing, specs and images of the new product one means to introduce?

In the end, it's all about building relationships. And that, more often than not, begins and ends with good communication skills. It seems so obvious, doesn't it?

Visit Srajan at his site

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