With there always being at least two sides to every story -- and most the time rather more than just the old left/right polarity -- let's assume a counter position to Jules' well-argued and keenly observed reflection on the just concluded HE2005 event. Call this an attempt to cover the other third of the conceptual picture that is the Primedia-sponsored Home Entertainment Show. It's clearly a revenue center for a large corporate entity that, some would argue, pursues something of a cost-driven rape-and-pillage campaign with this event. There's no doubt in my mind that the concept of a consumer show is valid and vital for the industry. The show per se isn't the issue. What I do question is the sanity of picking locations -- Manhattan and down-town San Francisco in the past -- that are very expensive to begin with. Why not pick a $79/night hotel like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest does that allows exhibitors to deliver their own gear if they so choose, via a meter-free parking lot and a city that doesn't involve high-priced Union workers?
HE2005 was just as much defined by those manufacturers who attended as by those who didn't. If you wonder why, ask those who stayed away. They'll invariably cite exorbitant costs that bear no reasonable relation to how attendance benefits their fiscal viability. Simply put, for them it's a raw and not smart deal. The vital difference between RMAF and the Montreal Show on one hand and the Primedia show on the other? The former are organized by a few enthusiasts, the latter is put up by a mega corporation. The former's ideas of a fair profit -- tied to a far smaller size which, obviously, significantly scales back what constitutes a reasonable return on their invest of time, energy and funds -- are very different from the latter.
The problem isn't the NYC show but who is hosting it. Primedia isn't the enemy by a long shot. They're simply a well-diversified entity with financial stakes in a few print magazines related to our industry. The question is, does that make them the ideal entity to organize a show that, let's face it, is of primary appeal only to a very restricted target audience, both from the perspective of attendees and exhibitors? Do we need more or less exclusivity, more or less financial pain?
Why, as Jules asked, didn't Lyric Hifi, Stereo Exchange and Innovative Audio exhibit in their own home town? Why should they? If the majority of show attendees are New Yorkers -- or music lovers not adverse to visiting the city on an audio-related adventure -- these retailers can conduct far more personalized and better-sounding demos in their own stores than in a temporary hotel room setup. If you were a retailer, would you be excited to erect a 4-day miniature store within a cab ride's distance from your established digs? You'd be far better off spending the same money on a special open-house shindig at your store.
A possible argument that could be made in favor of attending if you're an equipment maker? An event like this guarantees free publicity by way of show coverage. One could argue then that the cost of attendance should be viewed like a few full-page ads in Stereophile. That proposition of course hinges strictly on whether one will, indeed, appear in the show report at all or with more than just a single-sentence byline. With an ad, you know exactly what you're getting - after all, you wrote it yourself. With a show report, you can only hope. If past years are any indication, Primedia thus far hasn't seen fit to set aside enough ad-free show report pages to allow the writers of Stereophile as comprehensive a platform as on-line publications have to work with. In a nutshell, manufacturers over the last two years have complained about the extent of Primedia's coverage of their own events.
Remember, audiophilia is a business like any other. It requires healthy profits for all parties involved. Participating at consumer shows is a financial investment for exhibitors which they have to be able to justify in their annual budget as a worthwhile investment that shows concrete results. Two ways of making participation at The Home Entertainment Show more attractive to manufacturers and thereby for attendees hoping to hear and see Wilson Audio, Krell, Martin Logan, Avantgarde Acoustics, Avalon, B&W, Bryston, Gallo, Mark Levinson and any number of high-profile brands that didn't show this year? Reduce costs and increase the advertorial fringe benefits. The latter could be a simple guarantee that the publication hosting the show commits to writing up every single exhibitor in their show report. As a manufacturer, you naturally wouldn't know what will be said about your exhibit -- that's up to the visiting writer -- but at least you'd know in advance that just like with a paid-for ad, you'd be guaranteed space and presence in the magazine whose show you supported out of your own pocket.
To secure even more comprehensive show coverage than the hosting publication can provide for in its own pages, why not set aside a few hotel rooms for the editors or publishers of the most important competing magazines? After all, such coverage promotes the event. Easing the financial pain of those reporting on it is definitely a common sense notion whose time has come. To reduce the overall costs of organizing the show could mean leaving Manhattan altogether. Again, Montreal and Denver are perfect examples for how a successful show needn't occur in the most expensive real estate in the US. As long as plenty of manufacturers show up; as long as the hotel isn't a dump; as long as sleeping and eating throughout the show period isn't unnecessarily expensive for both exhibitors and attendees; as long as the underlying motif isn't exclusivity but "blast the doors wide open", shows like HE2005 are marvellous opportunities for music lovers to meet some of their heroes and hear some of the far-out stuff they read about.
But when mainstream players like Krell and B&W don't attend whose pockets must be deeper than the DeVores and Almarros of the world, something is askew. Asking what and attempting to address it seems like a task Primedia should embrace to avoid being accused of rape-and-pillage tactics.