Are trade shows dying? Hardly

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

Apple's announcement that it is pulling out of Macworld as of next year, and that Steve Jobs won't give a keynote this year, has understandably set the blogosphere abuzz. What are the company's motivations for pulling out? Is Jobs' health the reason? Or does the company simply not want to be beholden to someone else's schedule?

There are plenty of theories circulating but one particularly wrong suggestion is that it's because trade shows are somehow diminishing in importance. The Washington Post, for example, suggests trade shows have lost their importance because, as Apple said in its press release, there are many other ways -- cheaper ways -- for a company to get the word out about its products. That argument, while true, misses the point of what trade shows are all about, however. Trade shows have never necessarily been about product announcements. They're about conducting business, which is why they're called trade shows.

Many of the big electronics makers at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which kicks off on Jan. 7 (stay tuned to CBC.ca for full coverage from the floor), have separate rooms set up to meet with retailers. True, the big, flashy, noisy booths are there to attract attention to their products, but the companies are really there to sell to the middle men. If CES was really just about product announcements, it might open its door to the general public, which it hasn't.

So, if you're the person responsible for stocking Future Shop or Best Buy with the latest gadgets, you go to CES and forge deals with executives from Panasonic or Sony or Samsung and so on, whether it's at official meetings at the companies' booths or in late-night booze fests on the Las Vegas strip.

The set-up can actually be economical for retail buyers. Said Future Shop buyer can go to CES and conclude a dozen separate deals, all of which would have to be separately done -- involving separate travel -- if all those manufacturers didn't happen to be in the same place. That's one of the big reasons why trade shows will continue to flourish, even if they are subject to an ebb and flow in popularity.

Comdex, the big computer show of the nineties, did die in 2003, but it has largely been replaced by CES, which some day may implode under its massive weight as well. But it too will likely be succeeded by some new show.