End of the Road for Tech Trade Shows?

As if the announcement of Apple's withdrawal from the annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco wasn't enough, now comes another blow: The Apple Expo in Paris has been scrapped. That's ominous news, because although IDG claims it will stand behind the San Francisco show even without Apple's presence, the cancellation in Paris comes just one year after Apple stopped exhibiting at that event.

Apple isn't alone in cutting back on trade shows. Adobe, whose market includes a lot of Mac users, had already pulled out of Macworld Expo. And today Novell announced that it has canceled its annual BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, which was originally scheduled for March 2009. Novell has struggled to maintain viability in recent years, but has nonetheless sustained the BrainShare show for over 20 years. Is the tradition of tech trade shows coming to an end?

Chip TaylorAnyone who's been around the computing industry long enough will recognize the trend. It began long before the demise of the venerable Comdex.

Novell cites the expected reasons for canceling its show: In a down economy, fewer and fewer business are willing to fly their employees and/or exhibitors across the country for a few days of meet-and-greet. And conference promoters can't have it easy, either. When municipalities are strapped for cash, convention center rate increases and hotel tax hikes are practically givens.

Apple, on the other hand, raises a different issue. Apple is no longer the hobbyist company of the 1980s. Today's Apple customer isn't a tech geek but a savvy, quality-conscious consumer. That kind of customer is better reached through the Apple Retail Stores and the Web than through a trade show, according to Apple's press release.

How important are trade shows like Macworld Expo to your own business technology decisions and purchases? Do you still attend your favorite shows, and do you plan to do so in the future? Or does the prominence of the Web as a communications channel spell doom for these once-beloved venues? Sound off in the PC World community forums.

Neil McAllister is a freelance technology writer based in San Francisco.