Seybold Carries On

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If you walked the floor at last year's Seybold Seminars in San Francisco, you might have had a hard time getting from point A to point B given the crowds in the Moscone Center. The trade show's eBooks pavilion was packed, the seminars were brimming with participants and the show floor was teeming with attendees and exhibitors alike.

This year? The aisles on the trade show floor, which were clogged like an L.A. freeway during rush hour a year ago, are seeing just a trickle of foot traffic. Several booths in the corners of the Moscone Center lay empty. A fair chunk of the southeast section of the convention center's South Hall is simply roped off.

It doesn't take much analysis to pinpoint the reasons behind the smaller crowds at this year's Seybold show. With attendance down at many tech-oriented trade shows, the grim economic climate figured to keep people away from Seybold San Francisco as well. Then, two weeks before the conference was to begin, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington left thousands dead and brought the U.S. to a standstill.

Seybold organizers announced last week that the show would go on. But they knew attendance, which already figured to be down sharply thanks to the economy, would fall even further.

"I think there's no question the economy was already going to challenge our marketplace," said Seybold Seminars President Gene Gable. "We were going into this before September 11 thinking it would probably not be as busy an event as last year."

"We were hit with a double-whammy," said editor in chief Pamela Pfiffner, a Seybold Seminars veteran who led a panel at this year's conference.

Key3Media Group, which organizes the Seybold Seminars, isn't releasing attendance figures this week, as per a long-standing company policy. But organizers have definitely noted the impact the events of the past month have had on the trade show.

Since September 11, 22 companies cancelled their Seybold plans, Gable says. That figure includes major exhibitors such as Kodak, Nikon and Olympus, as well as smaller East Coast companies unable to make it cross-country two weeks after the attacks.

For many companies that cancelled, the logistical concerns proved too daunting, Meta Communications, a maker of job management software for the graphics industry and a regular Seybold exhibitor, was attending the Print 01 trade show in Chicago when the terrorists struck. The Iowa City, Iowa-based company was faced with the daunting task of having to find a way to get an 8,000-pound booth from Chicago to San Francisco at a time when most airlines were grounded. And Meta still had to make travel arrangements for the six to eight employees that would have been at Seybold. Meta, which had planned to be at Seybold to show off its newly announced Virtual Ticket 4.0 production platform, wound up having to cancel.

"We really wanted to do [Seybold]," Meta Vice President Robert Long said. "It was really just a case of circumstance."

Yet for all the people who stayed away, thousands of others made the trip to San Francisco. Apple, Adobe, Canon, Quark, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard were among the companies with a sizable presence on the show floor. "The companies that are here are really happy," Gable said.

Getting to San Francisco proved to be a challenge for some. Jennifer Austin of Corel's Procreate division traveled from the company's Canadian headquarters. That meant arriving at the airports a little earlier and budgeting a bit more time for customs inspections.

Other exhibitors, such as Mary Gay Marchese of Markzware, a Bay Area company, were largely unaffected. "There was no thought of not coming, but we're local," Marchese said. "For me, personally, it's always on the back of my mind, of course. But you have to get back into the normal stream of things. This is our niche and we have to be here. All our plans stayed the same, the only thing that didn't happen was one programmer from New Zealand didn't make the trek."

Other exhibitors were far more enthusiastic about carrying on. "I don't care who's bombing who. I love San Francisco. I'm coming," said Michael Pilmer of Alien Skin Software, who made the trip out from North Carolina. "Show or no show, I'm coming."

Still, Pilmer noted a few differences from past Seybold conferences. "I remember last year there was that big rush at ten when the doors opened for people to get in," he said. "That didn't happen this year, there wasn't that rush."

"Some people are saying it's lighter than last year," said Procreate's Austin, who did not attend last year's conference. "But our booth has been really busy. Maybe it's just the really dedicated graphics pros."

Indeed, while traffic on the show floor may not have been as heavy as in the past, the panel discussions and tutorials have attracted solid crowds.

"I have seen some conference sessions be very well-attended, which is unusual," ProCreate's CreativePro's Pfiffner said. "What that represents is that the dedicated Seybold attendee who comes to these shows for education and information is still doing that."

According to Gable, few speakers had dropped out of this year's Seybold. Two of the four participants in the panel led by Pfiffner couldn't make it to San Francisco, but she was able to find local graphics and design pros to fill in.

"That's the nice thing about the community," she said. "People have really stepped up."

Seybold may have been one of the first conferences to feel an impact from the September 11 attacks, but it surely won't be the last. This week, Apple postponed next month's QuickTime Live conference, rescheduling the event for February.

And while the crowds may be lighter at Seybold this week, Gable says he's "absolutely thrilled' with the attendance, given the circumstances.

"We're feeling really good we did this," he said. "We've gotten a lot of support."

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