What Photoshop World can teach other trade shows

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I popped in on the Photoshop World conference this week in Boston. If nothing else, my day trip to the event gave me a good sense of what Macworld Expo is doing right as a trade show—and what it can be doing better.

Photoshop World is the National Association of Photoshop Professionals’ (NAPP’s) regular gathering of members, who engage in several days of intensive training and workshops to get the most out of the creative tools they depend on to make a living. The event features more than 40 instructors leading more than 100 classes and includes many well-known names in the world of photography, authors, and trainers.

The Boston event takes place in the Hynes Convention Center, site of the last Macworld Conference & Expo in Boston back in 2004. The scale of the Photoshop show is smaller than Macworld Expo but much more focused—it very specifically handles creative professionals only. And Photoshop World is not open to the general public—pretty much everyone who comes is a NAPP member.

Even during economic times as dire as these, it’s interesting to note that the Photoshop World training sessions I eavesdropped on were packed to capacity—standing-room only—as people sought to learn about the tools and techniques that some of the top people in the creative business use to make money. To that end, the show gives me some insight about the future of technology trade shows like Macworld Expo.

The exhibit hall here in Boston was much smaller than what Macworld Expo attendees might be used to. But with training areas on the show floor, and vendors ranging from camera gear sales and rental businesses, Wacom, Gridiron and others, there was a good combination of vendors focused very specifically on the work that these creatives were doing.

Many Mac users wonder what the future holds for Macworld Expo, now that Apple won’t participate in future shows. Analysts and pundits are quick to point out that Adobe and some other vendors have dropped off the Exhibit Hall list in recent years, and that’s sent up the red flags that something is wrong, horribly wrong, with Macworld Expo. I posit that it means no such thing—it’s just an evolution that, with any luck and no small amount of good planning, Macworld Expo’s planners should be able to ride through.

The exhibit hall at Macworld Expo has always been the gauge— especially to outsiders—as to whether the show was successful or not. It’s a very superficial gauge, but it’s one that enables people to readily compare the event against past shows. I can’t count the number of “I went to Expo for the day and I was bored” posts from people online over the years, intermingled with “What is this, iPod/iPhone World?” and “Where are all the deals?”

But Macworld Expo has been, for years, much more about the conferences and other events that happen away from the Exhibit Hall rather than just the exhibits and vendors themselves—though that’s all that a person who gets an exhibits pass is likely to see.

That’s clearly the direction NAPP has pushed Photoshop World in, and the event appears to thriving as a result.

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