Macworld Expo moving to February in 2010

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Macworld Expo will shift its dates to February in 2010 and open its show floor to attendees on Saturday, as part of the first steps to remake the long-time Mac trade show after Apple’s decision to end its involvement.

The 2010 edition of Macworld Conference and Expo will kick off on February 9 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center and run through February 13. The conference portion of the show, slated for the Moscone West hall, will run from Tuesday through Saturday. The expo portion, to be held in Moscone North, runs from Thursday through Saturday.

The decision to move the annual Mac conference from its traditional January date to early February results from feedback from Expo exhibitors, said Paul Kent, vice president and general manager of Macworld Expo. In talking to exhibitors, Kent said, Expo organizers were told that the old January date posed logistic hurdles for developers, who found themselves rushing over the holidays to complete code, ship products to San Francisco, and travel for the trade show. Moving the event to February is aimed at relieving some of that pressure.

“One of the biggest points of feedback we received was having the date moved,” Kent said.

Moving Macworld Expo away from January could have other benefits as well. With the trade show starting immediately after the end of the holiday buying season, Mac developers often had to weigh whether holding off on a product announcement until Macworld Expo was worth skipping what could have been lucrative pre-holiday sales.

What’s more, Macworld Expo’s January dates frequently overlapped with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, forcing exhibitors to split their efforts between the two shows or pick one over the other.

The overlap with CES affected Expo in other ways, often pitting the two shows against each other to see which could come up with the most media buzz. In years where Apple produced a major announcement—the iPhone in 2007, say, or the MacBook Air in 2008—the massive CES event found itself playing second fiddle to Expo. In other years where Apple product announcements grabbed less mainstream attention, the Mac-focused conference was overshadowed by one of the largest trade shows in the world.

As for the decision to keep the show floor open on Saturday, that was motivated by an attempt to serve potential Expo attendees, event organizers said.

“A considerable audience for Macworld Expo has been the growth of the consumer audience,” Kent said. “Providing a day that makes it easier for consumers to attend the show made sense.”

Expo organizers hope that extending the event into Saturday will attract attendees who have been unable to come to the show’s weekday hours. That audience includes people who can’t easily take off from work as well as teachers.

The 2010 Expo will also put a greater emphasis on show specials and shopping; giving attendees a Saturday to walk the floor and see third-party products should encourage that, Kent added.

The show floor will only be open for three days in 2010, after running for four days in previous years. But Kent said that will be factored into new rates for exhibitors—an attempt by Expo organizers to offer attractive pricing in light of the faltering economy.

Attendees could be in for some pricing breaks as well. Kent said organizers are looking at offering single-day pricing for conferences. Previously, conference attendees had to sign up for sessions in blocks.

The future of Macworld Expo had been up in the air since December when Apple announced that the 2009 conference would be the last time it participated in the annual Mac trade show.

In announcing its decision to part ways with Macworld Expo, the company released a statement contending that trade shows “have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers.” Indeed, in recent years, Apple has scaled back its participation in a number of trade shows, including the NAB show aimed at video professionals, the NAMM event for the music-making industry, and Apple Expo, a consumer-focused trade show in Europe.

“The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways,” Apple said in its December Expo announcement.

One of the shows Apple stopped participating in has special resonance for IDG World Expo—the summer Macworld Expo that once targeted east coast Mac users. In 2002, IDG World Expo announced it would move the event from New York back to its original site in Boston; Apple immediately announced it would not participate in the Boston show. IDG World Expo ended the Boston version of Macworld Expo just two years after moving the show from New York.

Kent believes the San Francisco edition of Macworld Expo—which celebrated its 25th anniversary this past January—can avoid a similar fate. “The lesson of Macworld Boston is that the show needs to evolve,” Kent said. “[Tuesday’s announcement] is the first communication of many that shows we’re listening to our customers.”

IDG World Expo—which, like Macworld is owned by International Data Group—has been soliciting exhibitor and attended feedback ever since Apple announced plans to drop out of the event. Organizers held a town hall meeting during January’s Expo and have set up a suggestion box on the Expo Web site to get more ideas.

“The No. 1 thing that people tell us is that the thing they love about Macworld Expo is discovering third-party products,” Kent said. “And the No. 2 thing is meeting interesting people.”

Kent believes organizers have a good foundation in place for next year’s show. Already, 10,000 people have registered for the event, and 90 percent of the faculty from the 2009 conference agreed to come back to the 2010 event. Exhibitor interest has also been strong.

“We walked out of Macworld 2009 with 90 letters of intent [from exhibitors for the 2010 expo],” Kent said. “We’re open for business for people to sign up for the show.”

The date changes won’t be the last announcement you hear from Expo organizers, Kent added. “This is the first in a series of announcements that will continue to show how Expo is evolving,” he said.

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