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Big shows and little legs

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Comment If you have legs, you will be delighted to hear that another big IT show is being cut down to size: it looks like the big computer games show, E3, is changing.

The good news: no more LA Convention Centre. The bad news: it will be spread around a couple of dozen different hotels. And the inevitable: once again, the organisers didn't see it coming.

Convention organisers never do see it coming. They don't understand about legs.

Once again, I won't go to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Actually, I hate big conventions. But even so, they have to be covered. And there's actually a great formula for covering technology conventions. It goes like this:

  1. Register
  2. Don't go

I hope you were making notes. It's important. Registering will mean you get all the mail. Anybody who is in the business areas you checked when you signed up will send you everything you need to know about what they are going to show at the exhibit booth, which is good; but they won't be able to book you for a one-hour "one to one with the VP of strategic marketing" when you want to find out new stuff. And "don't go" means your legs will survive.

If you have to go, hide. My own trick, as a journalist, is to avoid the main central areas, and walk around the walls looking for the mom-and-pop booths with tiny companies and good ideas.

Unfortunately, show organisers aren't in the business of making life easy for delegates. They are out to extract the highest price per square metre they can get from the exhibitors, and if this means the exhibitors can't make a profit on the show, so be it. Organisers work on the "green shield stamps" assumption: if one company starts doing it, everyone else will join in. No company wants to be the one left out.

And of course, it works the other way, too. When, finally, someone drops out, suddenly everybody does. No one in the UK currently gives green shield stamps, they all do Nectar cards instead. But there was a time when you wouldn't buy fuel for your car unless the pumps screamed "Quad stamps!" in big green letters.

The equivalent disaster for show organisers happens just as inevitably. One day, Microsoft and Nintendo get together and say: "Know what? this is costing us a fortune! - and what do we get back, really? If you guys weren't going, we wouldn't bother..." And next thing you know, E3 is "evolving" and becoming smaller.

Of course, if you're Microsoft, you always run the risk of getting shafted by Nintendo, who tell you they're pulling out, and then announce they're going back. But it's the beginning of the end for the show organisers, because there's no going back.

What show organisers need to learn, is that it takes time to walk a long distance. And that involves legs. I once measured the entire length of carpet at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in the days of the giant Comdex show, and then the carpet in the other convention halls and hotel convention annexes. When it got to over 20 miles, I gave up. But I'd given up trying to walk around the show years before that.

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