The Audio Cynic

Is There a Right Size?

Second-guessing is at the heart of online forum behavior, and I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of the joy that comes from  being an expert on a subject of which you know absolutely nothing.

One subject that is discussed to death on forums and anti-social media is that of audio shows: what was good, what was bad, how it was too small, or—in a recent novel turn of viewpoints—how it was too big. Yup. Attendees upset because they got too much for their money.

Wow. I’m sorry: I paid for a Jetta and was given an S-class. How dare they??

When it comes to the audio world, few jobs are more thankless (I know, it sounds oxymoronic. It’s not.) than that of show organizer. I’ve witnessed this as well as experienced this, as an attendee, an exhibitor, and as a show organizer. With the New York show in 2012, I heard from Teamsters, hotel staff (at the über-snooty Waldorf Astoria, mind you), exhibitors, attendees…is there anyone I’ve left out? I fully expected to walk down to the curb on Park Avenue and have passing cabbies yell, “You suck!!” at me.

Sheesh.

I get it: a show is a high pressure environment, with money, gear, and reputations at stake. Exhibitors compete for attention, doing what they can to get a few column-inches or a couple million pixels of exposure. Since that’s the case, wouldn’t you think that a small show would offer exhibitors a better chance at getting attention from media and attendees?

That NY show was the inaugural effort in a very tough market indeed, and as you’d expect, getting space at the Waldorf was far from cheap. The upshot of that: only 40 exhibit rooms. Given the hassles and expenses associated with navigating midtown Manhattan, some attendees were not happy, expecting more. Oddly, most exhibitors—once we got past the nightmares of a threatened union shutdown, access and set-up—were thrilled with the results.

Why was that?

Because attendees didn’t feel compelled to rush from room to room to room in order to snatch sonic snippets of hundreds of rooms, and there was usually some breathing room in those 40 rooms, the exhibitors could actually spend time talking to attendees who were seriously interested in their products. Relationships were developed; sales were made.

I’ve heard positive comments from exhibitors at a number of smaller shows, such as the California Audio Show, the Capital Audiofest, and the new show recently held in Tampa. It’s often said that there are “fewer tire-kickers and brochure collectors.”

Huh.

Online comments will often mention the relative size of such shows, but they will often also focus on the relaxed atmospheres and collegial spirit. That sounds good to me, and I’ve enjoyed those shows.—But yes, there will always be complaints from those who expect more more MORE.

It was a shock, therefore, to see complaints on Facebook that the recent Axpona show was too big. Now—unless one is troubled by some relentless internal drive, an obsessive-compulsive need to see every single exhibitor (and perhaps touch each doorknob three times, no more, no less)— what’s the problem? Pick what you want to see, and just stop. That’s probably un-American, but whatever.

At Axpona there was not just an incredible variety of exhibitors in a terrific venue, there was honest-to-God worthwhile entertainment, in the form of Shelby Lynne, and others.

I’m sorry if that offends you. I’m sorry if that’s just too much. Maybe they can shoot for lowered expectations and less-ambitious goals in the future.

A sidenote: this is the floorplan of the 1964 New York High fidelity Show, a show intended for the general public in the days when regular folk bought audio gear. There are almost 200 rooms—more than at any recent US show (though if you counted booth vendors, Axpona would likely top that number). Just a little historical perspective.