Most Profitable Web 2.0 Business: Conferences

The tech conference business continues to amaze me. I just received an email a few minutes ago from the organizers of the annual Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco telling me I am a V.I.P. and I can attend their conference under this special classification. Sweet! I’m thinking free admission, maybe hotel and airfare too. Something like that.

In reading the rest of the email, it appears I’m being offered the V.I.P. rate of JUST OVER THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS. And that’s $500 off the Very-Unimportant-Person rate!

Who has the enthusiasm to pay these sorts of prices? Even when I worked at Disney, a multi-billion dollar corporation, I would never even dream of taking $3000 out of the budget for an event like this.

Nothing against the conference… I’m sure it’s great. I just can’t think of a single conference I’d pay over a $1000 for (and even that is expensive) unless part of the deal was a personal dinner with Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Gisele Bundchen.

In a way, I guess these sorts of conferences are like business travel for airlines. They figure since companies are footing the bill, the price elasticity of demand is low.

As for me, I’d rather spend that $3k on any of the following:

  • One week trip anywhere in the world (with a decent budget!)
  • Husky season tickets for both basketball and football
  • A donation to a charitable cause.

I guess you can’t blame the organizers of the conference for charging $3000 because clearly people are willing to pay it, but if you really want individuals showing up at conferences, it would seem that Techcrunch20 or unconferences would be the better routes.

Oh well… off to go plan my first conference I guess. I’m thinking “Fortune 100 Giselefest 2007”.

29 comments on “Most Profitable Web 2.0 Business: Conferences”. Leave your own?
  1. Mark says:

    I’ve never understood this either. SXSW/interactive is a whopping $225 for the entire weekend. I’ve been there two years straight, and people rave about how great it is, but it’s rare to find another conference even under $1000.

    Do they think the Web2.0 Summit 12 times better than SXSW/i? Is there something I’m missing here?

  2. If this involves Gisele and Jobs meditating about iPods in space in a plane flown by Branson, I will gladly attend your F100GF2K7 event!

  3. Royal says:

    If we could merger my Laetitia Casta web 3.0 2007 event and have some really sweet badges I would be willing to partner.

  4. Dave S. says:

    @Mark – “SXSW/interactive is a whopping $225 for the entire weekend. I’ve been there two years straight, and people rave about how great it is, but it’s rare to find another conference even under $1000.”

    SXSW is $225, but a) they don’t pay their panelists or cover their expenses (presumably a different story for keynote speakers), and b) people often complain say the networking is more important than the content at that event. Think there might be a connection? You pay for what you get, and once you start commissioning speakers to deliver new material for an event and covering their flights/accomodation, your costs jump. $1000 ain’t that much, from an organizer’s perspective.

    Though, having been on the organizational side of a conference myself, I’m guessing at $3000 the organizers of this one aren’t exactly living off of Wonderbread.

  5. Don says:

    What a hoot (er). Talk about not talking about what is obvious …

    why we like her?

    Gisele has graced a great amount of magazine covers and fashion shows. She is young, yet remains realistic about the modeling profession and its limited life, which makes her an excellent choice for us.

    Let’s face it that isn’t why we like her. And you wouldn’t much care what she says at dinner … I suspect.

    People Magazine ran a bit on what it costs to get celebs to your event or club … other than Kevin Federline, it ain’t cheap, so you may need $3000+ per attendee to get your GiseleFest going.

  6. Mike D. says:

    Don: Well here’s the thing — All it takes is one well-placed connection and I’m sure I can get Gisele to show up. Let’s say we pay $20,000 to cover her expenses and what-not. Then, we basically dole out 5 spots to each Fortune 100 company and they can send whoever they’d like… at $20,000 a head. That’s 500 attendees at $20,000 apiece which is a cool $10 million. If the event is as big of a hit as I think it will be, maybe we expand it to the entire Fortune 500 the following year and raise our revenue to $50 million.

    Who’s with me?

  7. Benjamin says:

    And this is why I have 8 hours of CSS to code in 3 hours.

    haha- keep it up. BTW, I totally agree.

  8. Adam says:

    I think the whole web conference thing is a joke. Just by reading the blogger reviews of these events, they seem to be 10% content, 90% ‘who i saw’, ‘who i drank with’, ‘check out my totally awesome flickr photoset of the conference’. I am not interested in attending popularity contests, where designers/developers are treated like celebrities, complete with a MediaTemple VIP ‘lounge’.

    However, it is becoming obvious that pitching services at fellow web designers/developers is much more profitable than designing/developing.

    I am going to hold on to my hard-earned money until these conferences mature a bit. However, if my company wants to pay my way, I’ll happily get s-faced with you all :)

  9. Ryan says:

    True, most of what I hear is all the “this is who i met and got drunk with, look at my pictures.” After that, you can get all the panelist information from blog reviews and podcasts and whatnot for free, so why throw away the cash?

  10. motherduce says:

    I’m with Adam! I haven’t been able to make a SXSW yet, but plan to next year, and only because it’s relatively inexpensive. $3000 for a web conference is a bit ridiculous. I went to FlashForward last year, and it was only $800 and strictly focused on Flash development.

    Most of the web conferences are too wide open – they need to be more focused on one topic or another, and much cheaper! But like Mike said, if they can make the money, they will.

  11. I completely agree. Especially when the conference is heavily focused on small businesses, an exorbitant price is really inappropriate. By setting the price so high they limit the conference to business owners with VC to burn, corporate higher-ups, millionaires with money to burn, and the select blogging “elite” who are invited.

    TechCrunch 20 is no better though. They charge $2,000 pre-order, $2,500 after September. They do let 20 companies in for free, but for everybody else the price is a crime. TechCrunch in particular seems like it would be focused on what works / doesn’t work for small businesses and would be a great learning and networking opportunity for small business owners, but again the $2K price doesn’t really work for that audience.

    One thing I love about SXSW is they offer a student discount. These conferences are always good learning experiences and a great place to network for a future job.

  12. I’ve always had the same problem. SXSW is $225 and every other conference seems ridiculous by comparison.

    Sure, SXSW isn’t perfect. Web 2.0 might be better. It might even be twice as good, or three times as good. But if I pay $3000 it had better be 15 times as good — and I don’t think anyone can reasonably make that claim.

    We need more SXSW-like conferences. A small business conference with the same kind of independent spirit would be amazing, even if it cost me $400…

  13. Téa says:

    Gosh, and here was me thinking that I could make a living designing websites.

    I am starting to think that the phat cash is in conferences that just talk about it.


  14. One week trip anywhere in the world (with a decent budget!)

    If you can do that with $3000 let me know. If you try you will soon realize it isn’t possible, with the current dollar value. Unless, of course, you travel to Tanzania, Ethiopia or equivalent.

    I agree with your post, otherwise :)

  15. If you can do that with $3000 let me know. If you try you will soon realize it isn’t possible, with the current dollar value.

    I did Australia for under this. Actually traveling to Tanzania and Ehiopia is harder in my opinion than Europe or Australia becuase the airfare to African nations from America is a KILLER. I was suppose to go to Nigeria this summer to do some humanitarian work with AIDS patience and Orphans and the airfare alone was $2500.

    As for me, I’d rather spend that $3k on any of the following

    When you consider 3,000,000,000 (that’s 3 Billion) people live on less than $730 a year and according to Global Rich List making $3,000 puts you in the richest 18% of people in this world, sometimes spending as much as we do on stuff seams to lose perspective.

    I am not trying to guilt anybody (as I myself will spend $3,000 on things I view as necessary to my job, i.e. my MacBook Pro), but I think sometimes we lose perspective in the world on what things should cost.

  16. AIDS patience

    I just totally realized that I misspelled this world. Firefox spell check didn’t catch it because it actually is a word – just the wrong one. Stupid me ;-)

  17. Hoppy says:

    I agree Mike. I was out in SF for business, the same week Ad-Tech was there. Did I try to make my company justify for me to pay $1800 for a full pass? no way. But did I register for the free pass, check out the free keynote panels, and walk the exhibition floor? Yes sir. Definitely glad I didn’t get the whole deal, as the exhibition hall sucked.

  18. J Div says:

    Husky season tickets for both basketball and football

    Go Dawgs!

  19. Coming from the UK I have to admit that I don’t really get the whole conference thing [you yanks seem to take it to a level beyond my comprehension.] All I know is that £1500 would buy me a whole lot of conferences down my local pub!

  20. I am a big fan of web 2.0 websites and such (i mean seriously look at my blog -in which you are on the blogroll btw- ) but I don’t know, 3000 for VIP treatment, doesn’t sound vp to me ya know?

    I agree with Philip (although I am a “yank” like you… actuallly from seatttle too)

  21. The banner at the top of this page is for An Event Apart, Seattle, June 20-21.

    I do enjoy life’s little ironies.

  22. I do enjoy life’s little ironies.

    What Irony? At 795 for two days for “joe normal”, seems a lot different from Mike’s example…

  23. eh, you have a point.

  24. SFBlue says:

    It seems that the best known/most blogged conferences are the ones with the highest degree of “social interaction” and emphasis on networking, etc. Those where the emphasis is first and foremost on content — e.g. Web Design World (@ Adam: at 10 years old this year, the event is “fully mature”) — hardly seem to get mentioned on blogs, etc.

  25. Travis says:

    Best Convention that isn’t just fun and games… Penny-Arcade Expo

  26. Camilo says:

    Heinlein wrote that the only ones that got rich during any gold rush were the merchants that sold stuff to the prospectors. The miners that got rich were, essentially, statistical flukes.

    Web 2.0 bubble. Oh, but Web 2.0 is a trademark!

  27. Tony says:

    Right on man! I think half the reason markets tank every so often is because people get so carried away with things like this, until theres nothing of value for what they cost. Then the market drops, people get laid off, prices drop, and people start working hard again trying to do something meanfull cause the same old crap isn’t going to cut it any longer. And the end result of this process are the emergence of a few badass companies like google. Keep a tight budget, draw out that funding you’ve got, and don’t get carried away with all the overhyped industry buzz about companies creating a whole lot of nothing, and newsvine will be a cornerstone of the industry in the next 4 years. Best of luck!

  28. Andy Budd says:

    @Dave S. In my experience the cost of a conference bears no relation to the amount conferences pay their speakers. Some small and inexpensive conferences pay their speakers well, whereas many of the larger $2-5k events expect you to speak for free under the guise of company marketing. This works if you’re a big company, but it’s no good if you’re an independent.

  29. Mark says:

    I’d go with the Husky tickets as well. Too bad I don’t live anywhere near Washington :(

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