Show(s) Me The Money!

Are there too many shows and are they the wrong shows?

By Roy Gregory

It’s no big surprise that the well-worn grumbles about audio shows are surfacing once-again. The complaints are legion and cover, in no particular order: too many; too small; poor venues; poor (or inconsiderate) timing; poor sound and did I list too many? Manufacturers bemoan the cost of so many shows and the associated costs that go with them (travel, shipping, accommodation, expenses, erosion of stock and loss of time). Visitors bemoan the costs that accrue in visiting shows and question whether the experience is worthwhile? Sad to say, it’s generally a disappointment for all concerned.

Back in the day, large, national shows (normally one or two per country) attracted thousands of visitors and a multitude of exhibitors, keen to show off their latest products and strut their stuff. In the US there were trade-only CES events for both summer and winter, both huge and both hugely important shop-windows for high-end audio. The UK had the long-running HFN/RR Heathrow show that filled the Penta hotel. The Paris show was equally big while Frankfurt was arguably the most impressive of all. These days, only the German show survives, relocated to Munich in a case of force majeur meets would be political skulduggery. The rest of Europe and the US has to survive on (or suffer) a horde of small, regional events, too many of which cost too much, deliver too little and attract the same crowd, show-on-show, year-on-year.

The issue of self-interest is a serious one. At the end of the day, the people who choose to organise these regional shows are in it to make money. The decisions taken on everything from room allocation to signage, access hours to storage for crates and cartons are taken on the basis of the show’s bottom line, rather than the quality of the event or how it promotes the industry. Perhaps the most glaring example of this was the cancellation of the 2020 Axpona show due to Covid. Rather than returning exhibitors’ deposits (at a time when many audio manufacturers and dealers were facing significant financial pressures and uncertainty) the organisers chose to hold onto that money and offer it as a series of staged discounts against future events! I wonder who benefitted from THAT decision?!

People asking, “Why can’t we have a ‘Munich show’ in our country?” need only look at the multitude of local shows for the answer. They’re organised by individuals with the sole purpose of making a profit: They are largely supported by local dealers (who try their best to rope in their suppliers) along with the increasing number of manufacturers who have few if any dealers, so that the shows represent a direct sales opportunity. It’s a world away from the notion of a national event, organised for and on behalf of the industry as a whole. That’s an entirely different proposition with a whole different appeal. For starters, as it is intended to promote the whole industry, it should embody at least some semblance of equal opportunity. Secondly, as long as it covers its costs (and the costs of the people employed to organise it) the profit motive is tempered by its promotional goals. A big part of its raison d’être is to make the industry and the event as entertaining and appealing as possible. As a result, it is more willing to give space to and encourage presentations and demonstrations of a more general or educational nature. Thirdly, as a genuine national event, it has way more muscle within the industry and the market and, as a result, it attracts both more exhibitors and more visitors.