Expo Wars: Apple, IDG Playing Hardball – But What Gives?

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Date: Friday, October 18th, 2002, 09:40
Category: Archive

It’s been a while since we’ve seen any melodrama from Cupertino, but that’s exactly what’s happening this week over, of all things, Macworld Expo. First, Macworld producer IDG officially announces the move of summer Macworld back to Boston in 2004 on the 20th anniversary of the show, as had widely been expected. No less than the Mayor of Boston, Thomas M. Menino, hails the move saying, “I am proud to announce that Macworld is coming back to Boston, where it was born, and where it belongs.” Exhibitor Sonnet Technologies’ Robert Farnsworth even gets nostalgic about the city: “We still have fond memories of Boston and the excitement and energy that those early Macworld shows generated. We look forward to returning to one of the Mac community’s most nostalgic locales.” Macworld would be the first show in the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Then, later on yesterday, things got strange. Apple issued the following statement to PR outlets: “Today IDG announced plans to move Macworld New York to Boston in July of 2004. Apple disagrees with this decision, and will not be participating in Macworld Boston. Since IDG is no longer investing in New York, we now need to re-evaluate our participation in Macworld New York 2003. Apple will continue to participate in Macworld San Francisco in January.”

Next, IDG counter-responded, in an interview with IDG-owned MacCentral. IDG World Expo President and CEO Charlie Greco promised that IDG would go on with Macworld New York 2003 and Boston 2004 with or without Apple. MacCentral reports that IDG claims it has been in close contact with Apple throughout the Boston negotiations and appears to be surprised by the Apple announcement. “If for reasons unknown to us they decide not to come, we will go with 250 exhibitors instead of 251 exhibitors,” Greco told MacCentral.

What’s going on here? [Switching to pure speculation mode. Pure speculation mode on.] IDG has no real obligation to Apple; Macworld is an IDG event, not an Apple event. That could mean that Apple was sidelined in negotiations and IDG’s “surprise” is really that Apple is playing hardball over a move that Apple didn’t like. Then again, that doesn’t explain what Apple’s motives for being unhappy are: why the sudden New York patriotism? Politically, New York has been good for Apple’s image as it goes after big money in media production in the media capital of the world; Apple hasn’t put its education image in the limelight as it once did, so that Boston as flagship Mac town doesn’t make as much sense as New York. But surely that’s not enough to justify snubbing IDG. Could an ever-mercurial Apple be using this as an excuse to back out of a costly expo, and more tightly control press attention that has tended to gravitate to Macworlds? If not, what is Apple hoping to get out of IDG? I thought maybe I was the only one with a dark imagination, but at least Jack Miller at As the Apple Turns, back from baby-inspired hiatus, agrees that this could all be a cover for Cupertino cost-cutting.

[Switching off pure speculation mode.] In any event, this sounds like bad news for the east coast Mac community all around. IDG, for their part, has made a commitment to the city of Boston they probably cannot back out of: whether or not there’s a contract dictating the terms of their agreement, IDG would lose its ability to negotiate with cities if it backed out now. According to IDG, its negotiations with Boston won it 2004, 2005, and 2006 as secured dates in the new expo center, reduced utilities and catering for exhibitors, reduced rates and price caps at Boston hotels (IDG says $150/night is typical), transportation and Boston dining and entertainment discounts, promotional support, and use of city sites including the Parkman House and Boston Public Library courtyard.

We’ve heard very little of Apple’s side of the story (actually, we’ve heard nothing at all). That said, let’s hope that whatever is going on, Apple doesn’t abandon the Mac community on this, or summer 2003 and 2004 could be lonely, indeed. Expos are expensive, time-consuming propositions for exhibitors. If other exhibitors decide to follow Apple’s lead, a panic will ensue that would destroy the expo. My money is definitely on no Macworld without Apple, whatever IDG says. IDG says it is in negiotiations with Apple now to bring them back to the Expo. Note that Apple sent its announcement directly to the press. Clearly, Cupertino is trying to take its battle to a public arena to put pressure on IDG. Best bet: stay tuned to see how the dust settles. And hey, Apple, even if this isn’t winning you any points, thanks for giving us some melodrama again! Keeps us writers in business.

By the way, Boston Mac users, on behalf of NYC, don’t you think we should use this as an excuse to start staging Boston vs. New York duels at Macworld expos? Weapons / choice of game TBD. (Marathon springs to mind.)

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