The Digital Show held in Melbourne last weekend was a stunning reaffirmation of the photographic industry as a discrete retailing category.
The other side of the same coin is that it failed to fulfil the vision of IDEA president Dave Marshall to create an annual ‘digital lifestyle’ event for Australia, driven by the photo industry.
My opinion, having attended these shows for over 20 years and been involved behind the scenes for 10, is that this was one of the best – but it wasn’t the show it was meant to be. The PMA conference was excellent as well, but that’s another story.
IDEA needs to start looking after its own – its own members and the retail and consumer customers of those members – and abandon the idea of an equipment exhibition in which the camera is merely another component in a category of products which includes plasma screens, smartphones, tablets, smart fridges, game consoles and whatever new digital technology is around the corner. It’s been tried and it has failed due to a lack of interest. It’s been run up the flagpole and no-one saluted. It’s a dead parrot.
For a number of years now there has been a move to make the annual photo industry event bigger and better, more consumer-oriented – and less photography-oriented. The smaller business-to-business exhibitors who deal almost exclusively with the retail trade, and to a lesser extend the pro exhibitors, have graciously, altruistically accepted this as necessary and good for the industry, even though it doesn’t directly serve their interests to shoe-horn the business side of a three-day show into one day.
But moving to make the show even more mass market-oriented, and taking the focus away from photography and onto something called ‘the convergence story’ was always going to be one step too far for some of these second-tier businesses. Consequently well-established, regular exhibitors, stalwarts of the industry like Adeal, Haldex, JA Davey, UR1, Profile, Playcorp, Film & Video Extras, Noritsu and others – the kind of exhibitors the specialist retailers comes along to speak with – declined to participate.
Several other smaller exhibitors only committed in the last few weeks, presumably following offers too good to refuse as the organisers panicked about achieving a critical mass. So perhaps the costs for the smaller companies needs to be looked at. IDEA needs to ensure it’s not treating ’boutique’ exhibitors like Frank Lowy treats boutique retailers – as cash cows to cross-subsidise the big guys.
In the end there were about 60 exhibitors, with 10 of these being non-profit organisations like the Australian Photographic Society and the Ballarat Biennale, who it would be hoped paid little or nothing for their space. By comparison, in 2011 there were about 100 exhibitors.
But the relative lack of trade-oriented exhibitors would have been seen as mere collateral damage if the grand vision of a show supported by all the big CE brands had been achieved. It wasn’t, and in fact there were less mainstream brands than usual, with Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and HP dropping out, and companies like LG, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Sanyo Toshiba failing to sign on, even though they were offered sweet deals if they committed to a three-year involvement.
In fact, according to sources at IDEA, two senior executives from top CE brands who actively encouraged the pursuit of the digital lifestyle show concept consequently failed to bring their own brands along as exhibitors, hanging the IDEA chairman and executive director out to dry, somewhat!
IDEA has also been unsuccessful in attracting the CE retail channel to the show. While the IDEA president, Dave Marshall, has stated he doesn’t believe the photo specialist channel is able to grow the photo industry, at least they show up to the industry show, unlike his clients (as head of Fujifilm) from Harvey Norman and Big W! And yes – I am generalising here – apologies to those store managers and staff from HN, etc, who did attend. (And read Photo Counter!)
The sign out the front of the show billed it as featuring ‘Professional Imaging’, ‘Business & Home Connectivity’, and ‘Home & Mobile Entertainment’. It was found clearly wanting in two out of three of these categories, and that was always going to be the case when the big brands passed on the opportunity. At that stage – it was clear,many months ago that things weren’t going to work out as planned – IDEA should have accepted what they had to work with and had the quick-wittedness and humility to adjust the strategy and the message.
Because this was a bloody photo show. The word that doesn’t appear anywhere in the show name or sub-branding – Photography. I’ll say it again. Photography. That’s what we do. And that’s what the punters came to see last Saturday and Sunday.
And they were well-served! Nikon, Canon, Olympus and CR Kennedy, Maxwell and Tasco, all had great stands, knowledgeable, engaging staff and a plethora of new products to show. Maxwell even used the show to trial an exciting new photo specialist retail shop-fit concept. The Go Pro stand (a new exhibitor!) was a hive of activity. There were talks, exhibitions and workshops literally in each corner of the exhibition floor, as well as on the larger exhibitors’ stands. There were more obscure gems to be discovered off the main aisles and down the alleys. This was a photo enthusiasts’ paradise!
Numbers steady, quality up
There will be some discussion on numbers attending the show. The consensus from the many exhibitors I spoke to was that they were at least slightly down, while IDEA seems to feel they were about the same as last year in Sydney – roughly 20,000 people.
Whatever, there were a goodly number of consumer attendees, without it ever being difficult to get around. Aiding this ease of mobility was the distinct lack of strollers compared to the last two or three shows. I’ve nothing against strollers – I like them all – but this indicated that people were attending this show not as a family outing – an inexpensive form of amusement on a wet Sunday afternoon – but mainly as individuals, with some real curiosity and enthusiasm for photography.
There was also less moving about overall. In previous years the aisles have been clogged with folk shuffling along looking for something to look at. This year there seemed to be far more people engaged with product demonstrations and talks and picture exhibitions, and far fewer people simply moving between A and B. Fortunately they didn’t come for ‘the convergence story’, or integrating flat screen panels with one’s iPhone, or the camera as a component of the home entertainment hub. If so they would have felted cheated.
They came for photography. Taking pictures, making pictures and appreciating pictures.
If IDEA had surveyed people leaving they would have discovered this. And they would be working to make it an even better Photography Show in 2012. Instead, the intention seems to be to give this ‘son of CES’ vision another whirl around the block next year. But why flog a dead horse? If Panasonic and Sony didn’t front this year because they are both suffering multi-billion dollar losses, their fortunes are hardly going to turn around in the next 12 months.
If the big brands declined the three-year deals they were offered in 2012, why would they look more positively at the dusted-off offer next year?
And if the show actually works, why try to fix it? IDEA runs the risk of making the best an enemy of the good. The exhibitors who voted with their marketing budgets, the retailers, professional photographers and enthusiasts who were interested enough to attend – these are the real stakeholders in the annual industry event. The plasma screen companies and telcos and their customers are not, the CE retailers don’t seem all that interested, and IDEA runs the risk of squandering the photo industry’s financial reserves if it continues to ignore what the market has said.