Jul 6 2009

How do you compare to free?

John

This topic applies to many spaces, and it’s one that has come up for 360|Conferences a few times. Our events are  often compared to barcamp style events, which are more often than not, free, because we’re usually far less expensive than most events, that charge.

I suppose on one hand it’s a compliment, since often those events are 100% community and usually entertaining and fun, if not informative. On the other hand though, it’s not a very fair comparison.

  • Barcamps aren’t usually 3-4 days long
  • They rarely include meals and/or parties
  • They don’t often have SWAG (of varying importance for sure)
  • They don’t cover any speaker expense

We recently had someone complain that we should still be charging $100 dollars for 360|Flex, our Flex Developer conference, because that was what we charged the first time.

That’s all well and good, except we lost money. $100 for 3 days, without it being completely a marketing event, with fun parties, good content, etc, is as we’ve found, unrealistic.

Barcamps are great, but they’re not a business. Barcamp style events are typically organized by local community members who want to do an event. The barcamp style event is very easy to get setup and has very few, if any requirements on the organizer. Barcamps rely on sponsors to provide things, like lunch, badges, parties etc. and if that doesn’t happen, that’s just too bad. “You didn’t pay to come, or you paid very little, what do you expect?” is often heard.

The organizer is most likely employed, and not relying on the conference to pay his phone bill let alone mortgage. His goal was to bring people together, which is awesome and applause worthy, but not a business.

Barcamps (like MashupCamp, startupCamp, etc.) don’t have defined speakers, and rely on people coming prepared to speak/present, and finding enough people to do so, the day of.

It’s hard to stack up against a free event, when the free event isn’t intended to be a business. Tom and I would love to do free events, but unless everyone wants to be schilled at 100% of the time by the sponsors we’d need to subsidize the event, it’s unrealistic.

I think comparing one event to another (regardless of whether they’re similar or not) is a bad practice to get into (and I often do it myself, I admit), when the real comparison is the value and ROI to the attendee.  Compare what attendees take away, compare what they get from the event. After all that’s the important thing. It’s not a ‘who gives more SWAG, or has the best parties’ contest, it’s who gives their attendees the most bang for their buck, that’s what counts.

It’s tough sometimes to keep that in mind, I admit.