Under The Microscope

Should I Exhibit At Macworld? Part 1: Costs

The Should I Exhibit At Macworld? Series

Part 1: Costs
Part 2: On The Show Floor
Part 3: Decisions, Decisions
Part 4: Odds & Ends

Macworld San Francisco 2007 just ended, and I’ve recently heard the same question many times: “Should I exhibit at Macworld?”. The answer is simple and concrete. That answer is, of course, “Weeeeell, it all depends”.

Today, we’ll look at the costs of exhibiting. They are not insubstantial, and they’re not commonly known nor easily determined. Exhibiting at trade shows is not cheap, and Macworld is no exception. Your situation will vary from the examples below, but this will provide something of a worst case.

Transportation and Lodging In San Francisco
First up, you need to get to the show, and for most developers that’s going to mean flying. If you can afford to pay for First Class, you probably don’t need this article, so we’ll talk Coach. Airfare costs fluctuate but round trip from the east coast will likely cost between $250-$400 dollars. Use a flight search engine like the excellent kayak.com to find a good deal. You can also choose to fly into Oakland (OAK) instead of San Francisco (SFO), which is generally cheaper. International flights will of course cost more. I did a quick search on trips from Munich, London, and Paris, but there’s more flux here.

Airfare: $200-$500 (domestic) $600-$1000 (international)

Once your plane touches down, you need to get from the airport to the city. In some places, this can be a matter of hoping on a free hotel shuttle or public transportation. From San Francisco (or Oakland), your best bet is simply a cab, especially as you’re likely to have plenty of luggage. This will likely be around $50 each way (with tip), but it involves the least hassle.

Cab fare: Up to $100 roundtrip

You’ll be in town for an entire week, so you’ll need a place to sleep. Book your hotel as soon as possible, as the best deals will sell out. The Macworld site will show which hotels are offering discounts for exhibitors. There are dozens of hotels within walking distance of the convention center, for many price ranges, but it will likely be between $100-$300 a night. The best advice is to stay as close as possible within your price range – you’ll thank yourself at 9 am when you have to walk to the Moscone.

How many nights you need is up to you. The show floor is open Tuesday through Friday, so it’s possible to fly in on Monday and fly out Friday evening. You would then require a hotel for just four nights. A more relaxed schedule is to fly in on Sunday, and fly out the following Saturday, requiring a hotel for six nights.

Hotel (4-6 nights): Anywhere from $100-$300/night, for four to six nights makes this a very variable cost. $1000 is a good base here.

Food is another variable cost, where you have a good bit of control. You can probably get by with as little as $25 a day or so, but an estimate of $50/day is probably good.

Food (5-7 days): $50/day, ~$300

Macworld Itself
Floor space is the single biggest cost of exhibiting at Macworld, and it has several sub-costs of which you may not be aware. As a first-time exhibitor, there are likely to be discount packages available to you, which can be good deals. In 2004, we took a “turnkey package” for a 10×10 booth which was fully-furnished. At the time, this cost around ~$5000 and simplified things greatly. In 2007, there was a package with a Developer Pavilion kiosk and advertising for $5000. I’ll discuss selecting a booth or kiosk in another article, but right now we’ll look at the costs of both.

The smallest booth available is 10×10 feet, and that should be just fine for your first show. The cost per square foot of floor space is around $50 for the show, so this will be approximately $5000. You’re not done yet, unless you plan to simply stand on a warehouse-like slab of concrete and shout at passers-by1. In addition to the floor space, you’ll need to pay for carpeting, a table, chairs, and even the trash can. Adding $1000 or so is a good estimate, bringing the cost of the booth to $6000.

A less expensive alternative is the one- and two-meter stations. At Macworld 2007, there was a “forest” of one type of these kiosks by the Apple booth (the aforementioned Developer Pavilion) as well as another full of larger kiosks in the North Hall (with such notable developers as Fetch and Bare Bones). This setup comes with all that you need, including internet access, so it’s nice and easy. The downside is that the kiosks tend to get less foot traffic. However, for a small developer, this may be a benefit and not a problem.

The cost of your setup will vary based on your decision of a booth or kiosk, but you’re looking at a minimum of at least $3000.

Exhibit Hall space and accessories: $3000-$6000 (and up)

Internet access is sold by the Moscone Center itself, and it’s incredibly expensive2. In 2007, it was $1095. That’s not a typo, it’s $1095 for four days. Thus far, we’ve avoided purchasing internet access and it’s likely you can too. If your product relies on the internet, then pay for access. If you can avoid doing so, it’s certainly advisable.

Internet access: $1095

You’ll need some equipment to demonstrate your software. This can be rented at nearly the cost of purchasing a machine. You can also just bring a laptop, but even this goes best with an external display. If you’re using your own equipment, you’ll likely want to ship some of it out, which has costs and risks associated with it. There are quite a few options here, but you’ll like need to spend a minimum of $100 to get a display set up, even with your own equipment. To have less hassle with shipping, or to ship equipment for multiple displays, you can easily spend $1000.

Equipment: $100-$1000

Finally, we need to consider what you’ll be handing out at your booth. You want to give the potential customer something to take home with him and check out later. You may have received swag like pens, yo-yos, t-shirts, and the like from vendors at other shows. While this can be useful for branding, it’s also very expensive, and is far less likely to have a direct impact. For first time exhibitors (and most exhibitors in general, for that matter), I recommend just the basics.

At the very least, a simple flyer with information on your products is advisable (infosheets, in the Rogue Amoeba vernacular). Printing these is not terribly expensive, and the cost per piece drops dramatically as your volume increases. It’s difficult to know how many infosheets to have, but it’s better to have too many and schlep them home or even discard them, than to run out on Friday morning. Print between 2500-7500, and get them shipped directly to your hotel, and you should be set.

For MWSF 2006, we ordered 7500 full-color sheets on a fairly high-quality stock, for $900 with shipping. I’ve just checked pricing through our previous supplier (printingcenterusa.com), using their online “quotalator”. For 250 pieces, you’ll pay $270, or over $1 per piece. For 10,000, you’ll pay $980, or under 10 cents per piece. Be sure to print enough, as the economies of scale really kick in well here.

Trial CDs
We also like to provide customers with a CD containing trials of all our software. You’ll need fewer of these, as fewer people will take them. Running out of CDs is our goal (as users can always download the software), falling back to the infosheets when we do. Your mileage will vary, but we’ve found that between 2500 and 5000 CDs is a good estimate for Macworld.

There are two good ways of creating these CDs – you can have them pressed, by a company like DiscMakers, or you can duplicate them yourself, with some sort of home method (more on this in a forthcoming article). Both methods for creating CDs can be tweaked greatly, to improve appearance and quality. Ultimately, your cost per disc will be between $0.40 and $1 per disc.

Booth Handouts: $500-$1000 for infosheets, $1000-$2500 for CDs


That’s everything major, so let’s total it all up, using Rogue Amoeba as our example.

Airfare (3 people all in the US):$1000
Cabs (We’ll share): $100
Hotel (1 room, we’ll cheap out and share): $1000
10×10 booth (floor space + furniture): $6000
Equipment: $300
7500 Infosheets: $900
3000 CDs: $2000
Total: $12,300

Two Final Thoughts
Now that you’ve seen the major costs, you can work out your own math. Even a best case will still be over $5000, and that’s not a small number by any means, especially for smaller developers. Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic formula to determine if that number is worth paying for you, but I do have two thoughts to share.

1) If you’re not a full-time Independent Software Vendor (ISV) yet, going to Macworld won’t instantly make it possible for you to be one. It’s a large up-front cost with slow return as public awareness builds, not an instant-success type of move. I’ll talk more about this in the next article, but it’s worth noting now.

2) If your yearly revenue is below the cost of exhibiting, it’s certainly not worth exhibiting. I take it back, I will lay out a simple formula:

Your annual revenue should be at least 10 times your exhibiting cost.

If it’s not, you should either cut exhibiting costs by scaling back, or wait it out another year.

So, those are the major costs of exhibiting at Macworld. There’s certainly more to the decision on exhibiting than money, but it’s good to know what it will cost. In the next article, we’ll look at what you can expect from your time at the show, as well as realistic goals and likely outcomes for exhibiting Macworld.

1. You’d certainly stand out, but I wouldn’t advise it.

2. Until recently, the Moscone had a monopoly on internet access, but the rise of wireless solutions such as EV-DO and cellular access is changing this. I can’t speak from direct experience here, but if you have some sort of wireless access, the signal in the Moscone should be fine.

There are also now companies such as EVDOinfo.com renting EV-DO cards and routers for a use in situations such as these, at a cost far below that listed above. With more competition, the cost will hopefully be driven down in the very near future. Either way, using wireless access should provide you with a much less expensive alternative.

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