As I indicated earlier this year, I am going to start laying it all on the line, telling it like it is and that includes discussing things like the secret life of a big photo trade show like WPPI.
WPPI is a large photo show for wedding and portrait photographers. It’s owned by Nielsen, a corporate giant that has no real photo industry experience that matters. It is easy to tell that when you visit their shows.
WPPI had an extra odd feel this year. Nielsen has only owned the show for two years and has announced it’s trying to sell WPPI (Along with all its other trade shows.) I can only assume the trade show business is harder than Nielsen expected it to be. I know that the numbers for this year’s WPPI are down across the board. They sold fewer booths (this may be why George Varanakis left WPPI for Creative Live.) Attendance is down. Some vendors said they were relatively happy with the traffic, but more than two dozen or so I spoke with mentioned that traffic was really down and what’s worse, the quality of the attendee on the show floor was down too.
WPPI gave out more free show floor passes than usual. They also dropped the price of the entire conference to just $99 to spur ticket sales. (Prices in the past have been $399.) These two events conspired to bring a lot of tire kickers to the show floor. In the past, the event was limited to actual working professionals and the exhibitors seemed to make more meaningful connections with the crowd.
I think this is a trend. So it’s not just that WPPI is bad. It’s the whole industry, but WPPI is at the forefront of some of the problems creating the downward trend in my opinion. More on that in a moment. Now for some good news.
The one thing that is always good at WPPI is the networking. I met lots of new people – well new to me I should say. And that made the trip worthwhile. My pal Skip Cohen grew this show to the giant it is today during his tenure as President of WPPI / Rangefinder. The show has suffered since he left, but it’s always had one strong point. Both Skip and I agree that the primary reason to attend any photo show is the networking.
I was also lucky enough to meet Melissa Niu from the Framed Network. She is the co-founder of Framed and through what might go down as the best party in WPPI history. And that’s saying something since there have been some pretty epic WPPI parties. She also happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve met in this industry.
I was also glad to see old friends like Clay Blackmore, Tamara Lackey, Matthew Jordan Smith and others teaching on the trade show floor. That was, by the way, one thing that I saw more of this year at WPPI and that I do appreciate. In the past, fearing it would cut into conference ticket sales, WPPI didn’t allow for as many teaching booths or theaters if you will on the show floor. This year they did and the result was that those who came on a free trade show pass could get lots of valuable information.
In terms of products and services I saw on the trade show floor that caught my eye. . .
Remember my review about the ONA photo bag? I met the designer and her story is inspiring. I’ll be reviewing their larger bag and it looks just as good. I also met Peter Hurly on the floor. We talked a year ago on the phone and never really connected after that. But this time we spent some time together and he even made my headshot for me. He’s a super talented and super nice young guy and he’s showing some prototypes of a lighting setup for headshot shooters that is so bullet-proof, Stevie Wonder could use it to make great head shots.
There was also a cool strap floating around from the guys at Vulture Equipment. Talk about sturdy. I saw the co-founder swinging a big Canon body with lens around his head in a helicopter motion proving how tough his strap was. I am testing this thing in Alaska next week and will let you know.
I saw a trend in prints made on wood. Three different labs were prominently displaying these images. A few years ago it was metal. What this tells me is that the labs (and the photographers) copy each other and create trendy trends that may jump the shark before you even catch on.
Panasonic and Fuji had impressive and busy booths. While neither company is close to catching Nikon or Canon, it is nice to see them on the road to being competitors that the big two need to worry about. Competition is good. It breeds quality.
There are more women at the show this year. It’s a real indicator that women are flocking to professional photography. I think that’s a good thing.
Trends that aren’t so good? If you had a Brownie camera and took one decent photo with it in 1967 and you had a big lab sponsor, you could get a platform speaking slot at WPPI. It’s all about the money folks. You can be the worst speaker/photographer in the world and still get a gig at WPPI – as long as you have a sponsor. Conversely, you can be the best and without a sponsor, nobody will ever know you exist. I understand the economics, but I think my pal Skip has proven you can pay the bills without being so mercenary. Check out his new endeavor, SkipCohenUniversity.com.
As for the speakers. Some of my best friends do speak at this conference. And they deserve to. They are all sponsored so there’s no worry that they won’t make it. But I do wish that newer voices had more of a chance and that fewer decisions would be made based on cost alone. It’s unlikely that either of those concerns will see the light of day at WPPI.
In my opinion, WPPI is like most super large trade shows – on the verge of extinction. There are better ways for people to consume this information – mostly in the form of boutique shows and via other non-traditional networking venues.
I have probably attended my last WPPI. And from the sounds of it, many photographers I spoke to this week are with me.
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