Fall of Comdex not a shocker

The not-entirely unexpected news came out late last month that the annual Comdex IT trade show in Las Vegas was not going to be held this year. While the multitude of network managers who were planning to make the pilgrimage to the desert again this year might lament it’s cancellation, the indicators pointing to such a move were hard to miss.

Most notable among the evidence was the sad decline that the entire Comdex machine had witnessed during the last few years. When times were good, there was not one but two Comdex extravaganzas each year: the big one in Vegas and the only slightly smaller one in Atlanta, which was an autumn ritual for many techies.

The Atlanta show was cancelled after 2001 and has not reappeared. With major vendors such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and Dell nowhere to be seen in Vegas in recent times, there was clearly trouble in Comdexland. Other evidence of Comdex’s implosion can be seen in the cancellation of smaller satellite shows, including Comdex Canada, held every year in Toronto. That hasn’t seen the light of day for two years. And, back in the heyday of the late ’90s, there was Comdex PacRim, held in Vancouver. It too is but a foggy memory.

Another sign of dire times ahead could be seen in the industry itself and the way the purchasing process has changed over the years since Comdex’s inception in 1983. When the IT market was a decidedly seller’s one, customers went to the vendors in Vegas to hear their sales spiels and conclude closed-door mega-purchases.

Today, with tighter IT budgets, the market is, in many ways, a buyer’s one. What sense does it make for customers to send their people out to Vegas when the sales-desperate vendors are willing to come to their doorstep? As well, much of the research and info-gathering that went on at Comdex can now be carried out online. With this new reality, one of the main appeals of Comdex has been snuffed out.

Media Live International, the company that produces Comdex, says the show will be back next year, but there is much room for skepticism around that pledge. If Comdex doesn’t return, will we be able to conclude that the large-scale, all-purpose trade IT show is akin to the dodo?

The trend in tech trade shows is to host smaller-scale events that are geared toward one segment of the IT market place, such as the many telecom- and storage-related shows we see dotting the landscape these days. For those IT managers lamenting the lost opportunity to mingle and discuss the merits and faults of the products they use, that opportunity is not vanishing. It will most likely just be presented within a smaller framework.

The days of the enormous Las Vegas Convention Centre being packed with enterprise IT equipment buyers, however, appear to be gone.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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