December 31, 2005

Received wisdom about conferences, pricing and so on

Recently, Eric Meyer, who along with Jeffrey Zeldman and Jason Santamaria held their first "An Event Apart" wrote about pricing for conferences. I started a short comment for the post, but it ended up being a bit bigger, so I thought I'd post it here.

Having had a little to do with conferences these last couple of years, I've both thought a great deal about pricing, and heard a lot of people's opinions about them, and all kinds of related stuff in that time. The comments to Eric's recent article contain many such opinions, about sponsorship, DVDs and other reuse, meals and the like. And given I've been thinking of writing a bit about running a conference, I thought I might do so in the context of that discussion.

First not to nitpick too much, but I think it is important to distinguish between a workshop and a conference. This is not to say either is better, rather they are different. AEA would be what I classify a workshop. WebEssentials is a conference (though many conferences, we05 included, include workshops as part of the program, usually for an additional fee.) We also run web development workshops on their own.

Why is the distinction important? I think because people are looking for different things at a workshop and a conference, and this will definitely impact on what a person thinks is reasonable pricing. The costs are rather different too - in ways which are probably a bit too involved to go into here.

What do people want from a workshop? They want to come away with greater practical skills in a certain area. They want to be able to do something they couldn't before, or to understand something they didn't before - something non trivial.

Over the course of a half day, a day or even two or more days, this is realistic.

For a conference, I think (and I certainly hope) attendees don't have this expectation. Rather, they want to be exposed to new stimulating ideas, techniques, people and so on, but probably realize they'll need to do some work themselves to really put what they come across into practice. Afterall, it's rare to get a conference session even of an hour, and if you go into much detail at all, you'd really not be able to cover much at all in that time.

Conferences in particular also provide a really good opportunity to expand and develop your professional relationships - you get to meet new people with similar interests, there are lunches, breaks, usually some kind of reception (that's why they are there, and why you pay for them, that expense is far from a waste as an attendee, the conference would be dramatically less valuable for you without these opportunities, I really believe).

OK, some specific ideas about pricing.

1. No one is ever going to get rich running a conference or workshops for developers. Maybe for managers, where you can charge an arm and a leg (several thousand for 3 days or so), but if you want to reach out to a broad spectrum of developers in government, industry, independents and so on, then there simply is no way you can make a lot of money doing it.
Trust me :-)

2. Different markets are clearly prepared to pay quite different amounts for similar events - WebEssentials charges close to half per day compared with similar conferences and workshops around the world. And it's not like our costs are lower - Sydney and Australia are world class cities in terms of pricing, and for our international speakers, we look after them well, and they are here for longer than they would be closer to home, so our costs there are very significant. Why do we charge so little? Because in the Australian market, it's not considered little - a lot of people are of the opinion it's a lot, not withstanding it's much cheaper than many overseas events, because they compare with local events here. Of course none of those local events feature the array of international speakers we do (which accounts for probably around 50% of our total costs), but that's not how people look at it.

The reason we can even think about doing the events we do is because we don't run it them a business - all the founders do pretty much all the work, and that time comes from our other endeavors, the ones that actually put food on our tables :-)

To be honest I don't think there would be a WebEssentials any other way. As much as anything it's a labor of love.

3. Sponsorship comes up all the time - people are forever suggesting we could get sponsorship and lower the prices (even further).

Forget about it.

Seriously, at least in Australia it is essentially a complete waste of time to pursue. We've pursued many avenues, all the way to the decision makers with quite a few local and international companies for whom we genuinely believe they'd get great value (BTW, westciv sponsors SxSW, so we know about this from both sides of the fence). The situation might be quite different elsewhere in the world, but here the interest in sponsoring one of the most talked about conferences of its kind anywhere, with more attendees than anything like it down here put together has been close to zero - and not, as I said, for lack of trying. Those events I've seen with apparently good sponsorship clearly put a lot of effort into drumming up sponsorship, particularly from companies they already have good relationships with, and very often, the sponsor's paw-prints are all over the conference. Keynote presentations which are little other than thinly disguised ads, logos and names on everything which moves - in essence, there is a cost to everything, so even if you are lucky to get good sponsorship, what are you willing to give up in its place? That being said, we welcome any interest from potential WE06 sponsors.

4. DVDs and so on.

As Eric observed, DVD and video production is expensive. If you want decent quality, you'll need trained professionals doing the whole thing. It will detract from the experience of the people at the event, as good sight lines for cameras will get in people's way. So you are already out of pocket thousands for the shoot, then you need to do minimum runs too make the per unit cost effective, so now you have inventory. You won't sell them all, I promise (even Joel Spolsky can't sell all the run of his recent professionally made documentary, in reality, how many DVDs do you think you are going to sell? Now divide it by 10). Then you need to handle sales on an ongoing basis, shipping, returns, customer enquiries, and so on. Selling DVDs is not your core business, running events is. Always remember that, and work harder at what you do best.

There is also the real potential that people think "I won't spend all that money and go, I'll just get the DVD", which is bad enough as your profit margins per DVD are likely to be even lower than for physical attendees, but I am convinced there will be a significant number of people who think "it's OK, I'll just get the DVD" and then not even do that.

5. It's hard

At least a couple of people had the good sense to comment

"Well that was quite interesting to read. Now I get at least an idea of why these seminars are that expensive."

And trust me, the people putting them on are most likely subsidizing them with their unpaid work.

Now don't get me wrong. I've loved doing WebEssentials, it's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I hope that we'll do many more. But I also hope this little glimpse behind the scenes has been interesting.

Oh, and Eric, I'll be in Austin for SxSW, so if you'd like some of this presented in person on the panel...

P.S. a little comment on SxSW and it's pricing

I really like SxSW - I've spoken there, will speak again this year, have sponsored it, and will do so again this year.
Why is it so much less than many other conferences? All the following are guesses, but my observations are

1. SxSW interactive is part of a broader festival of conferences - so they can benefit from economies of scale for all kinds of things
2. As far as I know, they pay for very few speakers - no fees, no airfares, no accommodation, no nice meals in restaurants, no transfers to and from airports. These add up. There goes as much as half your costs.
3. No food, meals, coffee breaks and so on (there are some cool parties, all I'd say at least significantly supported by sponsors). There goes perhaps 30-40% of your costs.
4. I'm sure Austin/Texas coughs up a bit - SxSW takes over Austin, and must be fantastic for the economy - both during the conference and more generally. I mean, I can imagine going to Austin some time outside of SxSW cause it's such a great town.
5. 3000-4000 paying attendees for SxSWi alone - if we got 3000 to WebEssentials, I think we might be able to lower the prices a bit too.


December 31, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

WE05 Presentation available in article form

WE05 Presentation available in article form

When I present at a conference or to a group, I almost invariably write the whole presentation out in long hand. Well, actually, I type it out with two fingers on my computer, but you get the idea. This helps me to really work through all the ideas in the presentation, and to hopefully develop a good structure. It also makes it easier to later publish the presentation as an article.

For some strange reason, people often prefer to read a presentation, rather than listen to it. That way they don't have up put up with my Aussie accent, and can more easily skim the boring bits.

I've just published my WE05 presentation, The state of the Art in Australian web development .

Here's the abstract

How are major companies and government departments in Australia developing their sites today? Are they adhering to best practices in development and accessibility? This presentation looks at major Australian sites, to determine whether they are using best practices, and where they are falling down. We'll see what patterns emerge, where things are going well, or otherwise. And we'll conclude with some recommendations based on this cold hard evidence.

Read more (with graphs, tables of results and more)

By the way, this has drawn quite a response, with invitations to speak to a number of organizations and companies about the research I did. It's gratifying to see that people are starting to pay attention top this sort of thing.


October 26, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

WE05 Remixed

Many many years ago, when I was reasonably young, I spent some time being a pretty unsuccessful house music DJ, and playing around with electronic music. We are talking the 80's here people.

Anyway, for some curious reason, after WE05, while talking with Amber "I am the DJ" Nixon, Tantek Çelik's delightful girlfriend, who accompanied Tantek downunder, I got the curious idea of doing a remix of WE05. Not having done any musical stuff other than listening for certainly 15 years, probably more, I broke out GarageBand, and started playing around, and not too long after, had a couple of tracks. I then spent a day or two going through the podCasts of WE05, noting bits that I found inspirational, funny or which otherwise grabbed my attention.

Now, my wife Sara is a radio producer (if you listen to any radio Sport in Australia, you would have heard her work) and has done many many promotional clips. So I worked with her to get the right mix and balance, and in the end, came up with two original tracks, featuring excerpts from the speakers at WE05. One track is "funny", stuff that is amusing, some of which still makes me laugh out loud (check Russ's snippet right near the end, I laugh out loud every time I hear it), and one more inspirational.

I hope you enjoy remix culture gone mad - WE05 remixed

WE05 Upbeat Remix

WE05 Deep Remix


October 19, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

WE05 ignition sequence commenced -podCasts, flickr, blogging and more

WE04 seems so distant (I'm since married, and a lot else has happened aside) and yet so recent.

And now, WE05 is about to kick off. Jeffrey Veen, Molly Holzschalg, Douglas Bowman and Kelly Goto jetted in this morning (Jeffrey and Molly a little late after an emergency detour to Fiji because the planes toilets broke down.)
Eric Meyer, Tantek Çelik, and Derek Featherstone are arriving tomorrow (that's a couple of early starts at the airport),

As usual for WE events, the heavens opened in this drought stricken city. This is getting ridiculous. The weather is supposed to be fining up for the the rest of the week, let's hope so.

If you can't make it to Sydney, or missed out on a seat, never fear, we have podCasts, photos, blogging and more to keep you in touch.

It's not quite as good as being here, but maybe next year...

Check out last year's and current photos at WE04, WE05 and our flickr group.

Listen to podCasts of each session soon after they are done at our website or Odeo

Track what blogs are saying about WE05 via technorati, tags and make sure you tag your WE05 blog posts like this

<a href=”” rel=”tag”>WE05</a>

And if you are in Sydney and missed out, get down to the pumphouse on Friday evening, where we'll have our wrap party - all welcome (but you'll have to buy your own drinks)


September 26, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 21, 2005

WE05 hots up, Veen, flickr, podcasting and more

With a week to go to WE05, we've been working our proverbials off to take last year's successful conference and make it much much better.

Jeffrey Veen's workshop

First off we have Jeffrey Veen's brand new workshop Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps. I always new this would be fantastic, but having seen the content in detail now I have just this to say - if you miss this you will kick yourself forever. The chance to see Jeffrey down under is a very rare one. < href="">Take it.

Some of the areas Jeffrey is covering are

  • Simple and Fast Research with Metrics Analysis, Competitive Analysis and Audience Personas.
  • Interaction Design for web applications built using AJaX
  • Using AJaX to solve real problems
  • Documenting the design process
  • Designing for and with APIs
  • Usability Testing
  • Principles of design for the new Web
  • Business principles for the new Web


All sessions at WE05 will be podCast. There'll be a WebEssentials channel at Odeo, and you'll be able to subscribe or download individual sessions from our site

Photos and flickr

The wonderful Amit Karmakar is bringing his photographic skills to WE05. Check out the latest photos at our site or at the WebEssentials flickr photostream. You can find some photos from last year and other WE events there already.

Book signings

With so many fine authors speaking at WE05, we've lined up a book signing by Molly Holzschlag, Eric Meyer, Kelly Goto and Jeffrey Veen. We'll also have discounted copies of their books to purchase, and EFTPOS facilities.

September 21, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Web Essentials update

WE05, the second WebEssentials conference, is shaping up. We sold out some weeks ago, and are putting together the final pieces to eclipse even last year's wonderful event.

While the conference, as mentioned, is sold out, we do have some places left for Jeffrey Veen's workshop "Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps" which is held the day before at the same venue.

If you are involved with user interface design for the web, and web application design, this simply isn't to be missed. The day is also fully catered, and includes an evening reception, where you'll get the chance to meet with Jeffrey, your peers in our industry in Australia, and the speakers of WE05, including Eric Meyer, Molly Holzschlag, Douglas Bowman, Kelly Goto, Tantek Çelik, and Derek Featherstone.

And we'll even throw in an invitation to the WE05 conference party, the ollowing night - fully catered, a great opportunity to get to know even more people in your industry in Australia.

For more see the Adaptive Path or WebEssentials web sites.

But places are selling out, so please don't delay.

See you in a fortnight,


September 16, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

Workshops update

Russ Weakley and I have been touring Australia these last couple of weeks with our Web Essentials CSS Workshops, visiting Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra so far. We've still got Melbourne to go tomorrow and Friday. If you are interested, you can still sign up today.

The response has been fantastic. People have really enjoyed and benefitted from them (they told us so themselves). We got from the basics of CSS right through to complex descendent selectors, multi column layouts, and the intricacies of all kinds of things like floating, media types, and much more.

While Russ and I will be flat out in the lead up to the Web Essentials Conference at the end of September (really filling up now, so if you are interested, please start making your plans or you will miss out) we are interested in the possibility of taking the workshops to other cities not too far away So if you are keen, drop us a line and let us know.

And stay tuned for an exciting announcement relating to Web Essentials some time in the next few days.

A presto,


July 27, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2005

duelling projectors

Russ Weakley and I are about to kick off our 4 city tour of the Australian east coast Web Essentials first series of workshops. Response has been fantastic, with around 100 people all up, in Sydney Brisbane Canberra and Melbourne.

Russ and I are also introducing a bit of an innovation - duelling projectors. While one of us presents, the other will code live on a second projector. I thinks its going to be fun and a very informative way of doing it.

So, if you are on the east coast, we kick off tomorrow in Sydney, but there are still a few places in Brisbane on Thursday and Friday, Canberra on Monday and Tuesday next week, and then Melbourne on Thursday and Friday next week.

Hope to see you there,


July 17, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 11, 2005

Web Essentials CSS workshops looming

Web Essentials first series of CSS workshops, featuring Max Design's Russ Weakley (SelectTutorial, ListTutorial and more) and me is just around the corner. We kick off in Sydney next week for two days. We are in Brisbane that Thursday and Friday (21 and 22), then the following week in Canberra on monday and Tuesday (25 and 26) before wrapping up in Melbourne on Thursday 28 and Friday 29.

Day 1 covers the foundations, including getting your HTML/XHTML structural, semantic and valid, as well as the fundamentals (and more) of CSS.
Day 2 features a raft of up to the minute CSS techniques. All with a focus on best practices in accessibility, usability and Web Standards.

The workshops are interactive, hands on, intensive and fully catered.

You can take either or both days, as suits you needs.

So if you are keen to get your improve your web design and development skills, take a look at the details, and hope to see you in the next couple of weeks.

July 11, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 01, 2005

Web Essentials Early bird extended for a couple of days

The response to Web Essentials just keeps getting better. The last day or so has seen a lot of fresh signups, including our first from the US. In fact, we are now not that far short of last years attendance. Which shows an amazing growth in the interest in standards based web development over the last 12 months.

Last night, we held our first free seminar in Sydney, and a good crowd braved the elements to hear Roger Hudson speak on accessibility for data tables, and Peter Ottery to speak on redesigning, then stay to chat.

So because we are feeling very good about things right now, we've decided to let the early bird pricing run for a couple more days. Early bird pricing of AUD$700 (about USD$530, what a bargain) is now available until Monday, but that will definitely be the cutoff.

So if you are keen to hear Molly Holzschlag, Eric Meyer, Kelly Goto, Jeffrey Veen, Tantek Çelik, Derek Featherstone, Douglas Bowman and a host of great Australian presenters speaking on CSS, XHTML, Microformats, semantics, AJAX, User Experience, Workflow, Design and Accessibility, and want to save $150, you have until Sunday (to be on the safe side) to register at the early bird price.


July 1, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack