The Regionalization of Audio Shows

October 18, 2013

Having just returned from RMAF 2013, where attendance was seemingly down significantly from the year before (at least that is how it felt), I was struck by just how fast the number of audio shows has expanded in such a short period of time. By my count, in addition to the industry-only CES in January and CEDIA in September, there are now ten consumer audio shows spread throughout North America and throughout the year: AXPONA (Chicago), California Audio Show (San Fransisco), Capitol Audiofest (Washington, D.C.), Lone Star Audio Fest (Dallas), New York Audio Show (New York), Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (Denver), Salon Son et Image (Montreal), T.H.E. Show (Las Vegas), T.H.E. Show (Newport Beach), and Toronto Audio and Video Entertainment Show (Toronto). Here is a breakdown in case you would like to plan ahead for next year:

01/07-10/2014 CES (Las Vegas)
01/07-10/2014 T.H.E. Show (Las Vegas)
03/28-30/2014 Salon Son et Image (Montreal)
04/25-27/2014 AXPONA (Chicago)
05/02-03/2014 Lone Star Audio Fest (Dallas)
05/30-02/2014 T.H.E. Show (Newport Beach)
07/25-27/2014 Capitol Audiofest (Washington, D.C.)
08/15-17/2014 California Audio Show (San Fransisco)
09/10-13/2014 CEDIA (Denver)
09/26-28/2014 New York Audio Show (New York)
10/10-12/2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (Denver)
11/07-09/2014 Toronto Audio and Video Entertainment Show (Toronto)

Frankly, I don’t see how the pace of audio shows can be maintained. Even if a manufacturer does it on a shoestring, by the time he pays for his demo room, shipping and dryage, airfare, sleeping room, meals, and incidentals, he will spend a minimum of $5,000-$10,000 (which is roughly the same cost as a full page ad in Stereophile or The Absolute Sound), which if he attended all the shows, would run $50,000-$100,000 a year, not to mention the drain on time. (The same can be said for the press, for while they do not have the expense of a demo room and shipping, the cost is nevertheless significant.) It is no secret that many of the manufacturers are members of a cottage industry for whom that expense is simply not sustainable. One way to contain the cost is to enlist the support of local dealers so that costs can be shared. But, with the sharp reduction in the number of dealers, that is simply not an option for many. So manufacturers are going to have to pick and choose which shows to attend.

And then there is the question of what the manufacturer actually gets out of showing at all. Clearly exposure. However, there were perhaps 400 or more manufacturers represented at RMAF, and fewer than ten percent introduced new products. Based on my having attended 20 shows over the past five years, I’d say fewer than half of manufacturers introduce new products in any given year. You simply see the same products in the same rooms at show after show after show. Potential customers? Well, based on the conversations in the halls, as well as the photos of systems and signature lines you see on most audio forums, I’d say most of the attendees are curious enthusiasts who, truth be told, earn real life incomes and have real life responsibilities, and can’t afford most of the products in most of the rooms. It just seems like a hugely inefficient way to generate sales. Of course, for many manufactures without a dealer network, it may be the only way to generate sales.

So how do I see it shaking out? Well, it is clear to me that there are the national shows (RMAF and T.H.E. Show Newport Beach), which will attract audiophiles from all over the country because of their size, and the regional shows (everyone else, including New York and Chicago), which will attract only local audiophiles, which will necessarily keep them small. Whether the regional shows are financially sustainable is questionable. If I were a manufacturer, I’d limit my participation to the national shows. It is certainly what I am going to do as a member of the press. I’ll concede coverage of the regional shows to Stereophile.