Is it goodbye to trade shows?

Is it goodbye to trade shows?

Whether the Frankfurt Musikmesse’s organisers took a hard-headed, calculated decision to turn their show into an overwhelmingly public event we may never know but, whether it was by accident or design, it has happened. True, Musikmesse has its business area and it seems to be popular with some exhibitors, but let’s not pretend it isn’t any longer what most would call ‘ a trade show’.

For fans of trade shows, things are even worse in the UK. Newbay’s attempt to combine the MIRC show it inherited from Intent Media with the MIA’s annual event, creating 2016’s MI Expo, was (to be generous) a flop and since then the silence has been deafening. There is, it would seem, no appetite for another UK MI trade show.

As you might expect, much of problem stems from economics. Even if most potential exhibitors turned up, the returns weighed against the risk are, I am told, simply too close. And, in any case, it is very far from clear that the MI business in this country can reach anything like a consensus about what kind of show it might want, or, just as importantly, where it would like it to be held. Company X refuses to exhibit if a show is held in London. Company Y doesn’t want it in ‘the North’. You might think the industry could compromise on somewhere in the Midlands but apparently not, or so I am told by those who have tried to bring this about.

Perhaps we need to look at this from the other end of the pipe. Do we need a trade show at all? In terms of seeing next year’s products, probably not. Too few of the industry’s new products come from the UK for a UK based show to be anything more than a catch-up event. For product launches, you need to go to NAMM. Meanwhile, communications are now so good that the demonstration functions of a traditional trade show of the Birmingham or Russell Square kind (for readers with long memories) have been largely superseded. You want to hear a new guitar or synth? Just go online.

So is that it? Is there no place at all for an MI trade show in the UK? Well, even as someone who hates slogging around shows, I’m still not quite convinced that there isn’t. I think there is something to be said for bumping into old friends in hotel corridors, sharing memories and jokes in the bar afterwards, cementing relationships with people we only know as voices over the phone and striking sparks off one another in ways that can sometimes result in new ventures and ideas.

So how could a trade show come about? As I’ve argued in a previous column, I do not believe that this industry is about to see a huge upturn in its fortunes – not unless fashions in music change dramatically and young people catch ‘the bug’ once again – so I don’t think a sudden change in the industry’s fortunes is going to make someone want to stage a trade show. Perhaps a couple of trade days could be tacked onto this ‘all in one’ show that Future has been whispering about? (hands up anyone who thinks there is enough money in MI to finance such a thing…Yes, I thought as much). Neither the UK Drum Show nor the Birmingham Guitar Show would work as trade shows as they are single instrument events. So that leaves either the MIA taking the risk again and staging a trade event on its own, or the arrival of an entrepreneur willing to stick his neck out a very long way. I hope I’m wrong but it doesn’t seem likely, does it?