Update: Andy has replied in the comments below. Although I stand by my criticism of the pricing model, the £100 gimmick does look a bit blackmaily the next morning. So apologies to him for that. It seemed a good idea at the time to avoid the accusation of not putting my money where my mouth is.
Original post: Andy Budd has written an impassioned defence of "big, expensive conferences" - describing criticisms as nonsense - which I'd like to take issue with.
Coincidentally, I'd already drafted a post about how I was never attending £500+ conferences again. This was after speaking at the free 'Brighton SEO' the same week I'd missed Content Strategy Forum 2011 - which costs £840 but work commitments had caused me to skip. Bye bye money.
First: the offer
But first, in the spirit of being constructive, I'd like to make Andy an offer.
UX London tickets are £1,200 (including VAT). Gulp.
Now I'm a one-man-band consultant - but I'll put up £100 if Clearleft Ltd (the organisers, of which Andy is CEO) will match that in proportion to our respective turnovers last year (I'm guessing theirs will be about 20 times mine but let's compare notes and see).
And let's use that money to subsidise someone - or a few people - who would otherwise never afford to go. They could be students or first-jobbers or those under 25 or the self-employed or the unemployed. (And, dear reader, if you're reading this and want to put some money up, so much the better. Do get in touch.)
But let's use the money to make sure that expensive conferences aren't the preserve of big agencies' employees and make sure that at least a couple of those with no one to pay for them aren't excluded.
Anyway, I hope he'll take me up on the offer.
Now, let's take issue with the cost
Andy explains how conferences are expensive to run - and I believe his budget. It's just that it involves spending nearly $160,000 on paying speakers, flying them over and putting them up in a hotel for a week.
Do we really need that many speakers from abroad?
Apparently we do as the high costs mean that "organisers try to mitigate some of these risks by picking big name speakers that we know will fill seats".
Call me naive but if there weren't so many big name speakers costing $160,000 wouldn't the costs be a bit lower? And hence the risks? And thus the prices? It's all a bit circular.
Andy rightfully points out that conferences are about more than the content. They're about meeting people - clients, contacts etc.
But what sort of people do you meet at a £1,200 conferences? Well, you don't meet many of the unemployed, graduates at small agencies or that many consultants. Why? Because the risk is the opposite of the organiser's - that you spend £1,200 and don't get a return on it.
Sure, you do meet some people in this position - I paid for myself to attend UX London when Don Norman spoke back in 2009. I thought it was great. If expensive.
But many people whose company can't afford to pay for them to go (or who don't have a company) are priced out of the market by costs of £1,200.
One of the comments (by someone else) under Andy's post says:
One point I would add, is the pricing a conference in some way sets the tone of it. UX London is full of UX professionals. A €99 or €129 per day conference tends to have a different crowd, different attitudes, different expectations and different ways of complaining about things.
If UX London was a €99 conference, I expect it’d full of people falling into the “f**k it, why not?” category. The relevance of delegates would be minimal for me, so I wouldn’t be interested in attending. At the saying goes, you can make a pizza so cheap that no one wants to eat it.
I mean, who would want to attend a conference that just anyone could afford to attend, eh?
I used to have a policy to go to one expensive set-piece conference a year, whatever the discipline - which I paid for out of my own money.
But this year I've concluded that I just can't see I get enough value from them - especially if you end up booking way in advance to get the early-bird prices and then can't go. Plus big name-speakers can be cool, but so can hearing other sorts of people at smaller conferences. And you meet people in the bar afterwards, regardless of what sort of conference it is.
Anyway, I hope Andy and Clearleft will think of a way to help those who can't afford - and shouldn't have to afford - £1,200. If my £100 can make that happen, I hope they'll accept it.