NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2004
Comdex is History
Comdex was inflated, owners were arrogant, and since 1998,
it was clear the show was destined to fall into the bit bucket

by Steve Bass,
PC World; Author, PC Annoyances
stevebass@earthlink.net
(click to email author)


In a downward spiral for the last five years, Comdex is finally kaput. The show owners declared it dead when they cancelled the November, 2004 event. Many of you have been attending Comdex since close to forever, and most of you knew the show was destined to fall into the bit bucket.

Good riddance. In the last few years, the showís become an empty shell of its previous life. So much so that room prices on the Strip were as low as $50 a night during Comdex week in 2003.

The problem was I couldnít not attend. Even though I didnít enjoy myself and couldnít find lots of really nifty products to write about, I still drove in from Pasadena and stayed for two nights. Call it nostalgia. Or maybe I was just hoping there would be one more chance that Comdex would get back on its feet.

But nope, itís really over.

Dig Into the Files
I dug around and found some of the Comdex missives I sent in the last few years.

December, 1998: Comdex is toast. It's fading rapidly and while it'll always be with us, it's never going to be "bigger than ever."

I polled lots of people and all agreed. The attendance was dismally low. Softbank's claim of 250K attendees was a lie. It was based on registrations--not attendees--something made lots easier because the normal $100 "Exhibits Only" fee was waived when you registered on Softbank's Internet site.

My best sources are the cabbies, and all emphatically said 60- to 90K tops. And it was easy to see. I never had to wait more than five minutes for a cab. Ever. Even at 5:00pm. Parties weren't well attended. In fact, for the first time ever, there was actually walking-around room at the exclusive Spencer party.

Iomega was back promoting their Clik gizmo. But wait, weren't they doing that last year? And Castlewood was pushing their 2.2GB ultra SCSI removable storage disk that wouldn't ship until next summer.

The quality of the show was also disappointing. The Sands was filled mostly with OEM stuffólots of system boards, drives, memory checking devices, and other boring equipment. Joe Bohannon nailed the entire Sands Convention Center in five hours, something that ordinarily takes a day and a half.

I couldn't even find anything very inspirational.

For instance, Creative Labs had a second generation Live sound card. Wow. Sure, there were some booths with interesting things--wireless networking was cool, as was HP's Jornada, their oddly named sub-notebook--and I found a few products to write about. But overall, I could've done just as well surfing the web.

Why has Comdex slowed down? Simple: Games went to E3, anything about the Web went to Internet World, and e-commerce apps also needed their own specialized trade shows.

Worse, it appears Softbank's jacked up the price on everything. That's happened before, but my hunch is vendors aren't going to take it much longer. (That happened to the Food Show when Pepsi and Coke pulled out, literally destroying the event. And Deere, the largest exhibitor of the Machinery Show, left the show high and dry when told they'd be charged double--the new policy put them into both agriculture and machinery.)

At Comdex, the newly remodeled Las Vegas Convention center was missing Intel, IBM, and other big vendors. The Lotus exhibit consisted of a bus in the parking lot with a box of Winchellís donuts on the table. One of the Lotus reps said this is their last Comdex.

On the exhibit floor, the Japanese companies were slugging it out, with Sony and Samsung making lots of noise, each trying to impress the other. Phillips created a small, loud city, and Microsoft was in their corner with more vendors than spectators.

Me? At $329 a day for the hotel room and the five days lost...I dunno. It may also be my last Comdex.

October, 2000: Comdex is struggling. That's because most other trade shows specialize while Comdex tried to cater to everyone. Funny, in the past Comdex charged an outrageous $100 for admission just to the exhibit floor. This year they're offering a free exhibits pass. (Too bad the hotels haven't caught on to this trick...) This is my last Comdex, for sure.

December, 2001: The Comdex mood this year was all business, with somber overtones. Journalists clustered around in small groups, talking about layoffs, and concerned with the dozens of freelancers gone missing. Lots of PR people didn't make it to Comdex; many of those who did were kvetching about having to share sleeping rooms with colleagues.

I donít know that Iíll be back next year. While the exhibit floor didn't have the sizzling array of products I saw at previous Comdexes, like last year, the place to be was the evening press events: Showstoppers, Digital/mobile Focus, and Silicon Northwest.

December, 2003: Sleeping rooms are under $60. The show floor at the Convention center has lots of curtains and barriers to make it look as if there are lots of vendors. The aisles are narrow so it feels crowded. There are practically no big vendors, except for Microsoft, and even their exhibit is small.

I've said it every year, but this time I really mean it. This is definitely the last Comdex Iím going to attend. (And Iíll see some of you at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, 2005!)

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World, a 23 year veteran of PIBMUG, and a founding member of APCUG. Heís also the author of PC Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things about Your Personal Computer, OíReilly Press. Itís available on Amazon for $7.98 at http://snurl.com/annoyances.

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