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Why pro conferences are different than PodCamps and why neither is better

Some interesting discussion this morning on the differences between PodCamps and pro conferences like the Affiliate Summit, which I’m speaking at on a panel on Tuesday, August 12. A difference to highlight, from the registration page of the Affiliate Summit:

PHOTOGRAPHY, RECORDING & VIDEO TAPING: Sessions may be photographed, recorded and/or video taped by Affiliate Summit. By your attendance, you give Affiliate Summit permission to be photographed, recorded or videotaped and agree to the public display and/or sale of the photographs, recordings and/or videotapes. Personal recording or videotaping of any kind during the event is prohibited.

This is part of what separates PodCamp from pro conferences (that and the price tag, PodCamp Boston 3 was $50, $99 at the door, the Affiliate Summit is $949 for early bird, $1,949 at the door). That said, there are several very good reasons for pro conferences to prohibit recording, considerations that went into PodCamp and were ultimately rejected.

1. Protection of speaker intellectual property. This is a big deal. PodCamp has been absolutely blessed by speakers like David Meerman Scott, Mitch Joel, David Maister, and many others, who normally charge tens of thousands of dollars to speak at a conference. The presence of any kind of recording online causes them real economic harm – it literally costs them money, since it makes them a less valuable speaker. Why? Exclusivity counts for a lot. Imagine being a conference planner and trying to advertise that your pro conference has information that’s exclusively available at your conference… and then finding out that your keynote speaker can be found on Blip.tv or mDialog for free. You’re less likely to book that speaker as opposed to someone who’s always behind a paywall.

2. Protection of conference revenue. One of the biggest sellers at a conference? The conference DVD, often for up to 2/3 of the price of the conference. If you pay $1,949 for the conference and the DVD is available for $695 or you can see it on YouTube for free, which will you choose? More important, if recordings are freely available online, why would you go to the conference in the first place?

3. Protection of conference attendees. As we said at PodCamp Boston, the conference is the hallway. At top-tier pro conferences, there are a lot of folks floating around who, quite frankly, don’t want to be recorded for any reason unless they’re compensated to be, and that’s fair. That’s their choice. Some of these folks have exceptionally valuable information that isn’t intended for the world to consume, and the premium they charge for that information is their prerogative.

All of these considerations are valid, and make good sense for a professional conference model. That’s an important distinction, because a lot of folks in social media believe PodCamps, BarCamps, etc. are the evolution of the conference, and that the models which power PodCamps, BarCamps, and unconferences are the right way to go for professional conferences.

They are not.

Professional conferences and unconferences are two completely different animals, two completely different models. Professional conferences work on a revenue model that emphasizes profitability. Speakers get paid and share proprietary information, attendees pay and derive value from sessions (not to mention craploads of handouts, printouts, etc.) and access to VIPs, vendors and sponsors pay and get lead generation lists and access to top level corporate folks. Everything works.

Unconferences emphasize a revenue model of meeting costs. Attendees occasionally pay, sponsors pay for exposure, speakers don’t get paid, but the net effect is that everyone pays much less than a pro conference. An “expo floor” booth at an unconference will probably run a company $1,000 or less. An expo floor booth at a pro conference will cost at least $10,000, if not more. Because no one’s making money beyond meeting costs, expectations are lower and people are more free. Again, everything works.

Which model is right? Both are right for their roles, and both are supremely wrong out of context. A professional conference that let recordings be free would do itself significant economic harm. A PodCamp that sold its registration list for $25/head would be demonized by its community. It’s inappropriate for members of either style of conference to criticize the other for not being more like them, since each plays a vitally important role in the events ecosystem, and each attracts the crowd that wants to be there.

There’s room enough for everyone, pro conferences and unconferences alike.

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