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Economy Blamed for Lackluster Seybold

June 2001

BOSTON—The reviews for Seybold Boston 2001 are in, and the news isn't good.

The talk of the 2001 show wasn't about new products or emerging technologies. Instead, the exhibition's low attendance seemed to be the foremost topic on everyone's mind. Several exhibitors, who asked to remain anonymous, complained about the scarcity of attendees in their booths and in the show aisles.

But attendees weren't the only ones lacking from the show floor landscape. Exhibitors were also among those missing in action. Some companies like the now-defunct are simply gone from the scene.

While other companies, like Collabria and, chose to attend the show, but did not set up their booths. Collabria and Printable announced a technology sharing agreement at a joint press conference during Seybold Boston.

Still, other exhibitors decided to cut booth staffing levels and space at this year's show, reported Seybold General Manager Gene Gable, who chalked up the show's lackluster performance to the state of the U.S. economy.

Although final attendance numbers were not available at press time, Gable estimated that he expects the final attendance numbers to be around 15 to 20 percent lower than in previous years. "We heard over and over again that companies were putting restrictions on travel this year," he says.

While in past years, companies may have sent teams of four or five people to the show, Gable notes that this year many companies were only sending one representative.

"The good news is that the folks that did come tended to be the decision makers and were serious about buying," he remarks.

While attendance was down, sales leads were still strong, Gable contends. "Many exhibitors got as many sales leads as they normally do. But they did not have the traffic through their booth that they expected."

It should be noted that Seybold Boston isn't the only show this year that has experienced a downturn in attendance. Exhibitors have also reported lower-than-usual turnouts at On Demand in New York City, as well as The Charlotte Show.

Even so, perhaps the most talked about exhibitor at Seybold Boston was none other than Mercedes-Benz, which was the second largest exhibitor behind Adobe. The luxury car manufacturer's presence at the show puzzled many. However, Gable urged others not to read too much into the Mercedes-Benz exhibit.

Mercedes-Benz is a corporate sponsor for the Key3Media Group, which runs Seybold and other shows such as Comdex and JavaOne. As part of the deal with Key3Media, Mercedes was given the same amount of floor space for every Key3Media show. Seybold Boston is the smallest show that Key3Media sponsors, so it naturally made more of an impression than it should have, Gable notes.

While the lack of attendance was certainly the talk of Seybold Boston, many exhibitors also lamented the show's movement away from the commercial printing market.

Gable takes issue with the perception that Seybold has abandoned commercial printing. Instead, he claims that Seybold has always been about the content management market. "We aren't about ink and water or polymer plates; that isn't our business. When imagesetters came on the scene, there was a blurring of the lines between what belonged at Graph Expo and what belonged at Seybold. At the time, we weren't sure where the technology was going to end up. As technology has matured and we've moved into platesetters, those blurred lines have begun to clear."

Still, what remains to be seen is whether or not Seybold Boston is an early indicator of a more subdued Seybold San Francisco show coming this September. The San Francisco event, long considered the stronger of the two shows, was a huge success for Key3Media last year.

Still, Gable remains optimistic for Seybold San Francisco, despite the fact that it follows on the heels of PRINT 01 this year.

While some Seybold Boston exhibitors claimed that they would gauge their San Francisco presence based on the Boston show, other exhibitors—such as Adobe—have already committed to larger exhibit space for the September show, he points out. "The timing of PRINT 01 and Seybold San Francisco was essentially unavoidable this year. But we are doing everything we can for our customers who want to be in both markets. We are currently working with the Graphic Arts Show Co. to serve our customers as best we can."


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