When Trade Associations Do Dumb Things

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Night Safari, Singapore, July 2006  – © Vin Crosbie

When the newspaper industry is already limping, why do some of its major trade association further shoot it in the feet?

That’s what the World Association of Newspapers, the Federation of International Periodical Press, and Ifra have done. I won’t directly tell you which of these associations is to blame, but you’ll probably be able to deduce which from this posting.

For years, WAN, Ifra (whose name I’ll explain beneath this posting), and FIPP have together organized Beyond the Printed Word, an annual conference about publishing on more than paper. It’s held in the autumn in a European city (Prague in 2004 and Madrid last year). Attendence at last year’s was sold out. This year’s Beyond the Printed Word will be held November 9-10 in Vienna.

Ifra, which has been the general organizer of the conference, recruited me in April to be this year’s co-chair/co-moderator (the other is Annelies van den Belt, the new media director of the Telegraph Group Limited of the UK). This year’s conference venue was set; the conference program outlined; and invitations were sent to proposed speakers (almost all of whom accepted).

But WAN and FIPP then decided to split from Ifra, hold their own new media conference — the World Digital Publishing Conferenc and Expo — and scheduled it in another European city two weeks before Beyond the Printed Word.

I don’t know about you, but I see no reason for the newspaper industry to hold two similar conferences at approximately the same time in two different cities. It’s counter-productive and will dilute or muddy either conference or probably both. It’s a lame idea for this limping industry.

Because I’m a co-chairman of this year’s Beyond the Printed Word, you might think that I know a lot about why the split occured. But in fact I don’t. I found out about the split weeks after it had occured, and only then because I’d read WAN’s announcement of its World Digital Publishing Conference and Expo and asked WAN why they and FIPP were announcing their own digital publishing conference a fortnight before the conference that I had thought I was co-chairing in Vienna for their organizations plus Ifra.

One reason why most trade conferences are so expensive to attend is that the associations use them as a revenue generators. Attendee registration fees can rage anywhere from $500 and $3,000. Attending Beyond the Printed Word will cost you between €850 and €1,290 or the World Digital Publishing Conference and Expo €980 and €1,450.

I suspect that WAN and FIPP (which generally goes along with WAN) didn’t like the revenue split they’d been getting from the Beyond the Printed World conferences. Deciding to hold their own conference, they intentionally scheduled it right before Beyond the Printed Word to preëmpt as much of the latter attendence as possible.

Too bad. If WAN wanted to pull out of Beyond the Printed Word and run its own digital publishing conference, it should have scheduled its conference at an antipodal date — such as in the spring — rather than attempt to preëmpt the annual Beyond the Printed Word conference it, FIPP, and Ifra had spent years promoting and developing. That would have better served the newspaper industry than holding two similar conferences at approximately the same time.

I personally regret the split because I like the staffs of both WAN and Ifra. But because I now find myself to be co-chairman of a conference organized only by Ifra and WAN wants to compete with it, I’ve got a duty to make sure that Ifra’s Beyond the Printed Word is a better conference than WAN & FIPP’s World Digital Publishing Conference and Expo. I regret that my friends at WAN have put me involuntarily into that position. I wish it wasn’t so.

[By the way, Ifra was originally named the INCA-FIEJ Research Association. INCA meant International Newspaper Colour Association and FIEJ meant Fédération Internationale des Editeurs de Journaux.]

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