By any accountable margin, the 2018 AXPONAwas a successful show. It was the largest AXPONA to date held in what I suppose was the largest venue to date. If there was any perceptible drawback, it was probably the weather. For most of the weekend it rained, accompanied by thirty mile an hour winds and a nice, balmy forty degrees most of the time I was there. But hey, its Chicago, it's the Windy City, and anyone in Chi-Town's environs in April must endure that which Mother Nature offers. Fortunately enough, I spent most of the time inside.
While the show had many rooms with differing levels of sonic quality, this is not going to be a show report. There are more than enough of those available and one more by myself is hardly useful. However, as I wandered around the various rooms, looking at equipment, talking to the various manufacturers, seeing everyone's excitement (the Elacroom, for instance was virtually impregnable), I began to formulate what certainly may be a silly idea. My crazy idea? Could AXPONA become the new CES?
The Consumer Electronics Show, now known officially by the acronym CES, is one of the larger trade shows in the county, if not the world. It began in 1967 in New York City, oddly enough as a spinoff of a Chicago music show. That the high-end industry gravitated towards a trade show born from music is hardly a surprise. In the intervening years since 1967, however, CES has undergone massive transformations and has almost left our little hobby behind.
The 2018 CES was by any reasonable, measurable yardstick the least productive for the high performance industry to date. Located on only one floor of the Venetian Hotel, and not even the entire floor, show participants, by all accounts, had perceptibly little to see.
Traditionally, CES has been an industry only show aimed at manufacturers, importers, distributors, dealers, the press and other industry personnel. Typically, the general public is not invited. The reason why is simple. Manufacturers use this show to introduce new equipment, talk to their sales networks about pricing, discounts, deliveries, stocking levels, quotas and having the general public in attendance interrupts that effort. That is certainly understandable.
Still, CES has become wildly expensive for anyone who sets up a room and equally expensive for anyone who attends. In fact, staying at the Venetian costs the average show goer a pretty pocketful of cha-ching. In 2018, there were a few hardy souls who participated, and the press was likely well represented, but I keep asking myself, especially after reading one negative CES show report after another, is it time the high-end industry does something different?
It might be legitimately argued that something different has become the High-End Show in Munich. After all, it is arguably the largest show in the world for high performance audio, has the largest attendance of any audio show in the world and has every manufacturer who is anybody already in attendance. New products are already being shown, and will be shown this year so the continued decline of CES in Las Vegas makes sense. I see only one problem with this. For those of us in the Americas, I think we need an industry show in the United States dedicated to the professionals furthering the hobby.
Yes, I realize that European, as well as Asian companies routinely travel to the US to participate in audio shows. And yes, I also realize that many US manufacturers already set up shop at the show in Munich. I just cannot help but believe that we should have one show, somewhere in the US, involving industry professionals that does not include some electronic thing to water the grass.
What I like about AXPONA is that it is held relatively early in the year. Not January please, Chicago in April is bad enough, let alone the bone chilling Chicago winters in January. It is an easy location to which a participant might travel. The cost of staying at the show is not exorbitant (my room was about $170.00 per night which is far less than the Venetian during CES week), there are plenty of restaurants around and the show, especially this year, was very well attended - maybe the best attended AXPONA ever. Is there any strikingly negative reason why this show could not become the new, de facto, CES type show for the US high-end industry?
One problem, certainly, is manufacturers having discussions involving pricing, discounts, and similar private business conversations conducted with the general public standing close by. There are likely simple ways around that, however. Another issue is that some manufacturers might not want "that type" of show in April with Munich typically held in May. That may be the largest hurdle of all to overcome.
One thing is for sure, our industry, or whatever applicable term is correct, needs to have a venue somewhere to introduce new equipment and discuss the intricacies of selling product with those who partner in that effort. For a market as large as the US, it makes sense that a show dedicated to those industry professionals should be held here. All of Europe participates in the High End Show in Munich. I just cannot see that show moving to the US and Europeans coming here to discuss product being manufactured and sold there. I think it reasonable that US based companies should feel and even do the same.
Audio shows are not going away because they have become a viable and important means to market product to the consumer. Many audiophiles attend audio shows for the specific purpose of identifying new potential equipment. I have done so myself. Audio shows have a larger cross segment of equipment on display than any locally based dealer will obviously ever have. While the future of CES is debatable, perhaps the flip side of that debate is whether or not our industry should do something different - and is that something different a show such as AXPONA?