Library Issues

Conferences and revenue

bigwig logo.pngAfter thinking a bit more on the conference issue, and reflecting on discussions I had with Michelle Boule at Internet Librarian, there’s another piece to the revenue puzzle that is worth considering. Warning: more numbers ahead.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that everyone going to ALA Annual preregisters. Not true, but we’re looking for rough numbers here. Pre-reg pricing for ALA members is currently $175 per person. Sure, there’s a lot of student registrations ($85), but I’m betting there’s a lot of those $260 registrations as well, so let’s just use the $175 as an baseline number.

Library Journal reported 21,466 registrants and 7169 exhibitors at the 2007 Annual. Through the power of mathematics, that gives us $3,756,550 just from registration for Annual. That doesn’t take into account the exhibitors ($19.50 per square foot of floor space, plus $.50 per square foot just to fund the opening reception…$150 for each open corner of your booth, minimum booth size 10’x10′). If we just use the planning document, we get 1243 booths at a total square footage of 160,800. This means we’ve got a total revenue from the exhibit halls of about $3,135,600.

Total revenue for ALA Annual, projected: $6,892,150

This may fluctuate some, of course…Annual last year in DC was a record-breaking year, and Anaheim might not bring as many people. We’re just looking for rough numbers here.

We’ve got gross numbers. Now we need net. Here’s where we enter the realm of complete guesswork. There is a cost associated with the space for all this. Hotels need to be paid for conference rooms, food during breaks needs to be paid for, audio/visual setups are a huge expense, etc. Of each individual registration, some percentage goes to pay for these items.

What’s a fair percentage to guess? Is it…50% of the registration? It easily could be. Let’s be very, very generous to the ALA and say that 75% of the amount the average librarian pays goes directly to pay for conference services. If that’s true, $131.25 of every registration pays for actual hard costs of the event, leaving the ALA $43.75 in the black.

Let’s assume that the exhibit hall is a complete wash, and it covers itself with no profit left over.

If all of these almost-certainly-false things are true, the ALA makes just under a million dollars ($939,137.50, to be exact) in profit on ALA Annual. A million dollars isn’t, frankly, a lot of money to an organization like the ALA, but it is a hefty payday regardless. We can see why the ALA may be frightened of virtual membership cutting into this profit center.

Until, of course, we realize that in order to recoup any lost revenue from virtual memberships that don’t go to Annual, ALA only has to capture $50 from each missing attendee. If they could offer $50 worth of content to a virtual participant, charge them appropriately, they would actually make more money than they do from the attendees of the conference.

“But!”, you say to me, “What if the actual costs per person are much less to the ALA, and they actually make a much higher percentage of profit from the registration fees?”

I think that the market would bear a considerable higher cost of virtual membership, especially since there would be no secondary costs incurred by the participant (hotel charges, flights, etc). I also think it would be unwise of ALA to admit this, since otherwise it is hard to justify the cost of attendance other than through sheer greed. If the actual percentage of profit is less, then obviously the cost per virtual participant could be lowered, and the profitability maintained.

If the largest library organization can’t find a way to provide $50 worth of content on the web, I think we may all be in bigger trouble than a few numbers could solve. Hell, the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase content by itself was worth $50.

My prescription for the ALA:

  1. Get this virtual membership thing worked out. Virtual members should be just exactly like every other membership type…this is the freaking 21st century. All of your new librarians are virtual in some way all the time. The 19th century model of F2F being necessary is just broken beyond repair at this point because our tools have eliminated the need.
  2. Put together a formal method of collecting and distributing podcasts, vodcasts, and text summaries of conference happenings. It’s already being done by your constituents, you should be able to do it as well. Charge for real-time access and a one-month window (and provide back-channel communications with the presenter and panel in real-time), then open the whole bunch of content under a Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial license and let the world have it. Work out a deal with the Internet Archive for hosting and distribution.
  3. Profit.
Library Issues

Why online conferences win

Bigwig Showcase logoAfter returning from Internet Librarian, I’ve been thinking a lot about conference models and how the ALA and library conferences in general need to change in order to survive the next 5-10 years. The existing ALA model is broken beyond repair, and while I know that the ALA has a task force on virtual membership working now, there needs to be a much wider look at the virtual aspects of conferences than just focusing on how membership works.

Here’s some numbers, just to illustrate what I mean, using the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase for illustration purposes. I can’t go fully into the story here, but the only reason that the Showcase came together in the first place was because of a severe break in communication on the part of LITA. Those of us running BIGWIG decided that the best way to attempt to make change is to illustrate it…Be the Change you Want to See, and all that rot. đŸ™‚ As a result, Michelle, Karen, myself and a ton of amazing presenters came together virtually and physically at ALA to show what one new model for conference presentations might look like, and how it might work.

So…how does this relate to new conference models? Well, one aspect of this new presentation model is that it is no longer a temporally limited event. To the numbers!

Between June 1 and July 31, 2007, the Social Software Showcase site had 4,838 visits, with 16,035 pageviews. Most people who visited weren’t just looking for one thing…the average is 3.31 pages per visit. I chose June-July because that was the period during which we were actively promoting the Showcase, it got some press here and there…it was an active part of the library community.

Here’s the exciting part: between Aug 1, 2007 and now, the Showcase has gotten over 800 visits, with another 1800 pageviews. 87% of these visits are new visits, from people who have not been to the site before. It’s been roughly 100 days since the height of the advertising and the Showcase is still averaging 8 visits a day, 18 pageviews a day, and of those 6.8 people are completely fresh visitors.

So here’s what I hope that ALA learns from this illustration…I’ve heard, through various channels, that virtual participation scares ALA because of the potential loss of the revenue generated by conference attendance. BIGWIG, a somewhat rogue organization, with no official sanctioning nor advertising, has managed to capture the eyeballs of over 5700 people (a full quarter of the total attendees of ALA Annual) and serve them almost 18000 pages of content. And those numbers will continue to grow as long as the content is relevant. Will the content cease to be relevant eventually…sure. But by leveraging cutting edge thinkers and by not insisting that topics be decided on months or years in advance, we maximized the longevity of the information.

To put it bluntly, how then do you monetize these eyeballs? BIGWIG chose not to, as a function of what we are trying to accomplish. But the ALA may have no such limitation, so how best to leverage this? I can assure you that membership would rise, generally, if the ALA held things like this. BIGWIG has an enormous amount of people interested in it, mainly because of the Showcase. Several new members of LITA came about only because they saw the value in the Showcase. I would be guessing, but I think that membership would probably cover an enormous amount of the “lost” revenue for virtual participation.

The other financial possibility is of course advertising. Companies would pay to advertise on these pages, in the same way that they currently pay for space in the exhibition hall. If you make the advertising relevant to the content, most people don’t even mind. I know that if I were getting ads for microphones and digital recorders while I was watching a presentation on podcasting, I would be glad of the knowledge, especially if I wasn’t a techie to begin with.

This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, really, of the number of ways that ALA could benefit from virtual memberships and conferences. The ALA needs desperately to consider how it’s going to handle the next 5-10 years, because if it doesn’t step into the virtual world for librarians, someone else will.

Library Issues Personal

Why ALA will never learn

Good job on the unconference. Just one fairly serious problem, at least to me. The Wiki has almost zero mention and absolutely no logos for LITA. The only LITA mention is in the text of the About BIGWIG wiki page.

This is a portion of an email that BIGWIG received as a result of being featured in the ALA Direct email after Annual, getting a bit of press for the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase.

I have lots of things that I’d like to say about this, but they all boil down to this: when, as an organization, we are more concerned with how we are portrayed than with results, I believe we’ve seriously lost our way.

I have also been thinking a great deal about the various fronts that have began mobilizing to make active change in the ALA. BIGWIG has obviously been working to move LITA in directions that we feel are important, but I admit that the bureaucracy of the whole endeavor takes some of the wind from my sails. If we ran our libraries the way we run our organizations, our patrons would be in real trouble.

Library Issues

Bigwig Social Software Showcase

bigwig social software logo

This would be the Super Secret Project that I’ve been alluding to for a few weeks now. Full press release and information available on LITABlog, and much, much more to come on the official Showcase site.

Why do this? Well, the guiding hands of BIGWIG (Michelle Boule, Karen Coombs, and myself) had grown increasingly frustrated at the formal requirements for “official” ALA presentation, especially as they relate to technology. A paper-based, formally structured, face-to-face conference is just not the right answer for the majority of librarians anymore. I have taken part in multiple virtual conferences (HigherEdBlogcon and Five Weeks to a Social Library), and I prefer them for actual content to the sorts of things that ALA puts on. That isn’t to say that F2F isn’t valuable…its just a different measure of value. Witness that we included F2F as something that enhances the content of the presentations, but I would argue no more than having open communication channels virtually. It’s all about conversation…that’s the heart of the social web.

Combine the above with the ridiculous timeline needed for presentation topics…12-18 months out for a technology presentation? I can list at least 4 things that have happened in the last month that would be interesting. Trying to predict what might be interesting in technology in 12 months is a losing game, and it does nothing to actually serve either librarians or our patrons. We gave our presenters a deadline of a week before the conference to give us their content….a week. It is possible to be timely and flexible with this stuff, if its done well.

Join us in the experiment! Follow the conversations on the wiki, join us at ALA to meet what we think are the cream of the crop of current library technology people. We’ve got movers & shakers, we’ve got OCLC award winners, we’ve got radical metadata pirates and the guy who made LibraryThing. Why wouldn’t you want to come along for the ride?