(extended version of this article here)
There was a significant decline in participation among smaller manufacturers this year, continuing a trend I have seen for the past several years. Years ago, every little manufacturer of anything photographic was at PhotoPlus – it was the place to see gear you couldn’t see anywhere else. As more and more manufacturers skip PhotoPlus, the show floor shrinks, and an increasing number of less relevant companies appear. Best Buy first showed up a few years ago, and now has a large presence – they are mostly showing camera gear, but nothing that isn’t also featured at other booths (and unlike B&H and Hunt Photo, they aren’t mostly there to sell directly to attendees – it seems to be largely a brand-building exercise for them, and one whose purpose I can’t quite figure out).
Sony fled PhotoPlus this year, opting to do their own show a couple of blocks away. It was far less organized and useful than their previous booths on the show floor, and was accompanied by a blatant e-mail harvesting operation, to benefit not only Sony, but ticketing partner Eventbrite and possibly others as well. They were demanding (free) registration, with burly security guards turning anyone who hadn’t registered away to a long registration line – and the registration wouldn’t process if you unchecked either Sony’s or Eventbrite’s “please spam me” checkboxes (fortunately, a fake e-mail worked – they got email@example.com). Hopefully, they didn’t get the attendance they were hoping for and will be back in the hall next year – several photographers I spoke to never found them (they didn’t really have signs up until the last day of the show)…
This was the first year that there wasn’t a conference and portfolio review session running alongside the Expo. I have no idea how successful the conference sessions had been – I have attended a few over the years, and found them variously useful, but also overpriced. The expensive portfolio reviews with name-brand photographers and buyers of years past (put together by the Palm Springs Photo Festival) were replaced by free portfolio reviews by a random selection of reviewers.
A few years ago, there were no law offices or insurance companies – now, there are seven or eight – mostly focusing on photographers’ needs, but not really directly in the photo industry. While the actual shrinkage of the show floor is only about 20%, the loss in exhibit space is significantly greater than that, because more and more lounges, stages and concessions in addition to law offices, insurers and the like take up space on the show floor to hide the decrease in actual exhibit space.
The gold medal for least relevant space of 2019 goes to the large Pet Portrait Studio (pets loaned by the local Humane Society – adorable, but not really talking about the state of the photo industry), with Selfie+ (a space to grab props and take selfies – without cameras to try out) taking the silver medal and the PDN Sales office sharing space with a day spa grabbing the bronze. Least relevant actual exhibitor has to go to custom-branded wet wipes manufacturer AVAPACK – and it’s not really close – no, it’s not something to use on a lens…. Pick an insurance company (multiple options) for the silver and a law firm for the bronze – or the other way around… It’s hard to measure because the maps don’t scale well, but my best guess is that actual photographic exhibit space (not counting wet wipes) is down about 40% from the largest show map I could find (2012). PhotoPlus organizer Emerald Exhibitions has claimed as many as 22,000 attendees in past years, and reports 17,000 last year. This year felt smaller – 15,000?
Will there be a PhotoPlus 2020? Probably, but I’m not sure. If Sony doesn’t come back and another major manufacturer or two flees, Emerald will have a hard time filling the Javits Center hall they’ve rented for years. Photokina lost tremendous momentum when they tried to move to an annual show, and it remains to be seen how successful Photokina May 2020 is? The PMA show of years past is but a memory – it first merged with CES, then got absorbed by it, and now, even major photo companies skip CES unless their products overlap with computing in some way – you won’t find Zeiss at CES, for example. The loss of the PMA show means that PhotoPlus is the last major national show left in the US – the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International show in Las Vegas gets some companies, including some (especially labs) that now skip PhotoPlus, but misses quite a few.
I would be entirely unsurprised if there isn’t a PhotoPlus by 2024 or so… The other, healthier possibility is that it becomes a smaller, photography focused event – we lose a lot of the computer companies, law firms, insurance companies and others, and the big camera manufacturers send smaller presences with plenty of gear and tech reps, but without the theatrical presentations and model shoots. The Javits Center itself might have a smaller space, or it might move within New York or to another city. If PhotoPlus goes away, where will we be able to see some of the gear only a few major stores carry (or nobody carries at all)? Will we all have to order cameras and lenses online without being able to see them unless we live in a major city? Most regions only have one or two retailers who carry higher-end bodies and lenses – and it wouldn’t take much to lose the last real camera store even in a major city. There are states without a professional – level Nikon dealer, for example (West Virginia and Wyoming, possibly others). Of course, it would be possible to travel to B&H, Hunt Photo, Samys or other major retailers, just like travelling to PhotoPlus – but you wouldn’t have the ability to speak to some of the people who designed the equipment – many of them are at PhotoPlus each year.
Even at the smaller show, there are still interesting products appearing. The companion article to this one focuses on digital cameras and lenses, while this article looks at all the other pieces.