IRA – International Reading Association 2007 Conference Update

TORONTO – From the vendor perspective the big story out of IRA this year is attendance which is less than half of the number that attended last year. Final numbers are not available yet but rumors on the exhibit floor ranged from 5,000 to 7,500 and at times it felt like 0. Prior years have ranged from 17,000 to over 20,000. It is a shame because there are some exciting new products out this year from companies large and small.

No one had a definitive explanation for the drop off. It can’t be budgets, because Toronto isn’t any more expensive than Chicago was last year. In fact it has some significant bargains ($2 seats to the Bluejays anyone?). Perhaps it was just too difficult politically to send someone to a foreign country on a school budget. Maybe people were scared away by having to have a passport.

Whatever the cause it seems pretty clear that in the post 9/11 world American educators are not as able or as willing to embrace the International aspect of the organization. This is tragic because it is happening at precisely the time that the rest of the world is growing ever closer.

It is always interesting to see how vendors react to dead shows. IRA did have the decency to notify vendors in advance that the numbers were way down (huge props to them for doing this). Several companies took advantage of this and scaled back their presence, but surprisingly some didn’t. One company went full tilt and reportedly had 125 people there. Thats a quick $250,000. Others, reacting more nimbly and realizing they couldn’t change their floor space, had 80×80 booths that were equipped and staffed as if they were 20x20s.

The real winners were the large companies who were on an off year in the space lottery. Being buried in the back of the hall wasn’t such a big deal – particularly if it meant you had prime space next year in Atlanta.

In my mind this is just one more bit of proof that companies should scale back their presence at these large shows to the minimum needed to save face. Yes – you have to be there and if you are going to be there your presence should entertain and engage. But,
you can reach more people every few days on a well constructed website as you can once a year in an 80×80 booth.