The New York Times had an article about the demise of Comdex which at one time was the biggest computer show and maybe the biggest of any trade show. Atlanta hosted one session of it for a number of years (the other yearly session was in Las Vegas) and it was easy enough getting free registration so I would go and spend part of a day there. Our office only had a handful of PC’s at the time and there was always a desire to see what wonderful things computers were going to bring us next (it was rarely that impressive though). It left Atlanta after it had the misfortune of occurring on the same weekend as Freaknik (thus Comdex became Geeknik) and I stopped going. After I stopped going Comdex went downhill.
Here’s the amazing part. The guy who started Comdex (short for Computer Dealers Exposition) sold the rights to having the show for $860 million to a Japanese company in 1995. They then merged it in with a publishing company they owned, Ziff Davis, spun it off with an IPO and it went bankrupt. Business failures can be every bit as spectacular as bridge failures. In less than 10 years just the idea for the convention went from being worth $860 million to nothing.
I’m attaching the article . . .
Failing to Draw Big Players, Computer Show Is Canceled
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, June 23 – This year’s Comdex, the fall computer event that was once the nation’s largest trade show, was canceled Wednesday as its owners cited the failure of the industry’s largest companies to participate.
Executives at MediaLive International, the company that owns Comdex and other trade shows, said they decided to redefine the event and were hoping that it would re-emerge after a year’s hiatus.
Created in 1979 by Sheldon Adelson, a Boston financial consultant, Comdex rapidly gained prominence in the early 1980’s with the emergence of the personal computer industry.
The annual show became the place to showcase new computers and software, and a mandatory stopping place for industry luminaries.
Executives would flock to Las Vegas to hear a speech on the future of computing by Bill Gates or to visit a booth where Mitchell D. Kapor introduced the Lotus Development Corporation’s Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program.
“I remember walking down an aisle at Comdex with Gates and watching the crowd part like the Red Sea making way for Moses,” said Stewart Alsop, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who edited Infoworld, a personal computer industry newspaper, during the 1980’s.
Although some analysts suggested that the rise of the commercial Internet in the mid-1980’s might lead to the demise of the trade show, it appeared initially to fuel its growth.
Comdex reached a peak in 2000 during the Internet bubble when 211,000 people attended the show. Last year attendance fell to 45,000, and most of the world’s largest hardware and software companies either decided to abandon the event or to cut back their presence. The number of exhibitors fell from a peak of 2,337 to 550.
“By the end of the 1990’s Comdex had expanded its focus to include consumer electronics stuff and the Internet,” said Tim Bajarin, an industry consultant who attended his first Comdex in 1981 and has been a longtime member of the show’s industry advisory committee. “In 2002 there was a complete shift in the market and the show lost its way.”
One company that has backed away from the event is the EDS Corporation, the giant Texas-based technology integrator. In 2001 EDS made a marketing push at Comdex, including beaming in the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke via teleconference. More recently, the company decided that Comdex had become less relevant and stopped participating, said Jeff Wacker, an EDS technology executive.
MediaLive International has a tentative reservation for the Las Vegas Convention Center the week of Nov. 13, 2005, said Eric Faurot, a company vice president.
“The market was obviously saying it couldn’t support the show,” he said. “While we could still run a profitable Comdex, it didn’t seem to merit the attention without the participation of the major industry players.”
He said that he still believed that there was a trade show market for the $915 billion information technology industry. Last week, MediaLive said it was establishing an advisory group of technology companies to help redefine the event, including Advanced Micro Devices, Borland Software, Microsoft, Oracle, Samsung Electronics, Cisco, Dell and Intel.
Comdex was originally known as the Computer Dealers Exposition. The founder, Mr. Adelson, sold Comdex in 1995 to the Japanese investment firm Softbank for more than $860 million. It became part of the company’s Ziff-Davis media unit. Ultimately, the Ziff-Davis events business was spun off to shareholders as Key3Media and became a public company. That firm declared bankruptcy in February 2003. In June of last year, Thomas Weisel & Partners, the San Francisco investment firm, acquired its assets and title.
The company was taken private and renamed MediaLive International.