Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011 Pricing

Conference registration pricing. We’ve all seen the table that basically tells us, “Hey, register early! It’s only going to get more expensive.” And many of us do, thinking we’ll save money. I’m attending Web 2.0 this week. Here is what their website tells me is their registration pricing (click to enlarge):

I signed up early, and decided to be cheap. Expo Hall only. My boyfriend found a coupon code in an ad on the BART (local mass transit, for those of you not in the Bay Area). Coupon code BART for 20% off. So we paid $80 for Expo Hall. But on 20 March, not even two weeks before the event, I was hit with this Groupon (click to enlarge):

This Groupon gave you your choice of two discounted passes to Web 2.0. For $249, you get a workshop-only pass (originally priced at $895). For $99, you get a Web 2.0 Lite pass (originally priced at $350). We just paid $80 for Expo Hall only. So I emailed the registration people asking if, in light of the Groupon, we could each please pay $19 each to have the Web 2.0 Lite level. They agreed. So we’re at Web 2.0 Lite for $99. FYI the difference between Expo Hall only and Web 2.0 Lite is that with Lite, you may go to one session and one “conversation.” Otherwise, it’s just expo hall and the things going on there for both passes.

Cut to last week. I’m riding the BART on Thursday 24 March, just days before Web 2.0 starts. An ad on the BART is telling me I can come to the Web 2.0 Expo for FREE! Expo Hall passes are FREE with a coupon code I didn’t notice out of frustration. Meanwhile, if you just hit the website, the Expo Hall Pass is still $100. I guess if you’re not local, and you’re paying for a flight and hotel room, you can also pay to walk an exhibit floor.

My user experience would be somewhere between, “Grrrrr,” and “Are you kidding?” I think about SXSW’s pricing, and how you’d never see a discount code or last-minute fire sale on attending SXSW. I think about how Google I/O sold out in hours.

So what’s going on here? To me, this is when a conference didn’t decide up front where they make their money. Do they make it mostly on exhibitors and sponsors? Do they make it more on attendees? I’ve been to many conferences and expos that gave away free expo hall passes. They want bodies to parade past exhibitors’ booths so they can show exhibitors how many people the show can attract.

They have serious sponsors, so they must have serious money. I wonder what attendance at all levels would have looked like at half the “early bird” prices, with those prices not going up over time, and with no last minute fire sales or Groupons. What if the workshop pass had been $249 the whole time?


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