PodCamp Should Not Be Free Of Cost To Attend (Hint: It Never Was)

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Mike Lipkin is a very well-known speaker. I’ve had the pleasure of not just seeing him speak, but of sharing the stage with him. He’s smart, witty and to the point. He summed up, exactly, how I feel about whether or not events and unconferences (like PodCamp) should be free. Mike says: "I don’t do this for the money. But, I am going to take your money, so that you appreciate what you are getting."

While that Lipkinism does stir a few laughs, it’s actually spot on. There have been several posts about how PodCamp should proceed post PodCamp Boston 2. This weekend, over thirteen hundred people registered for PodCamp Boston 2, but attendance was, somewhere, in the the six hundred range. I especially liked what C.C. Chapman said on this post: PodCamp Does Not Have To Be Free, and the additional insights from Christopher S. Penn (one of the PodCamp Boston 2 organizers and co-founder of PodCamp): The Revocation Of PodCamp Rule Four.

Unconferences like BarCamp can be somewhat "easier" to pull off. For this PodCamp Boston 2, the organizers "went big." This meant big venues and the ability to mobilize large crowds and engage them. It’s a hefty effort and involves plenty of time (and money) to make this work. They even asked people who had changed their minds to simply notify them.

Seems fair enough.

People did not.

In the end, we were all stuck with a venue that could have been half the size. This is frustrating on many levels. There’s a waste of materials, there’s a lack of community respect, and it makes for a very frustrated organizing committee who now have to defend the sponsorships back to the companies that helped make the entrance fee free.

I think a fee structure on big events like this is necessary. I think being held accountable to your sponsors is necessary. I think that if this is a community-driven event, then every member of the community should respect it by letting people know their intentions to attend (hearing that ten speakers did not show or notify anyone is disgraceful). When you pay for something, you’re more inclined to show-up or pass your ticket on to someone who would like to be there. If you don’t show, at least you have covered the bare minimum costs for your absence.

That being said, there have been PodCamps throughout the year (close to twenty) that had no fee structure. So, charging for an event like this should depend on the size and commitment that the organizers are dreaming up.

In other news PodCamp Toronto 2 has been announced. It will be taking place February 23rd – 24th, 2008 at Ryerson University. State your presence on the wiki here: PodCamp Toronto 2008.

Attendance at PodCamp Toronto 2008 is free.


  1. As I said on CC’s blog, events that are as large and complex as Podcamp NYC and Boston 2, I can see the need to charge because of all the moving parts and secondary commitments. But, the other question is should Podcamps get that big? Maybe there is a point where it’s just too large and Podcamps should stay small and less complex. Otherwise, do they drift to far into the territory of just another conference? I’ve never been able to go to a Podcamp as there are far and few between here on the west coast, so I’m speaking a little out of turn here, but that’s my view.

  2. Great post, but I am partially torn by this issue. I agree that participants would be more like to check-in if they had to pay, and maybe even appreciate it more, but isn’t it unfair to slight those who held their end of the bargain and contributed?
    As an attendee of PodCamp Boston 2, I can say that it did feel a bit vacant. I was more than excited to see 1200+ socialmedialites in the same area, and was disappointed when most of the rooms were half full, but I hope there is another way for the community to hold registrants accountable for the “No-Call/No-Show”. It may be my ideology, or my rose tinted view, but I honestly believe there is another, more creative way get the results we are looking for. I’m not sure what the right answer is and maybe charging is it, but I hope not.. and so does my wallet.

  3. As a first-timer to Podcamp at Boston, I was surprised at the level of no-show. I would have gladly paid to be there, and perhaps will in the future as a sponsor…at the same time, I spoke to a bunch of people over the weekend who were locals interested in the whole podcasting concept. Maybe there’s some sort of innovative solution that allows inquiring minds to attend for free while providing added value to those who reserve and pay ahead of time.

  4. As one of the organizers of Podcamp Boston 2, Podcamp NYC and Podcamp Philly, I can say that when organizers see the registrant list grow, we get excited and then a little scared about accommodating all those who say they are coming. We have to proceed under the principal that everyone will attend. When less than half actually attend, many of the logistical choices and financial decisions are for naught. Smaller venues are sacrificed in order to accommodate potentially bigger crowds; sessions are placed in rooms based on “predictions” of session popularity; numbers and responses are critical to the planning process.
    I know I am reconsidering whether planning podcamps for a community that is only half- interested is in my best interest- perhaps the message I should be getting is only half the community cares, so therefore, why should I?
    Yet, I love podcamp and all I have learned there; along with all of the great people I have met. But how long does the community think organizers will continue to give it their all if so many people take it for granted? just asking.
    Thanks, Mitch, for the terrific and thoughtful post, as well as your time during Podcamp. You are one of the brightest and sharpest people I know, and it was a pleasure to share your company.

  5. being the anarchocommunist i am, i found that the conference was already too slanted towards corporate/marketing (not that there is anything wrong with that; some of my best friends are marketers).
    but, if you add cost, you totally change the dynamic, and you probably exclude many teens, aliveinbaghdad, librivox, non-profits, guerillas, etc …
    and that’s where the real innovation happens, on the outside edge.
    then again, pab costs $, and that’s pretty indie. … but why not leave podcamp free and start podconf or something. you’ll get much bad press from the “camp” movement if you start charging.

  6. I don’t think any of us are saying anything in true contrast. We all would love for it to stay free. We would all love for everyone to respect the community by letting us know if you’re not going to show up. We all would love for it to stay at a manageable size.
    I guess that last point may be the differentiator. I don’t feel that it should stay the same size. I think it does have to grow for Podcasting to be accepted and to grow our audiences.
    With that will come changes. If nominal fees for the bigger unconferences helps facilitate that, while the smaller shows maintain the more “camp” feel… it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

  7. If you don’t like the idea of a PodCamp that has some kind of commitment requirement, please, by all means, host a PodCamp in your area that is completely free. As long as it obeys the 6 rules, you can add back rule 7 to the event you will be organizing.
    There’s my dare. Go create a PodCamp in your area and run it with all 7 rules. The reality is that 99% of the complainers (not here, but on the general interwebs) have zero initiative to get off their asses and DO something.

  8. I believe that for some people who did show up, paying to attend a conference becomes a problem. Not all of us have big budgets or the luxury to write it off as a business/agency expense. Having said that, it’s disgraceful that attendees and speakers did not show up. Extenuating circumstances aside (i.e. trip to the hospital/morgue).
    I think the solution is pretty simple. You make people provide their CC # as a means of a deposit. If you don’t show up – you get charged. That way the organizers cover themselves from having to be in the awkward situation of explaining things to sponsors and attendees now have the financial tie-in to show up. I know a recruitment agency that organizes monthly speakers and when you confirm you have to provide your CC# for a $20 refundable deposit.

  9. What are the checks and balances for this sort of thing in a “trust economy”? Isn’t it fair to say that those speakers who didn’t show up have lost a lot of respect of important people in the community?
    Podcasting has no real revenue model. Especially grassroots podcasting – so I’d worry about losing the presence and enthusiasm of people like Sulemann in the post above.
    Having said all that – I was astounded believe the quality of Podcamp Toronto – seeing speakers like yourself for free was a rare privilege. It was better than *any* paid tech conference I’d been to hitherto. Maybe because it was free?

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