The Type Conference Fee is Too Damn High

amyp's picture

With type conference season in high gear, designers everywhere are uttering sighs of disbelief at the prohibitive costs of getting one’s geek on.

The discussions over conference fees, travel and hotel expenses are understandable. And given the variety of international type conference options available these days (ATypI, TypeCon, TYPO, Ampersand, TypeTalks, ICTVC, Typography Day, Granshan, Kerning, oh and this), how does one even chose what is worth attending?

New Yorkers may be familiar with The Rent is Too Damn High Party, a political party that has, since 2005, nominated Jimmy McMillan for mayor of New York City and governor of New York state. As its name implies, the party’s continued focus is on the impossibly high rental prices that fail to meet the demands of the city’s population.

Are type conference fees too damn high? Despite the variety of events, price points and locations, like New York City’s rents, are there still enough affordable and accessible options to meet the demands of the ever-growing typophile population?

Currently petitioning to include McMillan on the 2013 mayoral ballot, the Party’s website makes its position pretty clear: **Rent Is Too Damn High There Is Nothing Else To Talk About. Absolutely "NOTHING".**

Perhaps we could talk about some webfonts for its site but hey, I’m just a type nerd.

Comments

hrant's picture

Organizations that put on type conferences are not get-rich operations. So -unless there's some serious financial mismanagement- I think there's only one good way to make them more affordable: forget being pampered; no fancy hotels in expensive areas, and no gorging on fancy food. Roughing it is totally my own style, but I know I'm not normal, so...

The original TypeCon in '98 remains the high water mark for me in terms of complete subservience to content.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

Does anyone know of any type conference, camp &c that will actually compensate a keynote speaker for their time, experience, contribution, and cover their travel expenses?

carinam's picture

Being a student on a budget, I'd love to see more type conferences offer video access as an alternative to attending the event. And while I realize part of attending a conference is the chance to network, sometimes when costs are too prohibitive, information alone would be sufficient.

amyp's picture

For the record, the board members, conference organizers and event volunteers are mythical creatures worthy of sainthood for the blood, sweat and tears they pour into making these events so inspiring. And to those of you considering any one of these conferences for the first time, if you have the means, then GO. It's always been an invaluable experience for me.

hrant's picture

Chris, in fact many years ago ATypI used to do this. But these days that only happens to the biggest names. Although sometimes it backfires: I remember at the conference in Beirut in 2005*, Ken Garland cost the organizers thousands of dollars and didn't show up. And David Carson didn't show up to the second Thessaloniki conference (although I don't know how much financial consequence that case had).

* http://typographica.org/on-typography/typographicbeirut-report/

hhp

Jens Kutilek's picture

David Carson not showing up is the rule, not the exception. Or so I’ve heard.

Christopher Slye's picture

Carina, as much as we'd love to have video for TypeCon, that is something that would add even more expense. Not only is paying for the equipment, its operators, and post-production substantial, but we've learned that proper lighting is also crucial to producing reasonable-quality video. There's an interesting balance to strike between what the live attendees see and what is adequate for video.

Of course it's done all the time with other conferences... but it certainly wouldn't help lower the registration fees, and it would limit our choices of venue (because lighting for video requires the right kind of space). I'm not saying it will never happen, but it's tricky.

hrant's picture

Is it also fair to say that knowing the video is coming would lower attendance?

hhp

jlt's picture

I could not agree more. I used to love attending these meetings – I went to TypeCon and ATypI regularly. They were professionally very useful, and academically interesting. I made a lot of friends this way - in fact, I met many of you folks this way.

However, that was back when my employer could foot the bill. There is no way an independent designer, unless they are very wealthy, can afford to attend these meetings as they now exist. As long as these organizations insist on having the meetings in very expensive hotels in very expensive cities, it's going to remain impossible.

I haven't gone in years. I just can't afford it. I could justify it, sure - but I can't afford thousands of dollars, even with a shared room, to take time off work.

As someone who has co-planned one of the largest annual regional academic meetings in the United States for more than 15 years, I know it's very easy to get swept up by big hotels and great locations and think that people won't come if you don't have it in those place. I know it's easy to let hotels woo you into having a meeting at a place with a $150 room, and spending $10-$15,000 on catering. I know!

But you can say NO, organizers. My client does every year - their (volunteer) staff puts together a larger meeting than Typecon or ATypI combined, with more than 200 sessions, for a registration cost between $55 and $75, and an annual membership cost of $35 to $55 (students vs. faculty, sliding scale in between for low-paid instructors, grad students, etc.). They don't sign a contract with a hotel unless they can keep the price down about $100 a room, and yet they still have meetings at Hiltons and nice Marriotts. You just have to play hardball. You can't charge sponsors buckets of cash AND charge attendees as well; one or the other.

If you encourage a culture of participation, then you end up with a much bigger group of volunteers to put these things together. It does work if it's part of the culture. I think that's why it hasn't so far in our trade: that culture just doesn't really exist yet. Maybe someday it will, and these meetings will again be affordable to everyone, and we can bring in the students and the rest of us without deep pockets again.

Grant Hutchinson's picture

As an aside, SOTA’s goal has always been focused on keeping TypeCon affordable. This year, we actually lowered student registration fees by $25 across the board. We’ll be looking at the possibility of further fee reductions going forward.

hrant's picture

Leave it to Josh to combine eloquence and sobriety. Exactly.

I remember walking in to the shiny lobby of the Hotel Nikko for Typecon 2004 and immediately thinking: We don't need this.

Grant, I think you guys are on the right track now, but there was a period where glamor started trumping content, and it takes time to course-correct. TypeCon remains the closest to my heart (partly because its first was my first) so I deeply hope you'll reinforce its populist spirit.

hhp

jlt's picture

BTW, the big academic organizations that have meetings whose registration fee doesn't cover the meeting cost have a hidden weapon, one groups like SoTA could emulate: an academic journal. Libraries spend tens of thousands of dollars on subscriptions to the university press that publishes it, more than 60% of which goes back to the organization. Instead of making a journal or magazine part of a giveaway for attendees, make it instead a tool to make money.

We have a lot of smart people, good writers, historians and others in our trade. A real academic journal, published by a university press, could be a huge moneymaker for a group like SoTA et. al.

hrant's picture

Smart.
SoTA, if you ever need me to write something, I'm yours.

hhp

Alessio's picture

As a young freelancer I certainly agree that fees can be painful. Thus, I've only been to 1 design conference, and that was TypeCon 2012. The registration wasn't bad and I was able to stay with a friend nearby, thus making it affordable, and the knowledge gained was well worth the expense – you'd pay far more for equivalent knowledge at a university. It seems pretty reasonable, and I'll be able to make it again this year.

Overall though, it seems like corners could be cut; it doesn't have to be in such an upscale hotel (where, although we can enjoy it, many attendees such as myself feel a bit out of place!), etc.

dezcom's picture

Since even the SoTA's old "interrobang" has been missing in action for years, I wonder if the SoTA membership is up to the task of writing enough to support a scholarly journal?

William Berkson's picture

An organization I've belonged to and attended many of their conferences kept prices down by doing them on college campuses, during the summer break, usually in August. Colleges and universities (and even private secondary schools) will rent out the facilities for conferences, and people stay in the dorms, use the classrooms and lecture theaters; the cafeterias supply the food etc. Those who don't want to go back to living in a dorm for a few days can get outside hotels.

You definitely know it's not deluxe, but it's really quite pleasant, as campuses have a lot of greenery, and it creates a sense of unity among participants, as you are usually almost the only ones on campus.

Chris Dean's picture

Which raises the issue of peer-review.

Grant Hutchinson's picture

Chris,

We’ve been wanting to reanimate Interrobang for years, but it always comes down to lack of time and resources. SOTA could likely fund the production of such a publication, but not at the expense of taking time and focus away from TypeCon and other special projects like Font Aid. What we need to accomplish something like this are additional volunteers to edit, write, and produce the publication. Preferably, these volunteers would not be already dedicated to serving on the organization’s board or hip-deep in conference planning and logistics. There’s only so much time in the day.

dezcom's picture

Grant, I volunteered for this several years ago [2007] and ended up with a most humiliating experience which I can't seem to forget. I don't want to elaborate here. Talk to me about it at TypeCon.

Grant Hutchinson's picture

Chris, I can‘t speak to that situation since I joined the board in late 2009.

Yes, let’s chat in Portland.

hrant's picture

William, that probably -partly- explains how TGM is managing to make Granshan* totally free (even the workshops) - it's all planned around universities, in the summer.

* www.granshan.com

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

>Overall though, it seems like corners could be cut; it doesn't have to be in such an upscale hotel (where, although we can enjoy it, many attendees such as myself feel a bit out of place!), etc.

As JLT mentions the nicer hotels provide free or reduced cost meeting space if the organization can fill a certain number of hotel rooms and buy a certain amount of catering. So the nicer the hotel the better the deal. This relies on a certain number of attendees staying at the conference hotel, but there's nothing to stop cost-conscious attendees from sharing rooms or staying at the Green Turtle youth hostel / couch surfing down the road.

> My client does every year - their (volunteer) staff puts together a larger meeting than Typecon or ATypI combined,

Even if TypeCon could attract an audience of this size, would we want it to? What makes TypeCon special is that there are not thousands of attendees.

jlt's picture

Yes, all hotels provide meeting rooms for free if you meet the room block. The academic organizations never pay for meeting rooms - if the room rate is low enough, you will sell out the room block and then some, getting the meeting rooms for free. All the more reason not to ever have the meetings at upscale hotels.

I agree that the manageable size of Typecon is a plus. However, maybe the size is manageable because so many people can't afford to come? Getting to the right size through high prices/exclusivity/etc is not necessarily a good thing.

I make a decent living, but I can't afford to go without serious help from my employer. I would bet that 80% of would-be attendees feel the same way.

If pricing it low enough to let people like me attend "ruins" the meetings, well ... then I guess you guys should enjoy your meetings without me :(

hrant's picture

The way to prevent over-crowding is via focused content, not cost.

hhp

Maurice Meilleur's picture

If there's a conversation about helping out with Interrobang, I'd love to join in, but I can't make TypeCon this year. Any way to include virtual participants if something gets started?

Grant Hutchinson's picture

“Even if TypeCon could attract an audience of this size, would we want it to? What makes TypeCon special is that there are not thousands of attendees.”

Precisely.

We’re very aware of what elements make TypeCon feel like “TypeCon” … and we want to keep it small, casual, and neighbourly.

Arthus's picture

Although I have never had the ability to join in on any type conferences (except one-day ones arranged by my academy), the moment I saw the AtypI fees I wondered where all the cash goes.

As a recent graduate (of one year) the student rule seems quite strict and doesn't give any leeway to those starting up in the field. Knowing this will be only one of the few conferences I'd be able to hop in (with transport costs of only a €4,- train ticket and only my current living expenses) I'm sure it's all out of my ballfield now, which is a pity.

Being in a weird zone between type production and mocking type production also makes the money investment not worth it. Thankfully there are some other initiatives providing a day or 3 for a sub €100, which keep my ability to meet up with the type world afloat.

Still, having almost triple the costs of an academic conference is quite weird, something must be off.

Perhaps I should try to offer sleeping accommodation, breakfast and dinner ;)

Chris Dean's picture

Regarding liking it small and wanting to keep it that way, if there were an explosion in popularity, and more people want to go to TypeCon than there was registration slots, how would you decide who gets to attend? First come, first serve? Previous attendance history? Peer-review? Would there be any inclusion or exclusion criteria?

Devil’s advocate: What are some ways you could keep TypeCon small without crossing the line of elitism?

Question: What is the maximum number of allowed attendees for TypeCon 2013?

carinam's picture

Christopher,

Regarding lighting and setup I say follow the example of the TYPO conferences where video production has been successful for the past two years. In fact, this last year I purchased a ticket specifically to have access to the videos because the cost of attending was due more to the travel, accommodations, and time off from work expense than the conference itself. Again, these are the same limitations that keep me from attending TypeCon.

As far as the cost for video production, I point to Creative Mornings and what that team has been able to do. The ability to view past meetings also addresses another issue mentioned here which is how to keep these conferences feeling neighborly. If people are able to watch the processions without attending and paying the cost associated with travel, then they would be encouraged people to do so. In addition, if you charge people for only video access, then you should be able to keep that cost from impacting the regular attendee cost, though this assumes a high enough demand for such a product.

jlt's picture

I agree that the student pricing is ludicrous. It should be based on income - there are wealthy students, and there are professionals who make less than your average working student, too.

dezcom's picture

Joshua,
I agree with your analysis. If an organization would exclude a "person like me" why would I want to pay more? To me, meeting other Type people (new and old) is the drawing card, not fancy hotels with overpriced meals. Perhaps a university setting would be best.

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