Photokina to become yearly event, fulfilling wish literally no one asked for


posted Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 5:10 PM EDT


Photokina has for years been known the world over as the largest and most important photo/video tradeshow and convention on the planet. Every two years in the fall, just about everyone in the industry converges in Cologne, Germany for a week and submerges themselves fully in photography equipment. Not only is it known for being massive and important to the industry, it is also known to be incredibly expensive and exhausting for all attendees. Though I personally have never been, I am close to many who have taken the trek and each comes back with stories about it, good and bad. One common thread pervades them all though: it drains you fully. I'm not exaggerating when I say the owner of a photographic lighting company by whom I was previously employed, was so drained and beaten down by the trip he promptly suffered a stroke upon touchdown in the United States.

The experience of my former boss is a physical example of how the industry generally feels about Photokina. That is to say, Photokina is kind of a "have to" event rather than a "want to," and the fact that it happened every two years has been met with sighs of relief from everyone I've ever spoken to about it. No one I know wants to go back there annually. It's just too expensive, too draining, and honestly unnecessary. It is quite literally stroke-inducing. 

However, according to a press release sent out this morning, Photokina disagrees. Photokina is pivoting to become essentially what they hope is the Europe version of CES. Starting in 2019, they will move their show to May, a period of the year already crammed with giant tradeshows (CES, NAB, CP+ and WPPI), and become an annual event. Their rationale is interesting:

"The imaging ecosystem today also includes, in addition to the core areas from the imaging workflow, trend areas like virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, as well as image recognition and holography. The growing flood of images and videos must be processed and administered, so that archiving and content management, social media and communities are coming increasingly into focus. Apps and software solutions have become indispensable both for professional use and for the end consumer. Smart home applications and computer-generated imaging are once again increasing in importance. photokina should in future serve as an important international innovation platform."

Photokina is trying to make the argument that "smart home applications," among other things, are part of the imaging ecosystem. I'm sorry, but that's a stretch. It's pretty obvious that Photokina wants to be a general electronics show (because money), but they don't want to scare off their bread and butter, the imaging market, from continuing to drop mad dollars on attending. They go on to claim that the theme of last year's event, "Imaging Unlimited," was a sort of proof of concept for them, and that it showed that they should expand their show.

Sure. Because the theme is why people came. It has nothing to do with Photokina's place in the industry, how they were scheduled, or why people attend. It was totally because of their awesome slogan. 

Their decision has likely been heavily influenced by watching the massive growth of CES over the years, as that convention has continued to spread itself out across Las Vegas, unable to be contained in the convention center any longer. They now occupy the entire convention center, the Sands convention center, and just about every hotel on the strip has a CES sanctioned event or private showroom rented out by companies who want to get around paying CES for booth space. The result is a quagmire of traffic, impossible meeting schedules spread all over town for buyers and journalists, and generally everyone gets less done in a week than they did in a day just a few years ago.

The expansion of CES has been great for the CES organization but has been nothing but a pain for attendees and exhibitors. It appears this is what Photokina desires as well. And why wouldn't they?

It's no secret that the imaging space has not exactly been a booming market for the past couple years. Outside of Sony's sensor dominance, we have seen sales and innovation from just about everyone either plateau or fall off. The business heads at Photokina aren't stupid: they can see it too. As a tradeshow built entirely around imaging tech, if the industry goes down (as it is), they go with it. Years ago, the event took up nearly the entire Kolnmesse convention center (and Kodak even had one entire hall to themselves once upon a time). Last year, our team on site recalls it being a long way down from that. To survive, this is basically their only option. They can slather lipstick on this pig with happy language and claims of grand success, but their mission is easy to spot through that fog. They aim to survive, and to do that... they will leave behind what Photokina has been and turn into something else.

I don’t know the numbers, but the general feeling seems to point that they’ve been having a hard time affording to put it on, given how much booth space has skyrocketed. By expanding their scope, more big “anchor tenants” will help cover costs, so the basement space might become more affordable for more small companies. Maybe in the end this can be a good thing. At the very least, the hope is that it will help them survive. 

For the 2018 event, only the series of days is changing: it will take place from Wednesday, September 26 to Saturday, September 29, which is a shorter period than in the past that Photokina says "enables a more compact, more intensive trade fair experience." The shortened schedule may be a symptom of their focus on the following year (which, by the way, will happen a mere eight months later according to the new schedule), or it may simply be an effort to save everyone a little money. After 2018's show, Photokina as we know it will dramatically change. Will that make it better? Will this shift help them not only survive, but thrive? That remains to be seen. I'm sure they're optimistic.