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April 2, 2013

One Last Thing About The SPX Exhibitor Registration Meltdown

Now that extra tables have been opened up, apologies have been made and the idea of curating has received the necessary due diligence that should come when a system, in this case first-come/first-served registration, experiences some difficulty, I suspect Bethesda's Small Press Expo is moving forward with what is likely to be another good year for one of the jewels of the increasingly crowded and heated convention schedule.

I did have a lingering question, though, one that was suggested to me by several CR readers who were frustrated by what happened. Some folks communicated to me that while they were sympathetic to the server difficulties experienced by SPX, they felt this should have led to the slate being wiped clean and a new registration being scheduled rather than the Expo soldiering on. This feeling was exacerbated by a suspicion that many of them had that alternatives were presented to potential exhibitors durin the meltdown that didn't enjoy 100 percent penetration in terms of who learned of them.

I asked Warren Barnard, the Executive Director of SPX, if he would speak to why the Expo made the decisions they did, why not a do-over? This is the reply he sent.
As you pointed out in your e-mail to me, there are a number of people who felt that the SPX Tablegeddon (Thanks Heidi!) deserved a do-over or that the Paypal process to get your tables registered was somehow gamed one way or another. Allow me to address both of these issues head on.

imageThe decision not to do a do-over was one of both technology and business. On the technology end, as a backup, we had actually put the new registration process on another ISP's servers 48 hours before D-Day. So when our main web site went down and after a lame (at best) response from our ISP, we redirected the traffic to that backup site. Which promptly crashed. This was a clear sign that trying to get a new ISP to meet our clearly robust operational needs was going to be challenge. Not knowing when we could find someone who could do the job was not an option, as we were running out of calendar time to get the tables sold.

Which brings us to the business reasons. First, there are a number of exhibitors who count on SPX for debuts of new books as the show occurs at the start of the Fall book selling season. They need to know whether to schedule guests for book tours, allocate funds for travel, etc. Telling everyone we were going to postpone again (we had already postponed twice) to a date that we could not define because of the above technical constraint was not an acceptable alternative.

The second business reason for not having a do-over was that SPX already had peoples money for more tables than were at last years show. This issue of refunding money and the bad feelings that would have engendered was something we were not fond of in terms of a task that would need to be performed if we did this again.

It was also this issue of already having the money that was the driver to open the room up. We did not want to open the can of PR worms that would have ensued if we started refunding money to some people, but not to others. Once we did the calculations, we realized that luckily we could accommodate everyone who paid with an expanded ballroom, solving that problem.

Now, the decision to post the exhibitor form on Google Docs and open up Paypal directly was not ever conceived as an alternative method. In fact, this process was thought of after we saw the second site crash, and this process was strictly meant to relieve pressure on the web site. We hoped enough people would go to the Paypal/adhoc method, allowing the website to start processing.

Alas, only 11 tables were processed through the web site, showing that even after getting people off the site, it still could not handle the process of orders.

To get the word out about this adhoc process, we clearly could not use the web site itself, we which don't use as the main method of communication to SPX Nation anyway. We could not use our e-mail lists, as we knew a number people who were not on those lists were trying to get tables. Plus, using this method would have given preference to previous exhibitors as well as those attendees who signed up for e-mail (of which some may have wanted tables), something that we would not want to do.

So we used our social media streams, our normal methods of communications, to tell everyone about the change. At this point Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook comprise some 50,000 SPX followers, so we felt if people were going to find out about this, this was the only way to get the word out. Using social media allowed as much of a democratic and random process as the original signup via the website would have. And to give an idea as to SPX's social media reach, that Sunday #SPX actually got up to #5 trending on Twitter.

In fact, to show how democratic and random the process really was, of the 244 people who got tables through the adhoc Paypal/Google Doc process, 134 of them we did not have on our Master Exhibitor e-mail list and will be new exhibitors at this years show.

Now, a perspective as to how fast things moved. Once the Paypal/Google Doc method was posted, starting with Box Brown's order (we love you Box!!) at 12:50PM, we sold out 202 tables in 30 minutes. That is selling a little over a table every 10 seconds. This helps explain why the web site crashed. Those people who were all hitting the Enter key at the same time when the web site was up at Noon were now dispersed timing wise through Paypal, because not everyone was on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr at the same time to get the word about the new process. No question we would have sold out in like 5-10 minutes, tops, if the site had not crashed.

After this years show, we are going to re-think how the table registration process is done, as there were many lessons learned that we need to integrate into a new way of doing this. So no thought whatsoever is going to go into table registration until then, as we have a show to run and need to focus on that for the next 136 days (but who's counting).

We hope this helps explain the background as to what happened vis-a-vis these two topics.

To everyone who went through all of this, well, once again, we are sorry.

But we also want to thank the tremendous support SPX Nation has shown us as we have gone through this experience.

We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to the show and I can't wait to meet the all of the new exhibitors who will be there for the first time.

I'm happy to have those issues addressed at CR, and appreciate Mr. Bernard's time. It looks that they'll keep the first-come, first-served element of registration, and I hope that remains the case. I was an active proponent for SPX moving to curation 15 years ago, but that was before the rise of all these other festivals that make good use of that tool plus another 15 years of SPX doing it the way they do it. This also strikes me as one of those incidents that is going to have a hangover, and that we'll at least reference it psychically when the next odd thing in terms of the Expo becomes an issue. It's the cost of hitting one's stride.
posted 8:10 am PST | Permalink

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