|The rationale behind charging for admission and turning people away from linux.conf.au 2005|
There have been a couple of comments made on my previous posts about linux.conf.au 2005 about how Free Software events shouldn't turn people away. I thought that I'd take the time to explain the rationale behind the current situation. It should be noted that the current status is the consensus of the linux.conf.au 2005 organising team, of which I am just one part.
Let's break the basic objections I've heard down into their individual elements and address each in turn:
Why are we charging for admission to linux.conf.au?
Modern conferences are generally large, complicated, expensive beasts. It is possible to run a conference for free, but what you get is a very different beast from what people expect from a linux.conf.au. The current style of conference has been the same as every linux.conf.au I've been to (my first was Sydney), and I suspect that changing the mix too much would change the people who attended the event, which is something we explicitly didn't want to do.
Why are they expensive to run? They have invited speakers and other speakers we pay for the transport for (we don't fund all speakers, just those who couldn't make it to the event otherwise), there is a regional delegates program (although Sun kindly sponsors it), there is a conference dinner and a networking session for professional attendees. Speakers partners get complimentary attendance at the partner's programme for having donated their partner's time.
There are venue hire costs (a five digit number), sundry costs such as signage, transport for equipment, some equipment rental. There is the cost of merchandising such as a conference bag, and t-shirt. There are some other really cool merchandising things this year which I can't mention yet, but totally rock. If I was a delegate I'd feel pretty happy with what's in the conference bag this year. Those merchandising items are an opportunity for people to start conversations about open source in their workplaces, homes, and elsewhere, so are a valuable part of the conference mix.
There's lots of other elements of the conference I have forgotten so far, but you get the idea.
Remember in all this that the organisers haven't been paid. Heck, organising the conference has cost us money personally (many Thursday nights, dinners at meetings, time of other forms, a lot of fuel for some of us, some of us have even paid to attend the conference ourselves). I guess we're hoping that by donating our time, we'll end up with a cool conference. I think that anyone who thinks that they're doing this because they'll have a higher profile in the community, or be hired by a multinational, or something like that is somewhat confused to be honest. We're running the conference for the love of it.
One final monetary aspect needs mentioning. Linux.conf.au is the major funding source for Linux Australia at this time. Without this funding, LA wouldn't be able to have their meetings, do the lobby work they do, or fund open source projects in the community. The linux.conf.au committee is a subcommittee of LA, and this needs to be remembered.
Why limit the number of attendees?
Linux.conf.au has always been a smaller conference compared with some others. This gives the conference a more intimate feel, and keeps the conference from turning into a monster that eats organisers for breakfast. Then again, the main reason the current conference is the size it has become is that the venue's largest room can only hold 500 people, and because of fire regulations we have to assume that all attendees are in the room for conference keynotes. In fact, organisers have volunteered to not attend keynotes if the space is needed for delegates, thus letting us sneak another few people in.
Then why not change to a bigger venue?
Because it's two weeks out from the conference. If we had sold out weeks ago, then we would have moved, but it wasn't clear that we were going to sell out back then... It's simply too late now to book a bigger venue. Even if we could, we wouldn't have enough t-shirts, bags, catering et cetera organised for a larger number of people, and the production deadline for those items was weeks ago.
Ok, so why not video cast to another room in the venue for overflow?
If you had paid $600 to go to a conference, not including travel and accommodation costs, plus time off work and being away from your loved ones, would you be happy being lumped into an overflow room? I wouldn't be, and imagine neither would a lot of other people. I honestly think that's not really an acceptable solution to the problem.
Why not let people drop in for random lectures without paying?
Again, if I'd paid to attend and someone else was dropping in I'd be upset. Why should I be subsidising them? That might be an uncharitable view of things, but if someone genuinely couldn't afford to go to the conference, and deserved to come, then they should have entered the regional delegate program. Perhaps they would have won.
Where to from here?
As with the last few linux.conf.au's there will be speex audio of the talks made available after the event along with the slide decks used. There is also some work going on to deal with video, but it hasn't been officially announced yet (more on that later). If you're genuinely only interested in one talk, then you can listen to it online later. [tags: conference opensource]
posted at: 16:57 | path: /diary/lca2005 | permanent link to this entry
Yes, absolutely. We had a fallback plan for if we sold out a month ago which involved paying thousands of dollars for a bigger keynote venue, and then hoping that every attendee didn't attend a single talk (if that happened, then you could argue that we'd failed to schedule properly and that talk should have been a keynote anyways).
There would have been walking between the main venue and the new keynote venue, timings would have been thrown out, it would have sucked if it rained, and it would have cost thousands of dollars extra.
There is another point to be made about conference size - if you go much bigger you start to need professional conference venues - like the various convention centers around the country. When LCA2004 was being organised we considered that, but your venue costs increase 10x - and that blows the budget. And there are added penalties - cheap accommodation isn't typically close by, you lose the intimate feel of a university venue with hisoric buildings, and you lose any chance at cheap parking. So Canberra is limited to 500, Adelaide was limited to 600. Most cheap venues won't go any bigger, so that's the ceiling under the current linux.conf.au model.