by Dick Kaser
So what do we have to say about the SLA annual conference held in New Orleans in June? It was a great venue, and it had a pertinent program. But where was the typical large and high-caliber crowd?
Various numbers floated around about the event’s draw, with figures ranging from 1,300 paid registrants to 3,300 in all. But it depends on who the reporter included in the count. No matter what number was being tossed around, there was no denying that attendance was down—way down—from SLA’s centennial celebration last year in Washington, D.C.
I don’t think the poor turnout reflects negatively on the organizers per se. But the numbers are an important bit of market intelligence and a strong indicator that the enterprise information market is still suffering from cutbacks, still making difficult choices, and still riding out the economic storm.
If the markets are constricted, the vendors are constrained. One exhibitor pointed to the rented carpet in her booth and said, “You’re standing on my marketing budget for this year.”
Here we are, 2 years into the economic downturn. Are things only getting worse? Or has the economy’s devastating impact on the information community finally bottomed out? And does the only way from here have to be up?
These are esoteric, unfathomable, and rhetorical questions. Yet the vendors in attendance at SLA echoed what appeared to be a common strategy. Amid darkness, they were focused on the light.
Among the optimistic was Diana Bittern, director of product management at Knovel, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary at the SLA event.
“It’s been a sad story of shrinking budgets and what to cut,” says Bittern, “but market strength is in the value proposition. Libraries are struggling to make themselves relevant. It’s really not about ebooks [which are all the rage], it’s about productivity tools.”
David Golan, vice president of library solutions and client services at Inmagic, mirrored the sentiment: “It was a tough market anyway,” says Golan. “As the need [for information solutions] has evolved, the money has not kept pace, which has only worsened with a bad economy. We’re trying to help our customers justify their case by showing them how to wrap business purposes around library functions.”
In my rounds of the trade show floor, I spoke with dozens of vendors. But none was more optimistic than the one possibly hardest hit by the initial financial market collapse.
Scott Schulman, president of the corporate markets group at Dow Jones, says, “Yes, it’s been a tough couple of years, but we’re seeing some good signs of stabilization and we are optimistic about getting back on a good growth path. … Customers recognize the value of helping improve the productivity of their enterprises. We are well positioned to help them do that.”
I can only hope that something said three times is true. And to answer the imponderable question: Yes, I guess I will conclude the only way it can possibly go from here is up.