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El Cheapo Commercial Conferences

While looking over Calls for Presenters (CfPs) of different conferences I notice one interesting thing. It seems to me that small, local, non-profit conferences such as the PHP Konferencia in Budapest make no problems of reimbursing full travel and lodging costs for speakers, but heavily commercial conferences such as OSCON and Zend's new conference seem to be willing to pay as little as possible. It strikes me as odd - as most open source contributors do not have the means to be a speaker at those conferences now.


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It's the difference between conferences put on for the sake of the attendees vs. conferences put on to make money. Most of the smaller grassroots conferences just have a desire to not lose money. I remember one of the LCA conferences ( where they determined they had a slight profit, so they ordered hundreds of pizzas for everyone to try to get down to exactly breaking even. These are the kinds of conferences I go to these days. They are simply more fun for everyone involved.

I can't speak about OSCON, but I can speak about the Zend/PHP conference...

First, replying to Rasmus - the point of the conference is not to make money, but its theme. Unlike most PHP conferences, this one is more business oriented, in the sense that it's trying to help PHP penetrate the upper layers of the market, places where it's a rare occurrence these days. Very much like you described grassroots conferences, the hope is to do that while not losing money.

Unlike conferences that are organized by volunteers from the community, this conference is run by a professional company (KB Conferences). That's almost always the case with commercial conferences, and it's also often the case with many OSS conferences, such as ApacheCon. These companies obviously have to be paid for their service, and you can consider it like any other expense a conference may incur, such as hotel or travel expenses. Whether a conference is organized by volunteers or not, its organizers can rarely allow themselves to end up in deficit - the money has to come from somewhere.

Finally, to the point Derick made. I have to say that yes, you have a point. Once the cash flow for this conference becomes clearer (sponsors, etc.) - I hope that the cost issue could be settled in a better way. I don't think anybody expects someone to shell out a thousand bucks to fly from Europe to San Francisco at his own expense, and attracting prominent speakers from all over the world is definitely a goal.

Also makes you kinda wonder what kind of speakers they want to attract. The preferences seems to be for people that want to use this as a marketing event. Obviously you can do quality marketing presentations however I wonder if the people who pay a conference ticket at for example OSCON are aware of this?

Of course there is nothing against going with local speakers only. But then you cant claim to be international and the local market usually does have limits to the number of (experienced) speakers to choose from.

My point was simply that the real grassroots conferences that are organized by the actual local user groups and very dedicated volunteers tend to be much more interesting to me. They have no professional conference company who stand to make money from any surplus and they tend to keep costs low across the board. There is a reason I have skipped the last couple of Apachecons and OSCONs instead going to places like and In the case of LinuxNorthWest it was free for attendees so I was happy to pay my own way to it. Putting on a conference is a lot of work, and if you don't have a couple of extremely dedicated volunteers to spearhead the effort, you need a professional conference company to do it for you, but at the same time you don't get the sort of grassroots conference you otherwise would.

I've never felt like OSCON was a marketing event. I'm not sure what makes you think that, Lukas.In fact, I think it's one of the best conferences each year (and I attend many), although I think Derick and Rasmus have strong points.

I've always wondered why conferences seem to get exponentially more expensive the larger they get. I know O'Reilly lost money on OSCON when it was in San Diego.

I should have written this disclaimer in my original post. I never attended OSCON myself. That is why I said "it seems" rather than stronger words in my previous post.

Eitherway it surely is a marketing event for Oreilly. And they do charge an entrance fee, yet they cover limited expenses for a limited set of speakers. So maybe Rasmus made the proper point by saying that grassroots conferences skip the needless money spenders and focus on content. If that means they can get high profile people and business conferences that spend their money elsewhere (eventhough they should have more money due to ticket sales) have to rely on the charity of the speakers .. then something is awry.

Eitherway there are other good "business" conferences where things work differently like the upcoming international php conferences or php|tropics. So it seems that it does not have to be like that.

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