Last week LoopConf announced that early bird tickets will go on sale November 20th. The conference is aimed at developers and organizers are planning for 700 – 1,000 attendees in Las Vegas on the weekend of May 7-8, 2015.
A bit of controversy has surfaced regarding the ticket pricing, as LoopConf emerges as one of the most expensive WordPress-oriented conferences to date. With early bird tickets priced at $600 and regular tickets at $800, the combined sponsorship donations and estimated ticket sales have the potential to bring the total event budget just shy of a million dollars.
Although events in this price range are not unheard of in the web industry, with many charging ticket prices in the thousands, WordPress-oriented conferences have traditionally been inexpensive. Because LoopConf is not endorsed by or affiliated with the WordPress Foundation, it doesn’t have to follow the guidelines set for WordCamps. Organizers of WP Foundation-sponsored events must agree to make the event “accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of financial status.”
LoopConf ticket pricing poses a stark contrast to traditional WordPress-oriented events, drawing sharp criticism for catering to an elite segment of developers, while pricing out the vast majority of others in the community.
So @loopconf tickets are $600 for early bird and $800 regular? Wow. Good luck with that. You just priced out 90% of the WP community.
— Brad Williams (@williamsba) November 8, 2014
Supporters of LoopConf ticket prices count it as a step forward in legitimizing WordPress as a mainstream career opportunity. Eric Mann, in a response piece titled WordPress Comes of Age, highlights the fact that some employers have been reluctant to pay for flights and accommodation for a conference with a $25-40 ticket price.
— TJ List (@TJList) November 8, 2014
— curtismchale (@curtismchale) November 8, 2014
I spoke with Brad Williams, one of the most vocal community members questioning the ticket prices, to find out if WebDevStudios would be sending any of its employees to LoopConf. “Most likely not, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s a lot of money even for an agency to cover without understanding the value of it.”
Williams said he was not opposed to the conference, but that it’s tough to assess the value that an attendee will receive. “If it’s pricey, but justified, it might be worth sending some of our devs,” he said. “Honestly it’s tough to say because we could also send them to 10+ WordCamps for that price.”
When LoopConf posted ticket prices, the email announcement said, “Think of it as more of a celebration of WordPress than a conference.” Without a full list of speakers and topics, aside from the generally well-known WordPress speakers featured on the homepage, onlookers are left scratching their heads.
Amid controversy surrounding the high ticket prices, the organizers of the LoopConf posted a detailed FAQ section to the site to answer some of the public’s most pressing questions. The document helps to clarify what the organizers believe to be the value of the ticket price.
When Ryan Sullivan set out to create a WordPress conference for developers, he had no idea that LoopConf would be pioneering a new segment of WordPress events. The organizing team, which includes a couple of experienced ng-conf organizers, was surprised to learn of the controversy surrounding the ticket pricing.
Unlike a WordCamp, LoopConf is a for-profit endeavor and the team has no obligation to be financially transparent. “We won’t be publishing our budget,” Sullivan told the Tavern. “This is a for-profit endeavor but not to the degree most people think. Our margins are actually not very big, and basically cover our time and efforts for putting on the event itself.
“Our number one goal is that everyone leaves feeling like it was a great investment, and if it ends up we risk a portion of our profits to make that a reality, then we’re fine with that.”
He also doesn’t see any realistic way that the budget will reach a million dollars. “We are planning much more conservatively than that,” he said. What does he say to critics who believe the ticket prices to be exorbitant?
The ticket price is for the experience itself. Compared to other tech conferences outside of WordPress our prices are actually average or below average. I wish I had a way to illustrate how amazing this event will be without just having to say “this event is going to be amazing”, but that’s where we’re at right now I suppose. From hack nights, to an amazing party, to swag, to meals, to a premier conference space at a secluded resort, we’re truly trying to deliver in every way we can. It’s going to be a fantastic place to learn and connect with friends and colleagues who have truly common interests.
The LoopConf team hopes to announce speakers by Wednesday of this week. Of the 28 speakers lined up, Sullivan estimates that 6 or 7 will be from outside the WordPress community, with the majority of others having spoken previously at other WordPress events.
“I think is important to mention is that even if these speakers have spoken at WordCamps before, it’s not likely they’ve given talks like they’ll be giving at LoopConf,” he said. “With a very developer focused audience a lot of these presenters will be able to give talks that they’re really excited about, which creates a very unique energy and environment for higher learning.”
The conference structure is also very different from what one might expect of a WordCamp. LoopConf doesn’t have a team of volunteers supporting the event but instead utilizes a paid event coordinator to manage the majority of the logistics with the venue, vendors, sponsors, etc. Sullivan expects that he and the other organizers will have a few months of working 20-30 hours per week leading up to the event.
Those who are unable to attend LoopConf can watch all sessions via a global live stream for free. Videos of the sessions will also be available within minutes after sessions are finished and will be offered for free to anyone who wants to learn from the event’s speakers.
WordPress conferences that fall under the WordCamp name have traditionally been inexpensive events, designed to bring together a local community. Because Sullivan and his team are pioneering a different event structure, they have endured a healthy amount of criticism. The team’s goal to bring in top developers from the larger community would not be possible within the confines of a traditional WordCamp.
Sullivan hopes that other conference organizers will also be inspired to break out of the box and host more unique events. “I would love to see more niche conferences that are WordPress specific. There are already great conferences out there like WooConf, Pressnomics, Prestige, and some others that I’m probably forgetting,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity to get together for a good time and learn from each other in the process, count me in.”