When we wrote about tickets going on sale for the first ever PodsCamp, some folks commented that $50 was too much for a one day event, especially when compared to a WordCamp. I agree with Sarah Pressler who said, “WordCampers are spoiled by the $20-40 fees associated with WordCamps.”
To see how spoiled the WordPress community is in having the WordPress Foundation, WordCamp Central pillar sponsors, and Multi-Event Sponsors foot most of the bill for WordCamps, I compared their prices with other conferences. I also discovered through public budget reports that ticket prices are 2-4 times cheaper than what the total amount of expenses are per attendee.
Joomla has two different types of conferences. One is called Joomla Day while the other is Joomla World. Joomla Day is a 1-3 day event, similar to WordCamps. They’re held all over the world. Based on my research, prices for events based in the United States range from $20-$80.
Joomla World is similar to WordCamp San Francisco in that its a once a year, unique experience in addition to learning about Joomla from premiere speakers. The location of Joomla World changes every year.
This year, it’s in Grand Oasis Cancun, Mexico, November 7th-9th. Early bird tickets are $199 while standard tickets are $299. The 3-day pass includes access to all the sessions from Friday through Sunday. Food and accommodations are NOT included with the ticket.
Drupal also has two different conference types, Drupal Camp and DrupalCon. A Drupal Camp is similar to WordCamp in that it’s a 1-2 day event that focuses on many aspects of Drupal in one location. DrupalCon is the official conference of the Drupal Community.
Tickets for DrupalCon Austin, TX, that took place June 2nd-6th ranged in price depending on when you purchased them. Here’s what the ticket price break down looks like.
- Earlybird $400 ends April 4
- Regular $500 ends May 2
- Late $550 ends May 30
- Onsite $600 ends June 5
These are the average prices for a DrupalCon held in the United States. A ticket to DrupalCon Austin would have given you access to a daily lunch and morning coffee break, most of the event, and swag items. Drupal Camps on the other hand average $20 for admission. The ticket price includes food and swag items.
Acquia is the commercial entity that supports the Drupal project and is the top-tier sponsor for most DrupalCons. Similar to WordPress and Joomla, Drupal has an association dedicated to helping the open-source CMS project flourish. Unlike Joomla and WordPress, the Drupal Association does not help with the fiscal responsibilities of Drupal Camps.
Everyone Sees Value Differently
The only person that determines whether a conference is worth the price of admission is the attendee. On price alone, WordCamps are substantially more affordable than several other conferences related to open source software. This is in large part due to the financial support provided by the WordPress Foundation, WordCamp Pillar Sponsors, and Multi-Event Sponsors.
While Scott Kingsley Clark would love to have PodsCamp be free to attend, the costs associated with the event prohibit it from happening. Since it’s a separate event from WordCamp, Clark doesn’t have access to the funds WordCamps enjoy. Instead, he’s relying on sponsors to help offset the costs so everything is not out of his pocket.
Again, value is determined by an individual but for $50, you get food, a full day of sessions devoted to Pods, and face to face access with the entire development team. I think $50 is a bargain, especially for those who use Pods extensively.
Should Open Source Conferences Be Free?
There is a line of thought that open source conferences should be free to attend. Steve Burge, of OSTraining.com, explains why.
If you want to increase the number of people using your software, you should leverage your event to attract as many people as you possibly can.
If you charge $50 or more, you’ll only ever attract the same old people. If you want to attract new people, try and remove all barriers that might stop them from attending.
Burge goes on to list a few different ways offering free tickets can work. I’ve never organized a WordCamp myself but have spoken to many who have. Several of them have told me the cost of the venue is the most expensive part of the event. Food and beverages are typically the second largest expense. Swag items are not as expensive as you might think since they are purchased in bulk.
I don’t think what Burge describes is likely to happen for WordCamps. Part of the reason is expectations. The other is that because of the WordCamp guidelines, several of the events are cookie cutter in nature. By upping the ante with a bigger after party or extravagant offerings, WordCamps can differentiate themselves. It’s possible the cost of differentiating the event will generate more expensive tickets unless it’s offset by a sponsorship.
One item Burge doesn’t mention in his post is the incentive given to people who pay for a ticket. The WordCamp planning site explains the benefits of charging a small fee.
We think of WordCamp tickets not as being comparable to conference tickets (for many WordCamp lineups, you’d have to pay hundreds of dollars at a regular conference), but as being just enough to get people out of bed on that sleepy WordCamp morning.
Typical prices run about $15-20 per day, which basically covers lunch and a t-shirt, leaving you to cover the additional event costs through fundraising. If you think you need to charge more than $20 per day, chances are there’s something going on your budget that can be adjusted.
WordCamp Budgets Show How Much Money We’re Saving On Ticket Prices
At least a few WordCamps have their budget reports available for public viewing. The numbers that jump out at me are the total expenses per attendee.
Both WordCamp San Francisco and Milwaukee had a total expense amount close to $83 per attendee. This means both events would have needed to charge attendees $84 to put on the event without financial support from external sources. WCSF charged $20 per day per person while Milwaukee charged $25 for Saturday and Sunday. Thanks to sponsorships and the WordPress Foundation, attendees saved anywhere from $40-$60 per ticket.
WordCamps Need To Keep Ticket Prices Low
The biggest point Burge makes in his post and something I agree with is that the more affordable conferences are, the more people who can attend them. I’d hate to see average WordCamp prices between $50-$80 for 1-2 days of learning. More expensive WordCamps would cause exclusivity which is against the ethos of WordPress.
I’d love to hear from WordCamp organizers on ideas or steps you’ve taken to get more people with low income levels to attend your event. I’m also interested to know if you offer free tickets to college students or members of non-profit organizations.