CES For Writers

I have wanted to attend the Consumer Electronics Show for decades now. Dean used to laugh at me whenever the news of this gizmo or that gadget appeared. I would say I wanted to attend, and he would say that he had to go with me to protect us from getting the latest weirdest coolest thing. 

It didn't work, of course. I got the latest weirdest coolest things I could afford anyway, CES or no CES. But that didn't stop me from wanting to go.

So, when we decided to move to Las Vegas exactly one year ago, one of the first things I did was research how to attend CES, which the city has hosted for decades. I signed up for the mailing list, and filled out my application to attend the week sign-ups opened. 

It's tough to get in. You need to be working in tech somehow or have tech be relevant to your work. You also need to have some business reason for attending. My online presence, the ebooks, digital audio, and yes, my blog, made it possible for me to qualify. (Dean qualified as well.)

I know how to handle big conventions: Dean and I attended a million of them over the past 30 years. I also know how to take a lot of information and make it useful on a small scale. CES is, by far, the biggest convention I've attended, by a factor of four. (The previous largest was Book Expo, back in the days when attendance ran 40,000 or more. CES had 180,000 attendees this year.)

My plan was to figure out how the changes in tech are impacting my business. Not just my writing business but my business as a content provider. I also do a lot of negotiating with game companies and film/tv companies, so I wanted to know what was on the horizon, so that I knew what to ask for in negotiations.

That meant that, in addition to the floor, I would spend time in C-Space, which is CES's space for "creatives." The programming and paneling there was mostly about entertainment and marketing, which I figured would be helpful.

There were few exhibits in C-Space, but a lot of the Aria hotel (where C-Space was) had been blocked off for meetings. So, for example, you'll see Amazon on that list, but they were behind doors which required appointments and a reason to see them.

C-Space hosted lots of talks and discussions, many of which are online now. In fact, two of the talks I wanted to see yesterday are posted here. If you poke through the videos that I've linked to there, you'll see many that are useful and many that are just plain goofy. That's true of any convention, of course. So I wasn't disappointed. 

Many of the talks I saw were not recorded and are not posted. But the information I got from them is specific to my business, particularly the negotiation part, not to the writing part. As far as writing tech or tech that concerned podcasting, or the basics of ebooks and ebook distribution, there was nothing at all. 

I'm also a science fiction writer, which means my job is (and always has been) figuring out the future. I know many folks now call themselves futurists, but that's been my job long before there was a title like that. I always figured CES would fit into my sf writer/futurist wheelhouse...and it did. But not as completely as I would have liked.

You see, the tech at CES is developed. There are fewer idea-makers at the conference now, and a lot more worldwide conglomerates. Not that their contributions were bad or lame (although some were). Mostly, those large billion-dollar businesses have the R&D funds to put together things for CES.

The smaller companies have developed something and hope someone will buy them out. Or that they'll find a niche in the tech universe that will make their work worthwhile. So there's less cutting edge stuff than I would have expected, even in Eureka Park (where the start-ups were).

It makes sense, when I think about it. In October, just after I signed up, I was talking to a neighbor who runs a designer audio/visual store. (It caters to rich people. He'll set up your AV needs in your house/condo/smart home...from purchase to installation.) He has been part of CES since it started. He lamented that it was "too commercial" now. 

I've heard that for years about San Diego Comic Con. That's the evolution of big conventions. When they were small and intimate, they appealed to a different crowd. He was one of the early adapters at CES, and watched new stuff come in. Now the new stuff can't afford to come. More on that later.

As for my inner geek, I enjoyed the hell out of this thing. These were my people. Even the people running sales had strong geek cred. The women wore athletic shoes with their skirts, and generally did not wear make-up (unless they were selling something that did something magic with make-up). Everyone had wearables, everyone was glued to their phone, everyone knew how to speak geek. In dozens of languages. Literally.

That was fun, and well worth the time. There were things at the convention that I did not expect, like 3-D Chocolate pens.

And those lovely headphones I used at the top of the blog . They have ears that blink on and off and do all kinds of glowy things. They're for little girls. Just like the tablet I got, in hot pink, that allows you to write on it like piece of paper. CES got into a lot of trouble for being too male focused (and that continued this year, with arguments over [of all things] sex toys). But it was fun to see some of the girly stuff.

But here's the kicker: CES is 180,000 people strong. The hotels in Las Vegas were at 97% occupancy. The prices on everything from hotel rooms to transportation had been jacked up partly due to the scarcity. Inside the convention hotels and halls, for example, a bottle of water was $5. (If you walked out of the hotel to a convenience store a half block off the Strip, you could get a bottle of water for $1.)

If you signed up early, entry to the convention was $100. A month ahead, entry was $300. That was a basic badge. To get into everything, if you signed up early, cost $1000. 

I figure that, with plane flights, shuttles, monorail passes, food and other incidentals, the attendees spent a minimum of $5000 per person. I have a hunch, when it all gets totaled up, attendees spent $10,000 per person. 

That doesn't count what the exhibitors paid or corporations paid for all the private spaces they were using. Or the money spent to produce whatever was being exhibited. Or the time spent preparing.

So...should CES be a conference that writers should attend at least once?

No. There's little here for writers as business people. If you're coming to let your inner geek flag fly and you have an extra $10,000 to drop here, then come. If you're in good physical shape and you can handle crowds.

If you decide that CES is for you despite what I say here, then here are a few tips:

1. Do all the preliminary stuff right away. Sign up early, so you can deal with any problems that might arise. Read the materials sent to you when they arrive. Get the CES app, because it's greatly useful. And pick up your badge at an outlying area before the convention starts. (You wouldn't have believed the badge lines. They all had at least 100 people once the convention started.)

2. Make a plan and stick to it. Pick one location per day, and stay there. The distances are too big to cover otherwise. If you're going to the convention center, plan to spend the day there. If you're going to attend panels at one of the side hotels, spend the day there. 

3. Wear walking shoes. Who cares how fashionable you are. You will put a minimum of 4-5 miles on those shoes every day just getting in and out of the venues, so be practical. I saw women and men who walked like their feet hurt because they wore the wrong shoes. And if you have mobility issues, then this conference really isn't for you, no matter what CES says. There's just too much walking and no way to get into a venue when you're in a scooter or wheelchair (people and tables were blocking the entrances a lot).

4. Plan your meals. You won't be able to eat at the exhibit sites unless you grab a hot dog outside (and even then the lines were long). Most of the restaurants and bars in the conference hotels were closed and booked by an exhibitor. There's lots of places to eat on the Strip, but you have to walk to them, and leave the venue you're in. It's a pain.

5. Do not use CES transportation in peak hours. Avoid the opening and closing times. Go mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

6. Arrive before the conference starts, and scout locations. You'll be glad you did. You won't spend your first day getting your bearings, and that will help.

But...and this is a big but...you're better off watching the videos, reading the news coverage, and using your conference money for something else. This is a working conference, and so there's not as much fun stuff if you're unaffiliated with a major corporation.

Dean and I spent a grand total of $300 on CES, counting parking and meals. We live here. For $300, we had a bargain and a grand time. We will attend every year we're able to. Because we're local. We can do that, and I'm sure I'll blog about it whenever we go.

There you are. Now you're informed. I will post one more blog here on Patreon, discussing some of the things I learned that are important for writers. That blog will appear on my website in February.