Ticketgate

Written on November 25 2011 at 11:48

Well that got a bit out of hand, didn’t it.

I’ve re-read the original conversation Alan and I had, and I have no idea how we got here. It was a nice chat!

I suspect it may have sprung from a few poorly constructed and misconstrued tweets. Ain’t it always the way?

I think this one from me irked Alan a bit: James Adam: “I see @scotrubyconf have announced the ticket prices… with “Super Early-Bird” and “Early-Bird” prices. #slowclap interblah.net/early-bird-t…”

What I was expressing with the “#slowclap” was more disappointment than anything else, since I’d raised my hopes after the previous conversation, but I can see how it would’ve come across. Andrew Nesbit called me on it, but it didn’t click until too late:

Andrew Nesbitt: “@lazyatom passive aggressive much?”

Alan C Francis: “@lazyatom Are you always this upset when people make choices that are different from yours?”

While I really wasn’t annoyed earlier, I think this is one of those self-fulfilling prophesies, like when someone comes up to you and apropos of nothing says “Cheer up!”, and where they would’ve seen you as glum really you were just deep in thought and quite content, but now that you’ve been disturbed, yes, yes actually now I am upset. You know how it goes. Anyway, it’s something like that, innocent stuff really.

James Adam: “(the curious paradox of annoyance caused solely from the suggestion that one is annoyed.)”

Honestly though, I wasn’t annoyed. I just got my hopes up a bit prematurely, that’s all.

James Adam: “@alancfrancis I don’t care what choices anyone makes, as long as they can explain why they made them and are generally open minded.”

… and I think that gave Alan the wrong impression. I don’t think he was really annoyed by it:

Alan C Francis: “@lazyatom And I think I did explain, and I was open minded. We discussed it, and made a decision.”

However, it’s clear later on that he thought I was accusing him (and/or Paul and Graeme) of being closed minded. What I was trying (and failing) to say is that I don’t mind what anybody chooses to do as long as they’re weighing up all the options and not being overly influenced by dogma. The very fact that we managed the previous conversation so well demonstrates he was, but I wasn’t clear and for that I absolutely apologise.

Alas, at the same time we’re also sparring a bit:

Alan C Francis: “@lazyatom I could try and talk you into offering RubyManor shirts because, in my experience, people feel cheated if they don’t get a shirt,” Alan C Francis: “@lazyatom And if you decided not to take my advice, and do what you wanted anyway, would it make sense for me to be annoyed about it?” James Adam: “@alancfrancis if more than a few people said they wanted a shirt, and could explain why (beyond saying they “expected” it), then sure.”

Oh, swag…

James Adam: “@alancfrancis I’ve never suggested that the Ruby Manor model is the only way to run a conference” James Adam: “@alancfrancis I’ve only suggested that we’re trying to abandon practices that many people don’t actually find valuable.” Alan C Francis: “@lazyatom Well, no. You’ve in fact suggested that we should abandon practices that you don’t find valuable?”

… so that probably made things a bit more tense.

For the record, nobody’s ever asked me if we can do a Ruby Manor t-shirt. At the first event we actually joked about our t-shirt and laptop bag:

Ruby Manor t-shirt Ruby Manor laptop bag

Equally, I’m sure nobody’s ever asked the Scottish Ruby Conference if they’ll abandon a part of their standard financial practice before. In retrospect, it’s clear that either suggestion could seem as alien and bizarre to the counterpart as Edward Longshanks asking William Wallace to put some trousers on.

Why did I think this could be discussed successfully over Twitter? I was such a fool.

To quote the protagonist from The Scottish Play:

I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

Onwards.

Are Early Bird tickets discounted?

Ric Roberts: “@lazyatom @alancfrancis FWIW, I don’t like Early Bird tickets. I always miss out on them and then feel like a sucker for paying more.”

Alan C Francis: “@RicRoberts I can assure you you are no sucker. Full price is not higher because of early bird. If no EB, all tickets would be full price,”

(but of course as organisers you can set “full price” to be whatever makes sense for your event given the total amount of revenue you would like)

Alan C Francis: “@RicRoberts So maybe you get a bargain, but even if not, we think it’s a pretty cheap conference for 2days/3tracks.”

I’m deliberately avoiding any discussion of whether or not the tickets are good value or not - that’s subjective.

However, the idea of Early Bird tickets containing a “discount” is purely a matter of perspective. Given the total revenue for the conference is fixed (because each ticket type quantity is fixed) it’s just as valid to assert the Standard tickets contain a “late surcharge” as it is to assert that there is a “discount”.

The “discount” only exists if the ticket could have been sold for a higher price, but the very structure of the Scottish Ruby Conference 2011 ticket release dictated that tickets each had a fixed value and could never have been sold for anything else.

It’s totally valid to question confidence about whether or not your conference will sell out, or how quickly that might happen, and what effect ticket prices have on the rate of sales. For the purposes of this conversation, my belief is built on past experience of this specific event, along with consideration of the choice to release all tickets simultaneously for this event, and therefore limit Early Bird by quantity rather than time period.

I don’t know how to explain this in any other way, but if you’re convinced that I’m wrong I would dearly love to hear from you (via email perhaps). I just don’t see (given probable odds of selling all tickets, and an otherwise fixed total revenue) why the removal of Early Bird would require a conference increase that revenue cap, rather than make the “Full” price a little cheaper so that the total revenue remains the same. The conference organisers don’t lose out.

Back to the twit-storm-shit-storm. Alan and Ric continue to banter a bit which shows that everything’s really fine, and nobody is feeling persecuted, but I think this short exchange has been useful in my final (for the moment) attempt at clarifying My PointTM.

My PointTM

Given fixed numbers of tickets for an established and successful event, with a high probability of selling many tickets quickly and ultimately selling out, I believe that Early Bird prices do more to make people feel like they “missed out on a deal” than they help drive early sales for cash-flow purposes.

And if that’s true, it’s not ideal.

The London Effect

A few other conversations came up that I found it hard to manage - notably this one about the differences between London and Edinburgh. Here’s the first tweet to whet your appetite:

Paul Wilson: “Running a Ruby Conf in a city with 400k population and avg of 12 at user group is different than in a city with 10m and 100 at user group.”

You can read the rest here.

My goal for Ruby Manor has never been to run a “local” conference. I’m starting to understand why it might be perceived that way, probably in part because it’s such a departure from the formula, in part because it’s not as big as Scottish Ruby Conference (only 150 attendees this time) and, lets be honest, because it’s so cheap many people must just assume that we’re not playing in the same league. I think we are.

While I personally believe it’s tangential to My PointTM as outlined above, I also genuinely do believe that Paul’s got a point which I had not considered, and which is definitely worth exploring (at some point, just please, please not now). Perhaps the specific way we are running Ruby Manor would only work well in large metropolises. I don’t know if that’s true, but it could be. I’m going to enjoy thinking about that more.

Now even if that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that only the formula will work in other places. I’m still convinced that many conferences could afford, and would indeed benefit, from deviating from the formula, even if they do so in radically different ways from Ruby Manor. It’s the calm but persistent questioning of the formula that I am arguing for, with an emphasis on experimenting by doing.

Regardless, apparently I’m a dick

But this is the thread that really fascinates me:

Ben Bleything: “Completely blown away by this “argument” over @scotrubyconf ticket prices. Here’s an idea: if you don’t like it, run your own damn conf”

(not the first time I’ve heard this)

Glenn Gillen: “@bleything I was concerned they were leaving money on the table, and I want to see them rewarded to the max for their efforts. Turns out…”

Glenn Gillen: “@bleything was based on massively incorrect assumptions about previous ticket sales. And in James’ defence, he does run a conference.”

Graeme Mathieson: “@bleything To be fair to at least one of the protagonists, he does. I’m staying out of the argument (again).

(probably for the best, Graeme)

Alan C Francis: “@bleything He does - its called RubyManor and it’s a different kind of beast.”

(Isn’t it weird when I’m being sort-of defended by the very people that I’m apparently attacking?)

Please allow me a brief digression. I really do appreciate that Alan is being very even handed here, but I can’t help but feel that labelling Ruby Manor as a “different kind of conference” has the inadvertent side-effect of isolating “real” conferences from the points we’re trying to make by running Ruby Manor. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it works against my goals and so I want to use the opportunity to hopefully redress that.

Certainly there are many aspects to Ruby Manor that are different to most conferences, but we believe that our essential “conferenceyness” is the same. It may seem that our size, our price and our lack of a CFP and big-name international speakers points to us being an alternative, or even somehow in a different (lesser) league to other regional conferences, but that is to be confronted so directly with the point as to miss it entirely. We believe that those afore-listed things are not the essential aspects of a conference, but instead distractions from the real kernel that makes a conference great. Each one of those things is ripe for revision.

Ruby Manor is not an Unconference. We seek to satisfy every single hunger and desire that any other conference does, and more so. Except your hunger for t-shirts, of course.

Anyway, back to the conversation:

Ben Bleything: “@alancfrancis: late night sarcasm failure on my part :( I know he runs his own conf, that was my point. /cc @glenngillen @mathie”

Glenn Gillen: “@bleything still some truth in it. I should shut up until I’m willing to put my money/time where my mouth is.”

Ben Bleything: “@alancfrancis: didn’t articulate it well, though. Fundamentally: one should not question another’s business model /cc @glenngillen @mathie”

So I think Ben is saying a couple of things:

I don’t particularly disagree with either of these points, but what I would point out is that there’s a difference between complaining and critiquing. I’ll deal with this below, but in the meantime we’ll finish the conversation. The next tweet is a doozy:

Ben Bleything: “@glenngillen: perhaps. Maybe I’m reacting primarily to his incredibly dickish approach.”

Woah.

Alan C Francis: “@bleything I think the questioning is fine, and its a valid enough question, but making our decision doesn’t make us closed-minded, I feel.”

I’ve got to apologise to Alan, because it’s clear now that one of my earlier tweets was perceived as personal, rather than general. I take responsibility for that, and I do (again) apologise.

Ben Bleything: “@alancfrancis: yeah, that’s a good point. I just don’t like to see conf organizers being attacked for running their conf as they see fit.”

I’m not attacking anyone. I’ve re-read the original conversation and it’s verging on the convivial. I don’t think at any point Alan was anything worse than bemused, and he was genuinely happy to introspect about the questions I was asking. I really, genuinely appreciated that, because a lot of the thinking that’s tied up with Ruby Manor is hard to communicate in a way that isn’t confrontational, both in expression and reception. It’s hard to suggest that things might be better if we all did a thing differently without upsetting those people who are responsible for delivering that thing.

But what you don’t see in that conversation is the other thing Ben wrote at 2am from his hotel room:

Ben Bleything: “And I’ll say this now: if you don’t like how @veganstraightedge and I run @cascadiaruby, door’s to your left.”

Now he cannot mean that literally. I’m convinced that Ben isn’t suggesting that he isn’t open to any kind of constructive criticism. There’s a magical window of opportunity between realising there’s something which you would appreciate if it were changed, and leaving through the door on the left, as Ben puts it, where in an ideal world you might actually have a meaningful and constructive exchange of ideas through which either or both parties might be convinced to modify their perspective for mutual benefit.

And perhaps that’s what this all boils down to. Was my criticism constructive? Or was I just complaining? Or was I attacking Alan, Paul and Graeme?

Well, I feel like I’ve already said this, but in case there’s any doubt: Just because we think differently about what aspects of a conference are important, doesn’t mean that when I talk about it that I’m “attacking” them, or any other conference organiser. Yes, I believe in the points I’m making, but I totally respect their right to run Scottish Ruby Conference however they see fit. They don’t owe me any influence beyond that I’d hope they would give any other ticket-holding attendee. (Well, perhaps a bit more but only because I’m also Scottish. You understand.)

I think that Alan, Paul and Graeme are brilliant. They’re stars. They’re stellar.

They invest huge amounts of their time to put on a conference that loads of people enjoy. They do it because they care about the community. I know that each one of them is personally invested in making the programming world better. This is a rare thing, and that’s exactly the kind of passion that I want to flourish in our community, and beyond. If I’ve been in any way successful communicating why I’m involved in conference organisation in the first place, this should be easy to understand.

It is the people who do things, who will change the world for the better. And these are clearly people who do. The opportunity is all theirs. I am not attacking anyone.

But that doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t express their ideas.

It’s perfectly valid for a paying attendee to ask questions and make suggestions about the event that they are supporting. It’s perfectly valid for them to care passionately about it, and for them to try to persuade others of the merit in their point. If anything, I would encourage people to care that much.

Obviously, it’s ultimately up to the conference organisers to decide whether or not to implement the suggestion, and if the attendee is genuinely inconsolable in the latter case then I don’t doubt that any conference organiser would do their best to refund the ticket, and the attendee can run their own conference should they wish.

It’s happening as we speak

So, the key assumption that (for me) this whole conversation hinged on was whether or not the tickets were going to sell extremely quickly. So did they?

Alan C Francis: “Lordy thats ridiculous. The 180 VEB tickets sold out in about three minutes.”

A little under 2 hours after the tickets went on sale, there weren’t even many of the second class of tickets left:

Graeme Mathieson: “Only 18 Early Bird tickets left, then it’s on to the full price tickets for the Scottish Ruby Conference, folks! #scotruby”

… and less than 24 hours after the ticket sales started:

Alan C Francis: “Looks like all the VEB/EB tickets are gone. There are still PLENTY tickets.”

Would they have sold as quickly without the two cheaper tiers of ticket? We’ll never know. Perhaps this tiny storm helped drive sales where otherwise there wouldn’t have been? I doubt it, but it’s not impossible that there was some tiny influence.

I still believe that the Scottish Ruby Conference cash cushion would not have been adversely impacted by applying a single, average price (therefore also resulting in the same total revenue when it ultimately sells out), and I still believe that overall the attendees would’ve appreciated the simplicity of not worrying about whether or not they got the best deal. I can’t prove it conclusively, but perhaps we can try to test it next year? :)

Alan C Francis: “@paulanthonywils We may have to send @lazyatom a bunch of flowers and an apology.”

Obviously he’s kidding, but I enjoyed the joke.

Because I’m not a dick.


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