Mike Lipkin is a very well-known speaker. I've had the pleasure of not just seeing him speak, but of sharing the stage with him. He's smart, witty and to the point. He summed up, exactly, how I feel about whether or not events and unconferences (like PodCamp) should be free. Mike says: "I don't do this for the money. But, I am going to take your money, so that you appreciate what you are getting."
While that Lipkinism does stir a few laughs, it's actually spot on. There have been several posts about how PodCamp should proceed post PodCamp Boston 2. This weekend, over thirteen hundred people registered for PodCamp Boston 2, but attendance was, somewhere, in the the six hundred range. I especially liked what C.C. Chapman said on this post: PodCamp Does Not Have To Be Free, and the additional insights from Christopher S. Penn (one of the PodCamp Boston 2 organizers and co-founder of PodCamp): The Revocation Of PodCamp Rule Four.
Unconferences like BarCamp can be somewhat "easier" to pull off. For this PodCamp Boston 2, the organizers "went big." This meant big venues and the ability to mobilize large crowds and engage them. It's a hefty effort and involves plenty of time (and money) to make this work. They even asked people who had changed their minds to simply notify them.
Seems fair enough.
People did not.
In the end, we were all stuck with a venue that could have been half the size. This is frustrating on many levels. There's a waste of materials, there's a lack of community respect, and it makes for a very frustrated organizing committee who now have to defend the sponsorships back to the companies that helped make the entrance fee free.
I think a fee structure on big events like this is necessary. I think being held accountable to your sponsors is necessary. I think that if this is a community-driven event, then every member of the community should respect it by letting people know their intentions to attend (hearing that ten speakers did not show or notify anyone is disgraceful). When you pay for something, you're more inclined to show-up or pass your ticket on to someone who would like to be there. If you don't show, at least you have covered the bare minimum costs for your absence.
That being said, there have been PodCamps throughout the year (close to twenty) that had no fee structure. So, charging for an event like this should depend on the size and commitment that the organizers are dreaming up.
Attendance at PodCamp Toronto 2008 is free.