If Blockchain is Democratic, Why Are Events So Expensive?
Blockchain technology is often praised as revolutionary: a decentralized system that removes the need for third parties and empowers the individual. But for crypto newbies attending their first blockchain events, reality looks very different from the community’s democratic ethos.
A month ago, my friend told me about something called “Crypto Monday" and "Crypto Weekends." As a recent New York City transplant and college graduate who had heard a lot of crypto stories, I was thrilled and thought this was the perfect chance to learn what all the fuss was about. So I opened up the Eventbrite app on my phone and typed in “blockchain.” But what showed up shocked me: FinTech: Blockchain & Beyond, US $4,750 (including breakfast, lunch and networking cocktails); Blockchain Without Borders Summit 2018, Student Tickets US$149. What was going on?
At first glance It looked like half of the crypto events were free, and the other half were over $99. It was hard for me to filter out the worthwhile events among the dozens of free meetups each week. I had no background in crypto and didn't want to waste time trying every event. I also understood that events with interesting topics and big-name speakers would cost more. I seriously considered paying around $50 to just try a event, but then hesitated. I had no idea what to expect from the event, so it felt like gambling. And it all made me wonder: Why are these events so expensive? Is it just New York? How did other people get started in this sector?
After looking at some basic Eventbrite data, at least I knew that I wasn't imagining things. In New York City and London, blockchain events between June and October of this year cost between $100 and $500 per ticket. And of the 72 blockchain events scheduled in New York City, over half were priced at over $100 per person. Some big name conferences were as expensive as over $1,000.
It’s ironic that fifty dollars, which can easily buy you a nice dinner in the city, can’t get you into two-thirds of blockchain conferences.
London was no better. Most Eventbrite events were priced between $100 and $500, followed by the most affordable category: $10 to $50.
Though Eventbrite lacks data on blockchain events in Asia, due to lower adoption, Leonhard Weese, president of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong, says that he sees different trends in the region.
“Most of the events in Hong Kong are meetups, roadshows and talks, which are usually free or invite-only,” said Weese. “The conferences are mainly paid, and there will be four to six full-day conferences that cost $300 to $600 per person. Discounts may be available.”
In general, crypto and blockchain events in any part of the world can be expensive. But perhaps no conference has attracted as much attention -- or criticism -- for its ticket sales as Consensus 2018, the annual three-day blockchain conference organized by Coindesk in New York. This year was the conference’s fourth year -- and it’s grown to become one of the largest summits in the industry.
Consensus tickets this year were roughly $2,000 per person (last-minute tickets were $3,000). About 250 speakers and over 8,500 attendees participated, far exceeding last year, which attracted 2,700 attendees, as well as Coindesk’s own estimated headcount of 4,000. That means that Consensus 2018 raked in at least $17 million in ticket sales.
The hefty price tag of Consensus tickets quickly came under fire from thought leaders in the blockchain community. Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, even said he planned to “boycott” the event on Twitter. “I refuse to personally contribute to that level of rent seeking,” he wrote in a tweet that amassed at least 1,700 likes and 165 retweets.
Another co-founder of Ethereum, Charles Hoskinson, jumped in to voice his support. “Welcome to the boycott. I’m also not attending.”
When someone questioned whether or not his decision to avoid speaking at an influential conference was the best solution, Hoskinson explained that attending would only “[legitimize] a $3,000 ticket industry event that claims to be the most important conference.”
“Conferences are valuable [in my opinion]. Their main function isn’t information, it’s to create an opportunity for people interested in the same topic from all around the world fly in and see each other,” said Buterin, “*Coin media sites* on the other hand are generally inferior to just reading subreddits.”
“I think for institutions, the conference ticket price might not be as expensive as they are to general individuals,” said Thomas Chen, a crypto enthusiast who started following blockchain and attending events mid last year.
And for those who have made a fortune from the crypto boom, the $2,000 ticket might be affordable and worth the opportunity to network, exchange resources, and advertise projects. But, as someone on Twitter commented in Buterin’s thread on Twitter, “We’re not all crypto-rich."
The problem is that expensive crypto events can deter people who are simply curious about the technology, as it means they have to prepay a tremendous amount of money to gain access to information from industry leaders.
Advice for beginners
Blockchain gatherings serve an important purpose. Blockchain technology is by nature decentralized and collaborative, and the value of cryptocurrency is decided by the community. But, events don’t have to be pricey to be worthwhile. In Chen’s experience, Meetups featuring venture capital investors are sometimes more informative than general conferences that attract large crowds of attendees -- and they’re mostly free or inexpensive.
Others echo this sentiment. “To be honest I feel the conference model is broken entirely, Meetup groups and YouTube are far more powerful,” noted Hoskinson on Twitter.
Nor is there necessarily a correlation between event ticket price and its quality, added Weese. “Most content is crap but the best content is still free.”
And if you just are looking to learn some blockchain basics, you can get started on your own. Weese offered two tips for beginners: “Start with the Bitcoin Whitepaper and some free online courses, for example, Coursera.”
After that, “just start playing with it,” he said. “Get a wallet, buy a small amount of coin and try to buy something.” It’s hard for a newcomer but “by using this stuff, it will go a lot easier, because it will suddenly be obvious to differentiate things like Ethereum and EOS, or Bitcoin and Litecoin, and network effects that make it valuable will become more obvious when you use it.”
For that, he added, $10 should be enough.
Skylar Chen is a New York-based writer.