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Virtual Exhibits Would Save Space & Money
By John L. Leszak

There are so many dynamic philatelists who painstakingly prepare material to exhibit at stamp shows. Their philatelic fervency and zeal are one of many pillars that maintain stamp collecting as a vibrant hobby. Many exhibitors invest great care in researching and assembling their exhibits. The actual display of their exhibits involves an enormous amount of sweat equity and labor. Few visitors to stamp shows are aware of the intense labor associated with getting everything prepared before the show opens to the public.

The laborious elements of a stamp show start long before the opening day. Exhibitors must mail in their exhibits, frames must be taken out of storage, unpacked, assembled and cleaned, finally, the exhibits must be mounted, Of course, there's all those tables and chairs that must be set up for dealers. I always marvel at the industrious habits of exhibit committees as they work in harmony to make hundreds of interesting frames a reality. After the show, the exhibits must be removed from the frames, the frames disassembled and hauled back to some storage facility and the exhibits from out of town must be mailed back to their owners. Certainly, the assembly and subsequent tear down of exhibits makes one wonder if all that labor is worth it for a two or three days of viewing. Add to this time element the cost of paying philatelic judges and the time it takes for them to review all those exhibits, and the overall investment of time and money becomes tremendous.

I spoke to one show chairman recently, and he lamented that 55% of the expenses attributed to his club's stamp show directly involved the exhibits. He had to pay a storage facility to keep the frames from year to year. He then had to pay someone to load the frames into a truck and bring them to the show and back. Then, he had pay a stipend to philatelic judges. Finally, there was the purchase of assorted awards for exhibitors.

There were other expenses. A room was needed at the hotel to store the exhibits, prior to mounting them. Postage for returning exhibits also was a significant expense. In addition, there was the unexpected cost of repairing broken frames. The amount of money collected from exhibit fees was a mere drop in the bucket for the overall cost of exhibit-related expenses. The rest of the money was underwritten by the money paid by dealers for their booths. After all the costs incurred by exhibits, that left 35% of the monies generated to actually promote the show. However, a portion of that 45% went to pay for the actual cost of the show venue. Whatever funds that were left over went to pay for advertising to promote the show. This same show chairman told me that in order to save on expenses, the direct mailing to collectors was curtailed, with the hopes that an intensive Internet blitz would pick up the slack. Many of the dealers queried at that particular show noted that the Internet blitz was ineffective. The attendance at the show was dismal; the awards banquet was sparsely attended, but the exhibitors were enchanted by their awards.

I've chatted with many philatelic judges on the subject of the cost effectiveness of exhibits at shows. My humble solution for the last several years is to scan all the exhibits into a computer. Then, place a number of "viewing stations" about the show where people can sit and view the exhibits at their own leisure. Computerized exhibits would certainly cut down on the enormous costs of time and money that surround the current method of exhibiting. The judges with whom I have chatted almost universally interject that computerized exhibits would lend themselves to having falsified items in such an exhibit. I don't disagree. However, I believe that the actual exhibits could be present in three-ring binders for a review by the judges. This would allow them to certify that the pages displayed via computers at viewing stations around the show were indeed valid.

Let's take a look at how computerized exhibits would save a log of money while enhancing the overall interest in philately.

First, there would be no need to store, maintain, transport, assemble and disassemble exhibit frames.

Second, the actual floor space required by exhibits often means that stamp shows must secure venues that require lots of floor space. If the exhibits were computerized, the amount of floor space would be considerably less. That would mean that smaller, less expensive venues could be secured for stamp shows. The end result would be more money for advertising and perhaps even some reduced costs to dealers.

Third, if computerized exhibits were "certified" in advance by two competent judges, the need to fly in more judges would not be necessary. Perhaps the actual exhibits could be shipped directly to the APS for certification. All the judging could be virtually conducted via the Internet.

Fourth, the ever-present concern of theft or damage to exhibits would be substantially decreased if exhibits were computerized.

Fifth, computerized exhibits would have a lasting presence. Why show an exhibit for a few days for a select group of show attendees? A computerized exhibit system would allow people from around the world to view award winning exhibits for months and years after a show! Sixth, judges' critiques could also be viewed online and give the general exhibiting populace an indication of the merits or deficiencies of an exhibit. Seventh, perhaps one judge could be eliminated entirely, and that space filled by a "virtual" judge who represented popular opinions from around the globe. Surely, if millions of people can vote for the best talent on a show like American Idol, then philatelists from around the globe could vote on exhibits.

Right at this point, some of my philatelic friends who are judges are cringing after reading the last sentence. They will want to call or e-mail me with philatelic observations and harangues to tell me that only "qualified" judges can truly determine the merits of an exhibit. So I will give them that concession to save them the time of trying to communicate with me. But surely, they would agree that a "People's Choice" award could be determined via computerized voting from around the globe.

We live in a cyber age. If an old dinosaur like myself has been able to adjust to navigating around the Internet, so can philatelic exhibits. If dealers have been able to buy and sell on the Internet, there's no reason why exhibitors couldn't also take that giant leap into the 21st century of cyber exhibits.

The current system of exhibiting is archaic. It dates back to the 19th century. The art of stamp dealing has evolved by leaps and bounds on a regular basis since then, so there's no reason why the art of exhibiting cannot do the same. Many people view change as some sort of unnecessary burden. They will argue that the current system of exhibiting works, but they will completely ignore that the current system is often a financial hemorrhage for the cost of stamp shows. The only way to stop the bleeding is to cauterize the hemorrhage with cyber exhibits. The money invested in stamp shows by dealers could then be channeled into more efficient endeavors, like advertising to curious fledgling collectors to come and visit a stamp show.

Here's a fact that's ironic and scary at the same time: Of the last six shows that I have attended, I personally knew or have previous seen 90% of the attendees. It's the same names and faces at almost every stamp show! If I travel 600 miles in search of new faces, I see a few locals and the entourage of the same ardent philatelists who also enthusiastically travel 600 or more miles to a show for philatelic pursuits. Where are the new faces? Where are the fledgling collectors? They truly exist; and they bid on eBay! Why don't they come to stamp shows?

The answer is quite simple: Most stamp shows don't devote enough money in their advertising budgets to reach out to new collectors who are outside the current philatelic bubble. In many cases, shows are financially burdened by the massive costs incurred by exhibiting. It's a merely a fact of life. Please don't write and say that I am an "anti-exhibitor;" my youngest son Philip is an exhibitor. Please don't write and say that I have a hatred of philatelic judges; numerous judges are my closest philatelic friends. If you have something to say, please offer credible reasons why "certified" cyber exhibits won't work out. If you're a show promoter, earnestly take a look at the budget for your show and let me know one simple fact: Do your costs related to exhibits outweigh your cost of advertising the show? If so, what percentage of your budget is dedicated to advertising and what percentage is earmarked for exhibits? I would truly like to find major stamp shows where the cost of advertising far exceeds the costs incurred by exhibiting. Without a doubt, such shows are well-attended!

As always, your comments and observations are invited. Let's all work together to promote this hobby for future generations of philatelists!

© John L. Leszak. All rights reserved. Published on The Virtual Stamp Club by permission.

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