The Costs of SXSW

Wednesday, January 14 2004

Yesterday I was trying to instruct Andre Torrez, who is stubborn when it comes to thinking of everything in terms of cost/benefit, about the costs and benefits of going to SXSW this year. I was saying “man, you gotta divide the cost of the trip up amongst whatever you get out of it”. And I meant it. So I went and did some calculations for the benefit of all, but keep in mind that they’re biased towards what I get out of SXSW.

Total Trip Cost *: $1,395.00

Now, divide that up into “important units”. An important unit represents some measurable thing I get out of SXSW. New friends, free stuff, etc. Here’s my table of important units:

Introductions to new people110I’m certain that number is higher, but that’s the count of people I made notes of who I’d met (and not just seen).
Meaty conversations260I’m counting the initial conversations with people I met, as well as repeat conversations. If I wasn’t listening in a panel, I was talking with someone. I went hoarse.
Panels20I think there were 20. I figure an average of five per day, including keynotes
Kick!1Kickball with a bunch of geeks, some in shape and some not? Worth more than whatever value I’m about to put on it…
Good Fray stories5Some were excellent
Bad Fray stories-3Some made me want to die
Artsy Photos20Not that SXSW present unique opportunities, but it helps the mood considerably
Swag Bag1Carrie uses it now. It’s a nice canvas bag. I think it came with some mints last year too.
Free Drinks3I think there were more free drinks, but in any case, they were soft drinks for me.
Packet Sniffing1Nothing more fun than a wide open WiFi network. The dirt I collected has yet to be valued.
Total Important Units419 
Average cost per unit: $3.33 

Obviously some of the units are worth more than $3.33, and in some cases (Bad Fray stories) hike the average unit cost up, but overall, I’d say that $3.33 per unit is nice. Also, had I been a wallflower, the average cost would have risen considerably. And at $3.33 per introduction, it still seems a bit high to me.

And even with all the calculating, I still can’t put a price on the motivation I come away with. It’s not so much the panels themselves that are inspiring, but the social interaction with a lot of really smart and creative people from all sort of different walks of life. That has a value that I can’t figure out how to calculate, but surely it brings down the average unit cost.

And regarding what units to assign cost to, it all depends on what you’re looking to get out of the event. If you’re in it for the free pens, then factor that in. Factor in negative units (bad joke, awkward moments, etc) as well.

* I didn’t include the cost of missing work into the total trip cost, but could have and probably should have. I didn’t want people knowing how much money I make.