If your idea of archiving a conference begins with bulky three-ring binders and ends with cassette tapes, wake up. It's 2002. If your organization would benefit from access to conference sessions that can be archived on the Internet within hours of taking place or that are as portable as a CD-ROM player in a computer or automobile, kick the tires at Conference Archives (www.conferencearchives.com).

What Johnstown, Pa.-based Conference Archives is doing (and doing well enough to recently be named a preferred supplier to independent planning giant Conferon) is digitally recording and archiving conference presentations. The company records sessions as audio only or audio with synchronized PowerPoint slides. They can have them posted to the Web within hours if needed — or more typically within five days — and shortly thereafter burn them onto a CD-ROM. For organizations that want the full package, the archives are closed-captioned and key-word searchable.

The Web archives are built around an interactive agenda, with session title, date and time, speaker(s), description, and link to supporting documents. Click on a speaker's name and up pops his bio, a link to his personal Web site, and an archive of previous presentations and papers. Click on a sponsor or exhibitor's button and connect with live links to salespeople or get a commercial in QuickTime, PowerPoint, or an Acrobat PDF file.

Think Sponsorship

So who pays for all this technological largess? Conference Archives is a fee-for-service company. It doesn't speculate on sales, as an audiocassette company does. “That's potluck,” says Director of Operations David Angeletti. “We can't afford to go that route. The fee for our services is paid by the organization or a sponsor.”

For the biggest meeting it has covered so far, Conference Archives recorded 90 sessions: 75 using its basic player, meaning audio-only; 15 with its full-featured player, meaning audio synced with PowerPoint plus text transcription. The cost of preserving that meeting, including a fee to host it online, was $37,000 (not including the cost of pressing CD-ROMs).

“There were 38,000 people at that show; that's less than a buck a person. Can you afford to up your registration fee by a buck?” asks Angeletti. “I think so. And our proceedings replace proceeding binders and the audio costs. Those books run about $4 a piece. In a lot of cases, we represent replacement costs, not new costs.”

Sponsors can pay to have their logo permanently placed on a Conference Archive Web archive or a CD-ROM label and jewel case. Archives could also provide associations with bonus revenue streams. Angeletti says that the American Meat Science Association is planning an e-commerce store that will sell all of the shows that it has archived.

Loyal Fans

Count NACHA-The Electronic Payments Association in Herndon, Va., among Conference Archives' fans. Bill Sullivan, director of education program development, says that the more the association uses the service, the more its members appreciate it. “And now they expect to have this up on the Web site during the conference,” he says. “We had two sessions last year where the fire marshal said, ‘You have too many people in these sessions. We can't let any more in.’ But two hours later, people were in their hotel rooms watching it.

“We think so highly of them,” he adds, “we put their booth directly across from our registration area. We consider them part of our team.”

Thompson Financial Conferences is another outfit with good things to say. “The struggle we've had is that when a show is over, there was previously no way of extending that conference experience,” says Jim Keefe, managing director of conferences and expositions for Thompson Media. “And the way budgets are, we're seeing fewer people come, mostly senior people. So what we've done with Conference Archives is take the content and keep a live event experience without your ever having to come to a hotel. I think it makes tremendous sense. We do 40 events a year. We're building an archive. They're clever, innovative. Their execution is great.”

Keefe says Conference Archives is cost-effective. “I'm not comfortable in painting the picture that the incremental revenue stream is worth it, but there are other incentives,” he says. “Many of our company's magazines have Web sites. We can provide content that supplements the services they provide their subscribers.”