The Price of the Free Entrance

The Tale

True Story: Some long months ago, I was talking to someone who is a frequent attendee of the community events and who is a presenter at them as well, who shocked me to the bone with the following questions “What do you mean by saying that you are not making money on the event organisation? Did you mean that you are not getting paid for organising those events? Do you mean that the company X is not paying for everything on those free events ? Are you sure that the person Y is loosing ZZZZ amount of money on each community event he/she organises?

This post is about to set the record straight and enlighten the regular Joe-attendee, on the costs involved with the FREE events registration.

The Catch

Did you notice something incredible that took place in the last decade for the conferences ? Something that has virtually reshaped the whole space in the IT – the entrance for the most conferences became free.
*Free as in Beer!*
Oops, wait a second, but I have never seen a free beer – because if someone has made it, then someone must have paid for it … Because as you might imagine, the necessary materials for creating beer are not free, neither is the work of the factory workers, nor the transportation of the above mentioned beer … Neither is the space where it is located before it will be given to you …

Wait a second, do you mean that someone pays for every FREE registration that you do ?


We (as in organisers) do spend the unimaginable amount of time & work to make things function for the FREE event:

  • We reserve the space:
    – ensuring the owners the certain amount of people and certain promotion or
    – paying per expected person (YES, PAYING REAL MONEY)
  • We pay for the food (YES, REAL MONEY) and imagine just by a silly chance that every single person in Portugal for a single coffee-break would be around 7 euros. Add to that the fact that there are 2 coffee breaks per day.
  • Do not forget the lunch, we used to offer it per person (and how happy I am that we have always donated the rest of the food to one of the institutions that takes care of the homeless or those who can’t afford meals). Let’s put that value around 10 euros per person, though we definitely strive to lower that number.
  • We do promise our sponsors the certain amount of people, so that they can see some return on investment and failure to do results in them not sponsoring us (well, besides blaming for the mortal sins of YOU not appearing, even though you have promised us to show when you signed up).
  • We give estimation (a kind of promise) to our speakers on the number of people who will show up at their sessions, and if they sessions are empty, then a lot of them won’t be interested in coming back next time.
  • We print the program of the event, besides the advertisement for some other community activities, and so let’s add another 2 Euros for that
  • The lanyards – yeap, those perky lanyards with those “classy” identifiers – they will take at least 1 Euro

Let’s do the math, when you did your click without paying even a second of time thinking if you will show up – you cost us, organisers : 14€ + 10€ + 2€ + 1€ + (future sponsors) + (interest of the speakers). Multiply this per day of the conference and per the number of sign ups (in hundreds) and you will start getting to the point where we are.


There is a karma, no matter if you believe in it or not. Your appearance gives you +1 point, and your not-show will give you a -1 point, while not registering not affects your standing with the organiser.
Yes, I know, sometimes you sign up and you can’t show up, but for that there is a CANCEL button with link that can be used to advise us, the organisers. Not using it means that you are not able to care about our work and our money. Nor the work or the money of the sponsors, or the speakers – some of whom you might claim to call friends and peers.
Sometimes it is not possible to cancel your presence at the event, because life is full of unexpected events, and that is totally fine with us, because a couple of -1, won’t affect the bottom line of your positive presence over the time.
Do not worry about the karma if you are faithful to your commitments, it all will be fine. Worry, if you are registering for multiple events that take place during the same time, worry if you are not looking to respect the organisers own time – because one day, there might not be more free events. Because one day, there might not be a free attendance. Because one day, your credentials might not be good enough for something you are considering as given.

You are not paying … attention

Your registration is not free, PERIOD.

Your future Payment

Time is money and so in the future, I hope, we shall be looking for a more complex registration process, that will not be functioning in 2-clicks manner, such as currently available in Eventbrite, for example. A more complex and adventurous process of spending 15 or even more minutes during the registration should prevent anyone who is not remotely interested in showing up at the event.
Even better process would deliver some value back to the event and to the other participants, helping to create some value for everyone.

When am I looking towards it ? As soon as possible. :)
So think about this as the registration payment with your own time. :)

The bottom line

This is not a rant, this is an educational blog post. Please spread this information, so that we all shall have better understanding of the processes.

2 thoughts on “The Price of the Free Entrance

  1. Hugo Kornelis

    Thanks for your thoughts, Niko! I am glad that you call this out. Too many free events have a much too high percentage of no-shows. You present the actual cost (in money and in future opportunities) that this has.

    But I would also like to point out that many events nowadays fill up completely. So that is even one more reason to not sign up if you have no intention of going, and to canccel if you know you can’t make it – because by signing up, not cancelling, and then not showing up, you are robbing someone else of their seat in the conference!

    As a suggestion – I am not involved with organizing any event but I do talk with organizers. A thing I learned from one such conversation is that charging a token amount for lunch money helps. As long as the amount is low enough, it does not change the perception of the event as being “free”. But it does dramatically reduce the no-show percentage. So besides your idea of making registration more complex (something of which I must admit I have mixed thoughts on), this can be an alternative way to tackle the issue.

    1. Niko Neugebauer Post author

      Hugo, I guess we have already tried this way (paying for the lunch) and it did not worked in our attempt. This might suggest that this is culture-based, or maybe even culture+concrete group of professionals based.
      Anyway – I see this as a possibility to bring this topic into the light and on the discussion forum.
      Thank you for the kindest words and your thoughts!

      Best regards,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *