A couple of disclaimers: This was my first IPCPR. I’ve been immersed in the “industry” for only a couple of months, but it’s been a heavy immersion. My background is a decent amount of time in the tech world and so my views come primarily from there although trying to adapt them to a vastly different industry.

This has been covered in other places, but I promise… this has been in the works while before IPCPR and quite a bit of time after the show.

Finally, this will be the last post I ever do on this blog regarding blogs.

For those who I had the pleasure of meeting over the week, this may just be a transcript, but the industry show needs to change in my opinion and it needs to happen quick.

A Start
The cigar community seems to love collectively bitching about things, people, cigars, taxes, what have you, and the IPCPR show is no exception. People not there claimed it was too expensive, not worth it, pointless… you get the idea. While I feel there is an extreme importance of a truly global industry trade show, there’s definitely some validity to an overall critique of the concept. Trade shows are expensive and are seemingly going out of style. With the internet squashing the idea of a MSRP in every industry, Twitter serving as the greatest marketing tool on the planet and everyone coming out with something new everyday, trade shows are simply an expensive way to show off yesterday’s news.

In regards to the IPCPR show, there are definitive problems and it’s becoming irrelevant for two completely different reasons. First, many retailers claim the deals on the show floor, aren’t that great of deals. This was echoed by those there and those not there. It seemed like there were deals, but I don’t know how many times I heard people say we’ll talk next week/month/decade. (There were even posts on forums by manufacturers stating deals were still available) The cost of going to IPCPR is a lot, and for most, more than just the cost of a hotel and plane ticket. Secondly, a host of manufacturers decided to set up huge ass booths and show off almost no new product. The combination is the perfect recipe for what seems like a logical death sentence for the show.

As to how to avoid the death, I have some thoughts. I hope it’s not a complete revolution, but rather a natural transition as the IPCPR matures in the 21st century.

I’ll get to reasons about why the show needs to stay a couple paragraphs down, but change needs to happen. Ideally in my mind: the show should become a gathering of retailers with discounts given by manufacturers and a preview of new products for the year for both the media and retailers.

IPCPR: The Future
At the end of the day, the future of the show will depend on whether or not the industry wants it. It lives and dies with the retailers, end of story. It’s not a matter of the fee retailers pay for entrance, but the manufacturer’s attendance is almost solely reliant on retailers showing up to buy product. And the media’s attendance is based solely off the manufacturers. Despite that odd relationship, I don’t think it’s the retailers that need to change, it’s the manufacturers because that’s why the retailers come.

All manufacturers should follow in the steps of the boutiques and have a limited amount of actual sales available. I’m not suggesting that General needs to scale production to under a million, but there should be things only available on the floor whether it be exclusivity for new lines, discounts or even packaging. There should also be some limit to the deals meaning that there are legitimate incentives for being at the show and being ready to buy. If enough manufacturers give the retailers no reason to come, the show will undoubtedly turn into a larger collection of bloggers and manufacturers and quickly go away.

Here’s my objective issues (from a non-blog perspective) with the show in a vacuum: the glory days seemed to be an era in which a whole bunch of surprises were released at the show and major discounts were given, meaning the market would be flooded with quantity and diversity of product in late Summer. Since most retailers don’t run Back to School sales, (I’m pretty sure it was awkward and not sensible) consumers don’t save their cash so they can splurge the first week of September and so the idea of a whole bunch of new releases at one time, particularly that random time of the year is… illogical. However, in a lot of senses, a return to that is what is needed.

For those that don’t know, my expereince in the tech world is multiple times over what it is in the cigar world. CES is the mother of all trade shows and is dominated by the media, mainly the blogs. CES is also not a buying driven show, but that’s also due to the amount of chains and online retailers that take up the vast majority of business as compared to the B&Ms that overshadow the couple big sites.

CES remains relevant because: a. everyone is there and the industry gathers b. it’s where the largest chunk of new releases are previewed. Even things that aren’t out for the next year are shown, or products that will never be made for the public. The cigar world saw some of that: Pete Johnson, Miami Cigars and a couple of others showed off products that weren’t going to be out for some time. However, there were tons of disappointments.

Be Part of the Solution
Rocky Patel, Tatuaje and CAO all did major releases in the month before the show. The (two) latter were both cigars that were announced much earlier, but the former Rocky Patel’s 15th was a cigar that was announced and then released in a small timeframe shortly before the show. Also not helping was Toraño Family Cigars, who announced all three of their new cigars almost a month ago. Furthermore, CAO, Oliva and My Father Cigars gave us a collective one new line, (on top of that, it’s an extremely limited release of 2000 boxes) with a couple of extensions. There were reasons behind all of them, but, things need to change.

(Side-bar, CAO, Oliva and My Father all proved that the buying power is still there as all three of them had sizable booths at the show despite releasing essentially no new lines (Pepin allegedly sold out on the first day); whereas Miami Cigars, Drew Estate and others proved the importance of introducing new stuff)

Balance is Key
Before we go any further, I will say there is a balance between new lines and extensions. There are tons of cigars on the market, which is good to an extent. I do believe that some companies need to get rid of lines that are redundant, but I’d rather see a better balance between new lines versus extensions, the latter seemingly dominated the show. I could dedicate a whole piece on whether we need new lines or not, at the end of the day everyone loves new stuff; but it doesn’t make the old stuff any worse.

Both Sides of the Story
There are a lot of reasons for the show to continue and for a lot of different reasons. The show still should be about the retailers. While the larger retailers have the ability to draw events, smaller ones can’t. Even if they can, there is a difference between your local rep and a BBQ and getting a rare chance to sit down with the head of a company. Furthermore, retailers can meet almost, if not all their reps in one place. In addition, the ability to build relationships with reps is helped dramatically just by facetime. (And no, there’s unfortunately not an app for that) The show specials, the chance to try new product, the list goes on… However, this comes at a cost. Employees might have to work more hours as managers are at the show, or for most small shops, the store might close down for a week. I can’t offer many thoughts about when it makes sense to go versus when it doesn’t, but I will say the show must remain about retailers and the show must give retailers enough reasons to make those sacrifices.

On the other side of the fence, the importance of the show for boutique makers cannot be overstated. The ability to get your samples in the hands of retailers is invaluable. Furthermore, the cost of travel and reps means for a lot of boutiques, almost all sales will happen at the show. The gathering of that many retailers is simply unquantifiable when you aren’t making millions of cigars a year. Healthy growth is a combination of large and small companies growing, and without the show… true boutiques would struggle, immensely.

The Evil Empire
For those that argue that the show needs to remain about the retailers and not about the media, you are a large problem. No one gave a shit when it was just Cigar Aficionado, it was when the blogs showed up and when they showed up in numbers. I don’t care if “Retailer” is the “R” in “IPCPR”, it’s the “industry trade show” for a reason. Anyone that thinks that making the show solely for retailers is just plain wrong. The media is a part of the industry, as it is in nearly every industry. However, there are few industries where sales are determined so greatly on the ratings from publications, albeit one publication.

Cigar Aficionado is often times credited with transforming the industry into a more luxury oriented one. No doubt, it got a lot of people that are smoking today because of Aficionado, but – it’s getting older by the minute and its market is shrinking. My generation today, for the most part, can’t pronounce: ligero, Oliva or Pepin; isn’t aware Nicaragua makes cigars and doesn’t understand any concept of how a cigar is made. (They probably think they are made in China for all I know) Unless the industry as a whole feels comfortable with new smokers sticking to Altidas and General and their Cuban namesakes plus Macanaduo, things need to change.

There are only a few people who will argue that the amount of power Cigar Aficionado has in the industry is appropriate. When a new cigar receives a 93 from CA, boxes get sold. I don’t care if I call a $.99 cigar better than a Behike, I’m not selling boxes, at least not now. Sit in a shop and watch how many casual smokers come in asking for full-bodied cigars because they saw a rating in everyone’s favorite magazine. Simply put, it’s hard to find a single publication that can make or break a product like CA. (Look at Consumer Reports and the iPhone 4)

By inviting other sources of media, particularly those that don’t primarily function on hard print, the balance of power can shift away from Cigar Aficionado and that’s good for just about everyone. As a site that has quickly become one centered around news (largely because few do it), CA breaks more new cigar releases than anyone and it’s because they get more exclusive than everyone else combined. I don’t need to discuss the review process vs. advertising budget, but we all know a grain of salt needs to be applied. Still, I haven’t seen any cigar being advertised with any rating from a website, besides that of Cigar Aficionado’s own Cigar Insider. If one were to close the show to new media, the amount of power afforded to Cigar Aficionado would only increase, when logic says it should be decreasing.

The industry needs to look around and realize it’s the twenty-first century. So many companies use Twitter and Facebook and its about time they extend the support to WordPress and YouTube. The cigar industry will literally die if it remains in the 20th century. The worst thing that could happen for the industry is for it to get branded as an “old person’s” thing. Most the smokers I know are in their 30s-40s and it seems that my generation is slowly creeping its way in. The smokers in the 30-40 range are the most active on the forums, blogs and Twitter and it only seems plausible that the internet can help grow the industry outwards. If the industry thinks it can live without the internet or the critics that exist on the series of tubes, it’s shooting itself in the foot. The reality is blogs will only help the industry, not hurt it and the IPCPR and those that have sway in its major decisions would be idiotic in disallowing blogs into the show. (For the record, I’m not suggesting 30-40 is “old”)

Blogs and the Show
First, let’s dispell one myth: sure you get a boatload of cigars at the show… Even for someone that drove to the show, the money I spent wasn’t returned in cigars. So, people going for the free cigars are financiailly idiotic. As for ethical problems by bloggers at the show this year, I’ve yet to hear any. Seemed like everyone was respectful of the retailer’s priority and the manufacturers (outside of one) gave the media a fair amount of their time. If anything, cracking down on the retailers who give their passes to customers or other non-employees should be a focus. I was offered numerous passes (unsolicited) from various retailers in the event I couldn’t get into the show.

For those that feel that the bloggers have events like Big Smoke, CIGARFest, Pro Cigar, Texas Cigar Fest… it’s a two-way street. Those events are for the consumer, the serious consumer. There aren’t sales, there aren’t new products and I’d imagine there’s a much different environment. While many in the industry might attend, it’s not the whole industry. Those events are geared solely for consumers and as such people are treated as consumers. By suggesting that those are the events for the bloggers, people only further the hobbyist nature of cigar blogging, making us just consumers. Furthermore, how illogical would it be for the blogs to show up to an event hosted by the evil empire? (Cough, cough… Big Smoke)

Not to take shots, but there is no cigar blog run like the major blogs of the world (Engadget, Gawker, HuffPo), but, until the community decides bloggers aren’t just “glorified customers” – every blog will be stuck in the hobbyist category. It’s a situation in which both sides could be doing better. Blogs need to become more professional. By the same token, the industry isn’t helping the nurturing process and those of you that feel that IPCPR should be solely retailers, you will prevent the blogs from ever being of the standard you want them to be. The industry as a whole, from the manufacturers to the blogs needs to reinvent the connotation that surrounds cigar blogs and categorize them as part of the media. Does every blog need a box of cigar to do a review? No. Was Rocky Patel’s approach of giving major blogs the Rocky Patel 15th prior to its release a huge step in the right direction? Absolutely. Both sides have work to do, but I think each side likes to overstate the problems with the other.

In Closing
There are undoubtely a lot of problems in the cigar blogging community, particularly troubling for me: the ratio to number of blogs vs. number of quality blogs. Or moreso, number of people asking for samples vs. number of people producing quality work. The only way for the industry to accept us as no longer “new media” and just “media” isn’t an overnight transition, but rather an overdue event. There is plenty of great material readily accessible through a small group of dedicated sites that follow this industry as if its their livelihood. The passion for the communal aspect of enjoying cigars in the blogosphere is unparalleled, the Twitter Brothers of the Leaf Cocktail Hour proves that.

The question has come up as to whether there should be some sort of accreditation for blogs. I’m not sure if the IPCPR rejected applications, but I’d have to assume a few tried to sneak in with a Blogspot account created August 1st. Does there need to be an organization? I don’t know. Does the IPCPR need to make blogs media members? No, although they already do in some sort by giving the passes. It’s odd, in the entire discussion of cigar blogs, the IPCPR is likely at the top of list in terms of supporting the blogs and doing the right thing.

For those that claim that it’s too hard to figure out who’s legit, that’s in a lot of ways, your fault. If you are incapable of determining if someone is doing quality reviews and dedicated to their job, I’m not really sure what to say. If they have a Blogspot account with one post and a Hotmail e-mail, kindly reply and explain that it’s not the time. If they have five hundred reviews and have been around for three years and you are still lost, there’s really no point. It’s pretty simple in my mind: do I want my product featured in some capacity here? Fortunately, most companies have someone to deal with the press, whether official title or not, and if they cannot work their way around the internet, one might wonder how much longer they can stay around.

At the end of the day, everyone wants excuses for the blogs, whether it be manufacturers, retailers or the bloggers themselves – I suggest the following for the latter, cut the whining and get back to work, they’re paying attention now; it’s our turn to hold up our end of the promise.

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Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I have written about the cigar industry for more than a decade, covering everything from product launches to regulation to M&A. In addition, I handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff here at halfwheel. I enjoy playing tennis, watching boxing, falling asleep to the Le Mans 24, wearing sweatshirts year-round and eating gyros. echte liebe.