It Is ‘Quite Possible’ This Could Be The Last Bay Area Maker Faire

The Bay Area Maker Faire is this weekend, and this might be the last one. This report comes from the San Francisco Chronicle, and covers the continuing problems of funding and organizing what has been called The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth. According to Maker Media CEO Dale Dougherty, “it is ‘quite possible’ that the event could be the Bay Area’s last Maker Faire.”

Maker Faire has been drawing artists, craftspeople, inventors, and engineers for more than a decade. In one weekend you can see risque needlepoint, art cars meant for the playa, custom racing drones, science experiments, homebrew computers, gigantic 3D printers, interactive LED art, and so much more. This is a festival built around a subculture defined by an act of creation; if you do something with your hands, if you build something, or if you make something, Maker Faire has something for you. However you define it, this is the Maker Movement and since 2006, there has been a Maker Faire, a festival to celebrate these creators.

It’s sad to learn the future of this event is in peril. Let’s take a look at how we got here and what the future might hold.

Where is Maker Faire Bay Area Having Trouble?

In The Chronicle’s interview with Dale Dougherty, financial issues are at the forefront of the uncertain future. We had to ask ourselves why. Attendance is still quite high, and shows that there is demand, but is the cost an issue? For a family of four, a single-day pass costs $130. A bottle of water is six dollars. In terms of entertainment, Maker Faire isn’t terribly expensive; a single-day pass for a family of four to the Exploratorium, a children’s museum that’s the closest thing to Maker Faire that’s in the Bay Area, costs $100. While the cost of attending the Bay Area Maker Faire is an issue, it’s not something that is outrageously expensive — aside from the food vendors, of course — but it is an issue.

Nonetheless, attendance has fallen in recent years. 2015 saw 145,000 makers attend the Bay Area Maker Faire, a slight increase over 2014 numbers. In 2016, Make reported attendance of 150,000, and in 2017 it was listed at 125,000. The number for 2018 was a mere 100,000. That’s still a lot of people, but in less than two years, attendance at the Bay Area Maker Faire dropped more than 30%.

Makers exhibit and attend Bay Area Maker Faire at no cost. Individual makers who are trying to make a business of their craft, and non-profits with small budgets, can exhibit for $525 to $1,500 per booth. It’s harder to get numbers for ‘maker’ companies who fall somewhere in between the individuals and the large corporations. But anecdotally I have heard that rising booth prices have caused some of these companies to pass on having a booth at the faire.

While the economics of Maker Faire might not make sense for some small businesses in the DIY market, Maker Faire is still supported by large companies that headline the event. Even here, support is waning. Huge sponsors like Intel have exited the ‘maker market’ entirely.

It’s easy to see that the crunch between waning attendance revenue and falling sponsorships endangers the future of the event.

Is It The Economy?

Decreased attendance and a shrinking number of sponsorships are merely a symptom. Any one of these reasons is not enough to account for the possible shuttering of Maker Faire. The faire, at its core, is a do-it-yourself festival and there is a historical precedent of the rise and fall of this market.

Bob Vila, of This Old House fame, attributes the success of his show to the terrible economy of the 1970s. This was an era where homeowners would remodel instead of upgrading, and This Old House was there to teach people how to spackle. DIY appears to be inversely correlated with the economy, and right now the economy is doing great. Last December, unemployment in the US was at 3.9%, a rate not seen since the eve of the dot com bubble.

Many ‘maker’ companies who have been around long enough to go through a few economic cycles will tell you it’s a great, nearly recession-proof business to be in, but still long “booms” in the economy as a whole can kill a company that was already on shaky footing. There is a reason TechShop saw a massive explosion of growth around 2008, only to shut most of its locations in 2017. There’s a reason RadioShack died in 2015.

Maker Media itself has seen a series of layoffs, with the most recent round in March. Years ago, at the height of the Maker movement, twenty percent of the staff was laid off. There is a lot of speculation as to why this is happening, and unfortunately very little data to give a clear picture of what is happening.

Maker Faire is Not the Maker Community

If this is the last Maker Faire Bay Area — and it’s not entirely certain that this is the last Maker Faire quite yet — this isn’t a time to mourn. The ‘maker community’ — whatever that is — may have been branded by Maker Media, but we weren’t created by them. DIY and amateur engineering has been around since the invention of the lathe and the soldering iron. Crafting has existed since time immemorial. Tinkering is a long-standing tradition.

Maker Media and Make Magazine have done great things to bolster the community over the years, and we’ll be sad to see the Maker Faires come to an end, but we have other outlets too.

While in some peoples’ minds Maker Faire, Make Magazine, and Make Media represent the community, it’s worth remembering that they’re just a for-profit company that can fail for any number of economic and financial reasons. If this is the last Maker Faire Bay Area, that doesn’t mean that the community is to blame.

I’ll be at the Faire this weekend and I hope you will too.

111 thoughts on “It Is ‘Quite Possible’ This Could Be The Last Bay Area Maker Faire

    1. There was a mini Maker Faire in Minneapolis in past years, but that was cancelled this year. I took my kids. It wasn’t too expensive, and it held our interest for a few hours. I was really surprised that it wasn’t financially viable – it seemed like all the booths were staffed by people who wanted to be there. I can’t imagine how the entry fees weren’t enough to pay for what little cost there seemed to be.

      1. Mini maker faire in Boston was also cancelled this year. The requirements from the national organization weren’t aligned with the desires of the local children’s museum to run an event targeted at younger kids and scaled to fit in the museum’s available space. They elected to hold a “created by” festival in partnership with a state-wide STEAM week instead.

        The message I heard was that the “maker faire” branding is a bit too restrictive, and many events weren’t really seeing the benefits.

    2. Well you only have to go to San Mateo, not SF. And there is a city much larger than SF nearby known as San Jose. (and potentially cheaper, even if the median house prices are about the same it has a wider range)

    3. for what its worth, its actually San Jose. I get to park in my office’s secure parking then take about 15 minutes to hoof it over. :) I think part of the issue thats causing this to “end” is increased costs to use the venue, and people can only stand so much “let me tell you about my startup/kickstarter” which seems to plague many of these maker events around here. we also have other maker events so builders and maker are spreading out into other subdomains which might affect attendance. this area is still an area of maker abundance, so any concentration of makers is usually artificially induced, and like herding cats, that never lasts forever

  1. Would have helped to not only mention what ticket prices are now but to have compared them to 2014/2015 and then scale the price based on inflationary numbers.

    Only then can you state ticket and travel prices have had no or little effect on attendance. The shear number of Charter Schools based on project based learning should give a clue as to how important and large the maker movement is.

    1. Ticket Prices… Bingo.

      I quit going to the local Maker Fair a few years back. Mainly because it was the same folks, peddling the same stuff– with very little new in the show. I don’t mind people selling things, but it’s started to feel a whole lot more like a craft fair than a “maker fair”.And… I can go to craft fairs for free.

      1. That’s where I am. It’s great if you are looking for an entry point for youngsters to get interested in heavier-duty DIY than the normal childcraft type stuff. Maybe you’ll spark some excitement with Tesla coil music or R2-D2 club, but if you don’t have a semi-professional interest in DIY PCB fabrication or computing with textiles, if you’ve been once, you’ve been forever.

  2. Hard to correlate to another country´s money value, but the price of the single day pass still seems a bit high, for those times that you think about going to the Fair just to take a look. If that at least included food, it could be more attractive.

    Even so, if they claim financial problems, maybe changing the place ( a cheaper, smaller one ) , could help. Or negotiating with some other event to share the space ?

    1. Even being on the opposite end of the US, $130 a day plus food sounds a bit steep. Particularly if your target market is “people who make things because they’re too broke to buy them new”. On the other hand, San Francisco pricing is a little out of sync with the rest of the US as well.

      1. Disney World tickets are $394 per person. Even a theme park in the mid-west, such as Cedar Point, will cost you about $73/person. Once you get the whole family and parking done, you’ll be double or triple what it might cost for Maker Faire.

        Something more comparable in scale would be the Alameda County Fair (also in the Bay Area), that’s $50 for a family of four and that includes a parking pass.

        I think people are sorely underestimating how much it costs to have a day out with the family. Even if admission were free the gas and food is a significant factor. But ultimately parents will go once the kids realize that there are YouTube stars are at Maker Faire. Sadly the MF folks aren’t pushing this aspect of it, even though I remember it being a “thing” for several years now.

      2. The $130 was for a family of four, so presumably two adults and two children, but it’s still a bit pricey per person.

        On the other hand $130 is about the price of a family membership to the San Francisco zoo, good for a year, and This Saturday Only, it’ll get you into the Exploratorium for free, and it’s going to be raining so you probably don’t want to be dragging your kids around either the zoo or Maker Faire :-)

        But why is it in such an expensive city? It’s because it started here, and Make Magazine was based around here, and lots of Burners are here to drive mutant vehicles and set big things on fire in the parking lot. I’ve gotten to maybe half of the Maker Faire expos and a few Mini Maker Faires.

      3. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but almost everything I make costs more than buying a cheap one. But a lot less than buying a custom-made one!

        That said, I would not pay $6 for a bottle of water. If I traveled to an event, and paid $130 to get in, and they then tried to charge me $6 for water, I would consider the $130 to be “tuition for a lesson I don’t want to repeat,” and I’d leave, go to the park instead.

        A lot of people make things simply because they don’t like the way the companies that make stuff treat the customers. If it breaks and they’re not allowed to fix it, that hurts their feelings; and they might see another option, where they’re in more control. $6 water is going to hurt feelings. Guaranteed.

        Maybe if they had $1 regular water, and $6 water in a special edition Naomi Wu 3d bottle then they’d make more money? Oh, wait, they’d probably never get a license for that at this point.

        1. But I’ll bet you’d pay a lot more than 6$ to learn how to blow or mold your own water bottle! I hear you about the DIY solutions coming in over the cheap ones. I once put together a bill of materials for a project I’d done and was shocked at what the manufacturing cost would have been if I tried to manufacture it.

    2. Actual data: My ticket was $36.52. I went with a high school student, his ticket was $23.39 (both advance purchase). Food (hot dog, pizza, two drinks) was $38.

      The exhibits have definitely thinned out from years past. Things like the full-size Mouse Trap, the ArkAttack concerts, the electric cupcakes haven’t been there for years. There were noticeably fewer of the cool large-scale Burning Man style creations outdoors than before.

      The highlights for me this year were EMSL’s integrated circuit demo (perfect for explaining chips to the student I was with) and the self-solving Rubik’s cube from Japan. Seeing that live was amazing.

      1. Considering thaty daughter is one of the Acme Muffineering group and I just got back from hauling her cupcake car back this year, I’m afraid you are mistaken about the electric cupcake/muffins. They were next to the electric and gas bicycles, near the BBQ ribs.

          1. Seems like you should take it up with the management. It might just be a consequence of how wordpress works, or how you’ve set up subscriptions for notifications. I’m no expert in the matter.

    1. Relax! Didn’t you here? the unemployment rate is a mere 3.9%. Everybody is doing well and all is right and great in the world. There is no wealth gap. Those who say otherwise are all communists.

      Oh BTW these images are all fake and manufactured. Go about your business everyone, nothing to see here. (sarcasm)

    2. I used to work in San Mateo, so I was like “Oh, really?”, and I’m having troubles finding any of those in San Mateo. San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, all the places I expect are represented, but the homeless in San Mateo must not be very photogenic. Heck, even San Diego is in there, which makes me wonder if the search is even boosting “San Mateo” at all.

      I would not have been too surprised to see a camp in the area of the San Mateo event center back when the horse track was there. But these days, it’s kind of aggressively gentrified.

    1. My vote is for Bloomington, IN. It’s a college town with an educated population and pretty multicultural for a small mid-western town. Fairly easy access to folks in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. Would attract a fair number of dedicated travels from Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. Being a college town it has a fair number of reasonably priced hotels, and a lot of campgrounds near Lake Monroe area.

      1. Maybe if someone could find a DIY solution to all the potholes the city/indot isn’t fixing. And small Indiana town with the population density of SF kid of sucks enough the way it is…

    2. Austin and Detroit used to be official locations too, along with SF and NYC. They’re now “just” very large affiliated events.

      Detroit is a hub for several airlines, has tons of hotels and stuff to do, and is cheap cheap cheap. Our Faire is at the end of July, so there’s still time to make travel plans.

      And if there’s one place in the country that’s got a centuries-long history of making shit, it’s us. Please consider a visit!

  3. I’ve never understood why the Makers Faires are in the two absolutely most expensive and congested cities in the country.
    Airfare, hotel, food, admission, incidentals ….. or I could buy a new oscilloscope, or for a lot of basement makers … pay rent. In my experience Makers are generally not a well-off (financially) lot.

    1. Oh yeah, Shawn Hymel mentioned that in the marketing hack chat

      Caleb May-8 3:51 PM
      @Rob Reynolds Do you have any insider info on how well going to makerfair (or similar) works for someone just starting out? I’m hoping (long term) to build open hardware for a living, but don’t have much of any idea how to get started on the biz/sales/marketing side.

      Shawn Hymel May-8 3:53 PM
      @Caleb I can also put in my 2 cents: events like Maker Faire are great for building a network of potential partners, but did not seem to do much for direct sales. Maker Faire, especially, is mostly kids now with little/no disposable income.

      Caleb May-8 3:54 PM
      @Shawn Hymel Ohh, that’s a good point about how much open cash the audience has. Defcon might be a good counterexample. Lots of cash flowing there for the badge-scene.

      Shawn Hymel May-8 3:55 PM
      @Caleb definitely….working professionals usually decent amounts of cash to burn.

  4. As a maker in Midwestern “flyover country”, I can attest that makers still exist even where there’s nothing much organized. We’re makers! Make the support network you want.

    1. MakerFaire is a commercial enterprise of O’Reilly and Associates, their Maker Media subsidiary, and their Make magazine. A non-profit activity would be more deserving of sympathy and more representative of makers. If MakerFaire ends, a more modest non-profit that can support itself will replace it.

      Part of the reason that attendance has diminished is that the event is startlingly the same from year to year. Same folks, in the same places, showing the same stuff. It’s too much like a trade show.

      I will be at Hamvention, which happens to be on the same weekend every year, and is also full of makers.

      1. I’ve never been to one of the “big” Maker Faires. Maybe this news means that I should make a point of this being the year I finally do. I normally go to the Detroit Maker Faire because it’s nearby. I’m thinking NY should be the big one I try to get to for that same reason.

        Well, anyway, I came to say something similar. If the big ones are like the smaller ones then not much changes one year to another. Hey, it usually takes more than a year to build the next big thing right?

        Maybe Maker Faires should be less frequent. As I started typing I was thinking maybe every 4 years. Locations could be scattered so there would still be some to go to each year for those who travel.

        As I type this I realize that I am only really thinking from the adult perspective where 4 years isn’t such a long time. If we want to get our kids involved 4 years is more than long enough to miss some key development moment where a lifelong love of making can begin. Maybe we do need them yearly but I fear this will not be the first we hear of Faires closing. I certainly have noticed that big, memorable displays that have disappeared from Detroit already! *cough cough* mousetrap *cough cough*

        1. I’ve volunteered several times there as well. I’ve also noticed some of the smaller ones, like the A2 mini-maker faire rebranding themselves. I wish it would grow again.

      2. I volunteered a few years at mini maker faire Seattle. They paid a license to MakerFaire to use the branding. It seemed noble and all until they merged with EMP and started using that space. Now from the business end it seems more like a business than a community event. I do not know what the breakdown of the amount of ticket that goes for “local good” but it seems to be diluted now.

        I volunteer elsewhere now.

      3. Nice thing about Hamvention is, while there are a lot of people and companies with the same, there are also a lot of people with new, and multiple forums all day every day of the event, other events organizing in the evening around it, or the days leading up to it. I’ll be down there this weekend as well. See you at the Greene County Fairgrounds.

  5. TBH, my enthusiasm for Bay Area Maker waned because of the high attendance. I stopped going on the peak day, Saturday; the dense flow of people kept me from spending time at the booths. Also, the exhibitors went from being predominantly makers showing their projects ( the early Maker Faires) to mainly vendors selling merchandise. It no longer feels like a “Show-and-Tell”.

  6. People seem to think of the “maker movement” as some sort of homogeneous group, when it is actually a combination of independent enthusiast groups, with interests ranging from 3D printing, CNC equipment, electronics, crafts, Renaissance Fairs, Burning Man, etc.
    While each of these groups have a core of devotees, their influence fluctuates as a function of cultural market share, which affects their economic value to sponsors. The internet hype for 3D-printing, home CNC, and Arduino/RasPi projects, for example, has been steadily diminishing, as these technologies transition from exciting fields of unknown potential to well-known commodities from China, with cooling demand.

    If you’re a consumer, the diminishing novelty of the Maker Faire may not be enough to justify the cost,
    and if you’re a (non-food) vendor, the expected return on your participation investment is likely too low.

  7. Somewhat unrelated. This reminds me of the ‘we work together’ pay-to-use makerspace that had some weird chicken branding that failed in an old car wash near me recently. Lasted 6 months. I knew it would fail. Every time I drove by, I thought the CEO must have never heard that most inventors are poor and work in bedrooms, garages, or where ever, but likely have no will or budget to spend money to have other people working with them in the way of their goals. There is always that guy who is in the way and most driven people don’t want that.

  8. I live in the bay area and I’ve never gone. It’s too expensive and too crowded, not to mention that it feels like more of a burning man-E3 hybrid now which I’m not terribly interested in. Even though I live near it I don’t like that it’s in the middle of startup fake/bad idea bay area tech land, it should be somewhere more gritty like cincinnati.

    My city does have a mini maker faire that I go to and I like its less extravagant feel. and I like that it’s more integrated in the community.

  9. I really enjoyed them, I flew in, stayed in a hotel, and enjoyed the event. But it went from ‘could be dangerous’ to kid-friendly to kid-centric, my interest faded. And maybe that’s just my own experience, maybe it’s not really that way.

  10. A few things:

    First: Maker Faire bay area is give or take a week right at the time that college/school gets out. Lots of people can’t go because they are going to graduations. Have it a few weeks later.

    Second: There are other event centers in the bay area that are cheaper. I understand that the proximity of SFO to the San Mateo Event center makes it preferable, but there are alternatives.

    Third, Maker Faire is like a trade fair at this point, in my experience. Having visited and exhibited there, everything seems to be based around what you are selling, rather than what you are show and telling.

    Maker Faire, like so many other things, needs to decentralize. I would much rather have a smaller and cheaper faire closer to me that focuses more on local work than a few centralized events around the country. Imagine how many cool makers haven’t been able to catch the public eye due to the fact they they live too far away from a big faire or cant afford the ridiculous bay area prices. Maker Media needs to shift focus and explode all of its large faire cash into a dozens of smaller faires distributed around the country, then focus its media releases like the magazine and website on highlighting makers and projects found through those smaller faires.

  11. “A bottle of water is six dollars. In terms of entertainment, Maker Faire isn’t terribly expensive;”
    I was expecting comments like:
    – how big is that bottle?
    – So the cost for family of four is 130$ but has positive thermal coefficient.
    – Why choose airport for a Maker Faire?
    – Sponsored by Camelback and Nalgene.

  12. It is an annual event for me. I totally fell in love with the maker movement. I agree that it is overcrowded and that it has started to get repetitive. I also see the market is quite saturated. I can usually find a Steam, stem fair almost every weekend. I understand why it is struggling, but will be devastated to lose it. It is my favorite event every year. I was actually planning on doing a couple of booths next year, sponsoring one and running another.

  13. Hmm lets have a MakerFaire in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. and then the organizers wonder why attendance is dropping like a rock?

    And the organizers are baffeled. They are not a introspective lot that’s for sure.

    Attendees have figured out it’s not worth it. So no more return customers.

    $130 for a family of four, no food, no water. A bottle of water is $6.00. Talk about family hostile.
    At least the entry cost could include a meal ticket for say a burger/taco, drink and side. Make it family friendly.

    For example I live in Los Angeles. For me to drive, get a room(in San Jose), buy a ticket, etc. I’m going to be out $300 for a day. If I got a room in SF, the costs would double.

    It deserves to die.

    1. “It deserves to die” (because it’s not in my city) … Spoken like a true Los Angeleño.

      What I don’t understand if people want to go but the only thing stopping them is travel costs, then why not start up something similar in your own local area? I guess organizing a big fair if even more burdensome than traveling 400 miles.

      1. It definitely is. When I hear ‘maker’ I picture those useless ’20 great lifehacks’ compilation videos where they hot glue fruit together or some other equally stupid thing.

  14. We went the first year it was at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. When we went back 2 years later it was a total zoo. I lover maker fairs – but if the fairgrounds / bathrooms / food aren’t ready for that moany people – no one has any fun. Remember waiting over an hour for food at a food truck

  15. I’ve been to most of the Bay Area Maker Fairs since the first, though always on an exhibitor pass, and know some of the early employees. This has been coming for a while. Some points to consider:

    – San Mateo fairgrounds is an extremely hostile venue, and has been from day 1. They search people’s bags to keep you bringing in food and water, and treat exhibitors like dirt. The first year they said we damaged their parking-lot asphalt and refused to let us load out our machines (only their forklifts allowed on site) until we paid $6000.
    – Exhibitors aren’t paid, though the fair can be a lot of work. The payback was the cool folks you could meet – it used to be an interesting DIY crowd. Now it’s largely normal folks bringing their kids in an effort to expose them to “STEM”. Gets old having endless swarms of screen-kids banging on your exhibit looking for noise, blinking lights or freebies to appear.
    – As mentioned above, this was originally a labor-of-love offshoot of O’Reilly Media. Love doesn’t get you far in the Bay area anymore, and so a few years ago Dale Dougherty decided the whole thing had to show a healthy profit. Prices went up, perks went down, big corporate sponsors were welcomed. Looks like that didn’t work out.
    – Yep it’s expensive!

    1. Unfortunately most venues are like that. They have their own food service and expect attendees, event staff and exhibitors to all have to buy their overpriced food and drinks, or they have a contract with a food vendor, and that vendor has ridiculously priced food and drinks.

      I was on staff at Fandemonium in Idaho for some years, then decided to just be a regular attendee due to living so far from Boise (75 miles) it was time consuming and expensive to go to meetings and preparation workshops.

      The second year we shifted venues to the Nampa Civic Center, which has a contract with a food catering service but doesn’t prohibit outside food. A good thing because that first year the vendor’s prices were high, selection limited, and they didn’t stick around very long. The next year until the last year Fandemonium was in Nampa they ‘got it’. Better prices, longer hours and there all three days.

      IIRC we never could get the civic center to have their vending machines restocked on Saturday and Sunday. They’d get stripped bare on Friday.

      Won’t go into why Fandemonium moved to The Grove Hotel its last two years, or why those were its last two years. I wasn’t on staff then, not my story to tell, except it was issues with the venues.

      The people who started Fandemonium in 2004 and ran it for over a decade still want to get it going again, but since Fandemonium and Anime Oasis (started in 2003) showed there was plenty of interest in all that sort of thing, there have been more conventions that have started up and Wizard World had a convention in Boise in 2018 (but canceled for 2019).

      The Boise area hotels had been soured on fandom conventions since a certain big name in Star Trek conventions had scheduled one sometime in the 1990’s, then there were some shenanigans and no convention. They put the “con” in con. So it was a dead scene until 2003.

  16. I’ve gone for many years. When my kids were younger, it was not always a great experience – there were tons of interesting things, but 4.7 million people were interested in those same things, so it was often very hard to get the kids to a place where they could enjoy anything. And you had a limited amount of time before they got crabby. Now my kids are teenagers, so it’s much easier to manage, they can find things they’re interested in and be pushy on their own, but it still does require a certain amount of planning to avoid massive lines (for instance, Caltrain is a much better experience than waiting an hour at Oracle for a parking shuttle which drops you off to wait in line to get in). Personally, I spring for the Friday access so I can get myself mostly satisfied, and then take the kids on the weekend – but not everyone is going to be willing to spend money to reduce their stress like that.

    Basically, I find myself wondering if this is a form of resource curse – they’re so popular that they limit their future popularity. And/or maybe they priced attendance growth into their venue growth, and they’ve found that attendance can’t grow forever.

    If they were already concerned before, I imagine a rainy weekend isn’t going to help things much.

    1. Well, I found Friday’s early access underwhelming. In the supplier- and fab-focussed halls, I feel like there was a year with a deluge of 3d printers, and a year with a deluge of drones, but this year nothing feels like the “it” thing. Some of the booths put on by clubs or schools looked stronger than I remember, we’ll have to see how it looks today when they aren’t enthusiastically setting things up. I think I really spent the most time in the etsy sort of area looking at jewelry and coasters – there was some lovely work in there!

      Come to think of it, I can’t remember where the area of fire-breathing mega-projects was. I saw the steam engine and one fire-breather, but it feels like a lot was missing.

      Looking over the presentation schedule, I think they maybe have a serious problem with competition from YouTube. Seeing Mark Rober speak in person doesn’t seem like a huge win, not like seeing a musical act in person. Though I suppose seeing Prosthesis in action in person was interesting, it felt kinda like “Oh, yeah, that dude’s gonna die”.

      I’m also thinking there may be a saturation problem. I know that things like “Make” magazine and “MagPi” seem to have only 6 or 9 months worth of content, then it starts to feel like you’ve seen everything before.

  17. Could it be viewed as mainstream? Could also be the internet, what are you going to find there that you can find on the internet with much less expense and travel. It seems to be more of a social experience than anything else, imo.

  18. People on hackernews accused the maker faire of becoming too commercial. Instead of side projects and art exhibits, now there’s a lot of startups looking to push their product.

    1. Startups? Last year the thing which most depressed me was the number of 12-year-old Stanford wannabes with booths in the exhibit hall. I’m sure they were smart kids, but there wasn’t a one of them doing much more than you’d find on There were a couple college-age students with booths who I thought were at least plausible, I wasn’t sure their notions were useful, but they were at least internally generated and driven.

      Though I guess I see your point. Why do we need a couple dozen $60 dev boards which aren’t much of an improvement over $15 worth of Wemos parts? Or a bunch of 3d printers which don’t materially improve on a market bracketed by Ender 3 at one end and Prusa at the other? I mean, a $200 Prusa is a great idea, but maybe hard to believe, while an $800 Ender 3 is something I totally expect to see…

      [ObDisclosure: I’ll look at ALL the dubious NodeMCU variants and ALL the dubious 3d printer variants. I can’t help myself :-).]

    1. That may be so, but how much damage would additional traffic do to the Playa? Not very many private property owners would allow their property to be damage. The public shouldn’t allow public property to be necessarily damaged.

    1. Even the 49ers dropped bottle water from $6 to $2. Mostly because there were health concerns with the summer heat. A problem with Maker Faire is prices are heavily influenced by third party vendors and the collective demands they make when negotiating.

  19. I haven’t gone to BAMF since 2016 (been an exhibitor for many years). It’s exhausting and I love it, but it’s exhausting. I still haven’t been to MF as I’m always tied to my booth but it always seemed like a big hit? I don’t have any grievances with the venue or vendors but I agree it has been getting very commercial

  20. I’ve been to the San Mateo MakerFaire once, and the New York MakerFaire pretty much every year. What I noticed is that the first couple of years when NY had it, it was filled with genuine makers and hackers who entertained conversation about their projects and hobbies, and it was a great experience.

    A few years later, I noticed that there were a lot more “polished” presentations, where either the makers weren’t available, or started to promote their Kickstarter/pre-orders. More and more companies started to push their sales pitch or for some(like Intel), they would tease products that they either couldn’t talk too much about or had no inventory on hand to sell. It was becoming a in-person advertisement for their products, testing the waters, I suppose?

    Also, a lot of helicopter parents showed up; I don’t mind parents trying to get their young kids involved in STEM, in fact, I welcome it. These were the aggressive, “socially dense for the sake of their kids” parents who would shove, elbow, or just interrupt a conversation to throw their kids to the attendant, as if their kids will absorb the tech and info through literal osmosis.

    1. That’s been my experience exactly with the NYC fair. The first few times I went I remember getting into long and interesting conversations with people like the guy that restored his own gramophone cylinder or the MIT student team building an autonomous sailboat. The last few times I came away thinking it was mostly the same fair over and over again but without the interesting conversations.

  21. Yeah I think the whole allure of Maker Faire is not as strong as it used to be. It gets more commercialized year after year which is a vibe killer and a soul crusher. Gone are the days when Makerfaires were about a bunch on hipsters building cool gadgets for fun and selling things on the side. Today it’s increasingly a venue to primarily buy/sell stuff. If I wanted to buy stuff I can save the price of admission and buy stuff on amazon.

    Besides the whole ‘Maker Movement’ thing was overrated to begin with and is increasingly becoming cliche (we are ‘Makers’! ‘Meet your Makers!’ …… how lame.

    Even the acronym STEM is really just a marketing gimmick. Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics has existed and have been cool for centuries. I idea that students, teachers and parents are only finding out about ‘STEM’ just recently (thanks to the acronym) is ludicrous. If anything STEM does a disservice because it lumps together a massive area of knowledge that while overlapping in some ways, can also have unique/different aspects in others.

    Good bye Bay Area Maker Faire (and hopefully all other Maker Faires, Maker magazines and any other thing that has the word ‘Maker’ attached to it) you will not be missed.

    1. Wow, your post made me suddenly wonder if Techshop closing down and this article are related. Because I also find myself having an aversion to some of the marketing side of the various MakerThings. To me, it’s about just noodling around and doing interesting stuff, which may or may not be remunerative, or indeed, even useful. And often enough, it’s not even cool. But the various magazines and sites often come on strong with the idea that it’s some new kind of movement, and, well, I’m not sure it is. I know that back in the day I learned about what is now called STEM in _spite_ of my educational environment, not really because of it. The adults around me all meant well, but they were also mostly wrong about the future, and my big fear is that today’s push towards dumbing things down until they’re totally simple and turnkey won’t get kids on the right track, instead it will make them think making stuff is easy and lame.

    2. This.

      I have been to smaller maker fairs in my city, but I went to Bay Area Maker Faire for first time this year and just got back.

      Having never seen a serious one before I was hoping for serious projects like I see here and a smattering of companies selling stuff to help make it happen.

      I am sick of all of the marketing exactly the way you are behind the supposed movement of Maker’s it’s just tiring to hear it over and over, and I know some of the people directly involved at the deepest levels with the whole maker movement.

      I was happy to see all the kids engaging in science but at the same time I wish there had been more serious booths from adults. Seeing lectures canceled and frivolous idiocy like how to battle with lightsabers it was more of a convention of nerds than makers. And I am an enormous nerd, but I’m a huge maker and I really wanted to see the serious projects I imagined there would be and there weren’t as many.

      I saw a lot of booths doing kickstarters just as others have mentioned (some of which were pretty cool tho, like the ball bearing sand table everyone has seen), but it felt like a big elementary school trip combined with a timeshare meeting for things that don’t exist yet, and people incredulously ignoring you if you weren’t willing to contribute to their kickstarter.

      The stuff that made it for me were things many forgot out in the rain- like the truly epic Kinetic Steam Works with a steam powered orrery, and power wheels races. Visual makers who put real effort into their projects, and didn’t just have tables of straws for kids to make art with. The AWCI (American Watch & Clockmakers Institute) watchmaking van was really cool, and a good effort to get more people into horology.

      Overall I was impressed, but rain and NO ONE selling umbrellas pissed me off. I’d go back, but only if the fluff is cut out, and career fluffing talks like the supposed post techshop talk, which was a big career circle jerking that had nothing to do with the topic. Thankfully a real hacker from Noisebridge broke the glass there a bit.

      TLDR version- enough with the maker branding parade and the personal story brand sellers- get more real makers, and less kickstarter crap.

      Bring things you actually made and explain them. To all the awesome exhibits tho, the actual makers, thanks.

      1. Just got back from the weekend of Maker Faire (drove down from Portland as well). Some thoughts…

        Too bad this was your first one – attendance was way down and the mud was miserable. This is the first time in a long time I can remember there being heavy rain. Usually, the problem is opposite – very sunny so shade is at a premium. The rain caused all sorts of scheduling and booth issues.

        The outdoor elements were very scaled back, even discounting the weather – there’s usually a whole other parking lot with a lot of participatory activities (weird bicycles, scooter tracks, DIY hovercrafts, life-sized moustrap, etc).

        Compared to previous years, there were actually very few vendors selling things (both individuals and companies) and corporate booths were way down. Intel and Adobe previously have had large presences. This year, Google was the only big sponsor.

        Ironically, they were very loose with bags this year. We always have backpacks and always get searched, not this year – just breezed right on it.

        I noticed food vendor prices were higher this year. I’m guessing that was partially to compensate for the sparse attendance.

        I also noticed they didn’t have the safety waiver/wristband activities this year. I’m hoping that saved them a bundle on insurance.

        I dont understand the resistance about $130 for 4 people for all day. I can’t think of any _event_ (RenFaire, Dickens Faire, County Faire) where you can get a family in and out for $130 for all day. Permanent fixtures like the zoo/Exploratorium are apples/oranges comparisons.

        I rather like seeing a lot of the ‘college kids’ with the goofy prototypes and stuff. One of my favorite things is to watch them evolve year over year from duct-tape concept to 3D printed prototype to actual product.

        Sadly, this years’ event will hurt a lot. Low attendance + way fewer paying booths = far less income.

  22. As for the unemployment rate being 3.9% this is the ‘U-3’ rate. The ‘U-6’ rate that includes discouraged short-term workers is around 7-8%. And when you include discouraged long-term workers and those that gave up looking for work the unemployment rate (true unemployment rate calculated using formulas typically used before 1994) is about 21.2%

    As for this being the last Bay Area Maker Faire…good riddance

  23. Indeed, only rational people do. Noone can work on their own to become a billionaire. The wealth is based on other people’s work that has been leeched on.

    But you wouldn’t say someone who stole, even if in a “legal” way, that they owe anything. You send people to collect the bill so they fulfill their debts.

    1. Hate him or like him, like everyone else Warren Buffett is imperfect. However it generally accepted that Buffet’s wealth has a foundation of his own labor. Yes he has earned from the labor of others. As long as one treats their employees, safely and fairly, with a just wage nothing wrong with being able to earn from other’s labor.

  24. You think people from cities like NY are jealous of the Bay Area? A tad conceited, aren’t we?
    That smugness and overconfidence is what is extremely annoying about SV/SF etc.
    It shows how closed minded you have become.

    1. NYC gets almost everything and its citizens range from smug to oblivious about the opportunities they have. So now we don’t get to brag the rare times when we get something they don’t? I’m not going to accept your judgement on this one.

  25. I just was there Saturday! Do consider going Sunday, it’s still very much worth it!

    * It’s smaller than the previous years, so, no lines.

    * The “trade show” portion has been confined to one pavilion. Everything else is people showing off builds or selling crafts, with a heavy emphasis on the former.

    * No more 3d printer glut. Prusa and Monoprice have booths but they aren’t intrusive.

    * Lots of things for kids to do.

    * Lots more traditional crafts stuff.

    * Much easier to get a chance to fly a nice drone or drive a Mars rover around.

    Definitely a return to the roots.

  26. I think Maker Faire is following a well-trodden path. Look at eBay: At first it was mostly regular folk selling stuff from their attics, then the “Get Rich on eBay” books came out and greed overcame common decency, and now it’s mostly populated by professionals who take their trade seriously. Similarly we started with individual makers, followed by few years of “gold rush” mentality, and now we’re settling down to a scene domination by professionals.

    At the end of the day, if the trappings of your revolution are being sold at Walmart, your revolution is long over.

  27. The ideas and aspirations of Maker Faire and many of the attending makers are being eclipsed by environmental change.

    Dale Dougherty, CEO of MakerFaire writes in the latest Make Magazine. He calls Maker Faire “…a kind of cultural expression based on play, creativity and resilience is an antidote for what ails us.” Lets appreciate Dale’s clarity of understanding. Maker Faire tries to be a safe, educational, personally encouraging and supportive experience… it is a cultural expression. Meanwhile, something bigger than “culture” was happening at the May 17 to 19th 2019 Maker Faire. Right over head for many days in a row we have had unusual rain in the Bay Area. The thing bigger than Maker Faire’s snapshot of culture is environmental change.

    I was there, exhibiting carbon dioxide meters with gpses and talking about using an Ethereum type money to pay people to not emit CO2. Speaking of culture, I had an interesting time, sometimes feeling like the “lonely old grubber” from the poem “A supermarket in California”.

    1. With all due respect, it’s not unusual to get rain in the bay area in May. It’s not necessarily EXPECTED, but it’s not at all fire and brimstone and the end times at hand. Heck, I recall one of my first Augusts out here in the mid-90’s, and it rained hard, and the news was full of things like construction projects where they were replacing a roof and hadn’t prepared so now an apartment complex had tons of water damage. Or huge runoff because the hard dry August soil couldn’t soak it up fast enough.

      Sometimes weather is just weather.

  28. $130 for a family of four is absurd, and tends to show that makerfaire id about money first and not content.

    $130 for family of four – 2 adults 2 children – means $40+ a ticket. This isnt just CA prices. The same prices where at Austin Makerfaire a years ago.

    Too expesive, not worth the fee.

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