Since last week when I called the upcoming show the "What's Next? Graph Expo" I've had people writing to ask (a) should they go, (b) what should they look at, (c) if I think there are going to be any great deals, (d) wasn't everything already shown at drupa, and (e) what jazz and blues clubs I recommend in Chicago. Just kidding on the last one!

The short answers are:

(a)  Absolutely, if you think you'll need to buy equipment or software in 2009 to help your business compete more effectively, get on a plane to O'Hare or Midway and go. If you're focused you don't even need to stay long. Or if you want to do more than the show floor, the conference sessions should give you some ideas for how to network, change your thinking, move the rock, try a new translation of what you do, and just get out of your burrow for a day or two.

(b)  Don't ask me; ask yourself. What is challenging you in your business? Try to ignore the economic molasses we're wading through and think about the things that keep you awake in terms of workflow, applications, equipment shortcomings, etc. What can't you do that you want to do? What are your customers asking for that you have trouble delivering? Are your workarounds more like exception processing? No matter what your concerns may be, there will probably be several different ways of addressing them at McCormick Place. Are there things you've heard about that might be the answers you need? You don't know unless you wander around the show floor to look, compare and ask questions. Talk to vendors about your challenges: chances are they've heard it before and have some answers. All the print engine guys have extensive software offerings that can address many of the issues you face. And don't ignore the smaller companies, either. From what I've heard and seen pre-show, some have some pretty interesting products and you definitely want to check them out. Grab a Must See 'Ems booklet on the way in and work your way through the many firms and products listed. Whether you are an old-school offset press guy or an edgy dude who's all digital all the time, there is a lot to consider and look at.

(c)  As for "deals," it depends on your definition and expectations. Top-level vendor execs I've talked to are cautious (and nervous) right now, and admit that the paucity of available credit poses a real challenge, but they tell me deals can still be made. I think the print engine guys will be looking for customers who have a clear plan for how they will use a new NexGenDigo StreamPrint 10000 and have some of the resources needed to make the deal go through. Will prices be trimmed and some deals cut? Probably. I'm hoping to see at least a couple of "SOLD" signs despite the vagaries of the credit markets. Bring your game face, some flexibility (and maybe a letter of credit).

(d)  No, not everything was shown at drupa. And some of what was shown there wasn't real anyway. I know for a fact that at Graph Expo you'll see some new stuff from several companies of both the hardware and software persuasions. Some things are from firms that have a pretty low profile. Others are, shall we say, definitely going to be Must See 'Ems winners. And when I was at Océ's open house last week in Florida I saw something that is most assuredly going to rock some boats. Stay tuned on that one.

(e)  As for jazz and blues, I like Andy's on East Hubbard for jazz and Blue Chicago on North Clark, for places you don't feel threatened to go into. Very hard to go wrong. I hope to put in a night at each while in the Windy City.

Hope to see you around the show. Watch for a guy running with a video camera.