Budgets and finance

Here is a place to discuss issues with the conference budget.

IACR held the first two virtual conferences with no cost to attendees (only membership in IACR was required). We are now looking at doing cost recovery for the next few conferences, but frankly we don’t need to raise much. By far the biggest cost for IACR has been labor for software/web development, but much of that will be reusable for subsequent conferences. I estimate that we spent maybe $5K on labor, but if we factor in the amount of volunteer labor we received, the amount might be closer to $15K for two conferences with 1600 total attendees. These costs are highly variable though, and should be examined carefully when you run a conference.

By contrast, our technology costs have been pretty trivial so far:

  • maybe $500 for Zoom
  • about $150 for running servers on digitalocean.com to host the conference websites, registration, and a Zulip chat instance.
  • about $10 for AWS S3 to upload and store videos that were later transferred to YouTube.

Judging from these numbers, it appears to me that the total cost per attendee has been maybe $10 if you take out volunteer labor. This is tiny compared to what people ordinarily pay for a conference registration.

Computer science conferences are in a unique situation that they can draw on very experienced volunteer effort from the community, and dramatically reduce the cost. At the same time, it’s hard for me to imagine how a virtual conference should cost more than $50/attendee, but perhaps that’s because IACR has no paid staff (only contract software development). I’m sure that many professional societies that have staff will be facing additional financial stress from virtual conferences, just as they have from pressure on open access publishing. Perhaps the upside is that more people can now attend conferences due to the elimination of travel costs. Eurocrypt ordinarily has about 500 attendees, but this year had 1249.

I didn’t mention sponsorship income, but this can be significant. One of the things we developed for our conference was a slideshow countdown timer that would be shown before each session. The slideshow would scroll through the logos of the sponsors, and give them as much exposure as possible. If a conference wanted to be really aggressive about raising sponsorship dollars, perhaps they could run video ads for the sponsors.