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Still Hanging On: Print Posters vs. ePosters in Europe's Congresses
Still Hanging On: Print Posters vs. ePosters in Europe's Congresses
Although ePosters are making significant inroads into EU meetings, Print Posters show enduring strengths
Still Hanging On: Print Posters vs. ePosters in Europe's Congresses - Still Hanging On: Print Posters vs. ePosters in Europe's Congresses

Over the past decade, ePosters have increasingly become a part of STEMM conferences, particularly medical ones. They can appear on scattered kiosks by podiums for presenters, or on a forest of monitors in their own halls. Some are little more than enlarged PDF’s of Print Posters. Others are multi-page PowerPoint slideshows complete with videos and animations. While there is no doubt that ePosters have the capability of providing more information in more arresting ways than Print Posters, unlike other digital innovations, they have yet to sweep their paper counterparts away.

In fact, there are compelling arguments for each format, which I am not about to litigate with this paper. Instead, I want to look at how the European medical congress market is responding by providing quantitative results and comments I heard while gathering these. This information can be used to supplement the ongoing dialogue among meeting organizers about the relative benefits of each option.

RESEARCH

I have narrowed the focus of my research to larger medical meetings that took place in Europe during 2018. In addition to associations based in Europe, I also included those international groups that regularly meet on the continent and represent an important part of the medical meeting landscape. All had programming mainly derived from abstracts, which can be the basis for oral presentations as well as posters. I did not include congresses that concentrate on basic research (e.g. cell biology or genomics) or are funded by third parties.

I had two goals for my respondent pool: That they represent at least 75,000 posters amongst their combined meetings and a minimum of seventy-five associations. I estimate that to be 50% of the total market in Europe. I contacted them by phone and email, and to ensure an optimal response, I requested succinct answers for the following few questions:

  1. How many posters were accepted for presentation at each meeting?
  2. Of these, how many were Print Posters and how many ePosters?
  3. How many posters were posted online after the meeting?
  4. Do you have any comments about the trends for ePosters or how you view their acceptance?

For results, the congresses were classified into Tier 1 meetings with either more than 1,500 posters or distinction as a leader in their fields. The Tier 2 meetings had a minimum of 250 posters.

RESULTS

The original target of 75,000 posters was exceeded, and the final tally of posters came in at nearly 117,000 across ninety-eight meetings of which twenty-two were for Tier 1 associations. For these larger congresses, which displayed 42,500 posters, we found that 25% were ePoster-only; 21% Print Poster only; and 54% were shown as both print and digital—what is known as Hybrid. The results prove that ePosters have made significant inroads into Tier 1 associations, accounting for 79% of total posters when you combine the Hybrid with the ePoster Only numbers. This trend has budgetary consequences since the association bears more of the digital costs than the paper ones for reasons explained below. Fourteen of the Tier 1 societies (64%) place their posters online after the meeting, which is an additional value that ePosters bring to the party. However, when combining the Hybrid and print-only numbers, paper posters still represent 75% of the total, so they are far from fading away. In fact, I learned that some of those associations that tried to go fully digital faced so much resistance from both the submitters and their society boards, that they are now offering a hybrid solution.

When it comes to the seventy-six Tier 2 respondents, the mix flips considerably, with 56% print-only, 23% ePoster-only, and 21% Hybrid. No doubt many of these smaller associations do not have the budget for ePosters, but at 76% total for print-only and Hybrid, Print Posters are not that much more of a T2 component as they are for T1. On the other hand, a similar combination for ePosters shows them comprising 44% of Tier 2 posters—a still significant number that is certain to grow.

Tellingly, there were very few T2 societies that responded to my question about putting posters online after the meeting. This could again be related to resources, or the quality of their posters, which might not hold up to prolonged exposure.

PRINT POSTERS’ ENDURING STRENGTHS

While communicating with my respondents, I picked up the following comments and anecdotal observations that could explain why the Print Poster is not going away any time soon:

  • Print Posters are the best platform for large-scale and intimate interaction between authors and those attending the meeting. As one organizer told me: “You cannot talk to a computer.”
  • Poster authors feel that print provides more visibility and a tangible milestone on their career path. Print Posters are often hung again back at their institutions.
  • Print posters on the outskirts of an exhibition hall can still draw traffic past the exhibitors and their booths, and offer easier browsing for the passersby.
  • As an added submitter convenience, and potential new revenue stream, associations are now providing print services. Posters can then be picked up at the meeting or even hung at the right time and place.

ePOSTER BENEFITS

I also heard strong support for what ePosters can add. Comments included:

  • For those viewers in a rush, an ePoster kiosk can offer much more targeted and efficient searching capabilities.
  • An ePoster podium can provide better display and space for a well-attended discussion session than a Print Posterboard.
  • If placed online after the meeting, ePosters perpetuate meeting content beyond the congress dates, and for those members who could not attend.
  • Good ePoster software permits the sort of 24x7 interaction and promotion that would be impossible with print. Viewers should be able to rate and share by email or social media. They should also be able to contact the author directly.

ePOSTERS’ CONTINUING CHALLENGES

Despite the continuing growth of ePosters in the European market, the following significant obstacles remain in place:

  • COSTS. These should not be underestimated, especially regarding the hardware for the monitors, kiosks, and installation. Furthermore, recent directives from EFPIA, IFPMA, and MedTech Europe have restricted or eliminated industry sponsorship of ePoster sites, which puts even more of the digital burden on the associations.
  • PERMISSIONS. Mechanisms must be in place to secure authors’ permission on re-use or extended broadcast as would be done for the recording of any oral presentation. Ideally, this would be baked into the submission process. Permissions have not previously been concerns for Print Posters. In fact, many meetings ban photography in the photo hall.
  • PRIOR PUBLICATION. There was a time when scientific journals banned publication of research published elsewhere. Though printed, posters were not considered prior publication. Initially, journals did not grant ePosters a similar exemption since their appearance online was considered a publication of sorts. Fortunately, most journals have gotten more relaxed with this issue, but that hasn’t stopped some associations from being exceedingly cautious about offending them.

FINDING THE RIGHT ePOSTER VENDORS

As a rule of thumb, the software and hardware for ePosters are provided by separate companies. For most associations, their Audio Visual vendor can also supply the workstations needed for ePosters or find the subcontractors who can do it. The ePoster software can be a stand-alone service or part of an abstract management system. When evaluating the ePoster solution that’s right for you, consider the following factors:

  • Lead time for implementation;
  • A robust viewer website with options for browse, boolean search, and filters for results;
  • A robust site to upload presentations that can require affirmations and disclosure before the upload is complete;
  • File conversion from PowerPoint and PDF to HTML5, so the ePoster image can automatically adjust to the size of the screen it is viewed on;
  • Capabilities for embedded video and animation;
  • Capabilities for online editing and updates, so changes can be made at the last minute;
  • Multiple display options, so viewers can see one screen, and moderators another during discussion sessions;
  • Options for viewers to contact authors, and share ePosters through social media and email;
  • Reports that show ePoster viewer site traffic and other web analytics;
  • Onsite support for installation, implementation, and maintenance;
  • GDPR compliance for storage of all personal data related to authors and viewers;
  • ESSENTIAL―Ability to embargo sensitive ePosters to agreed-upon release times.
  • The ePoster was a significant component of conference content and the leading poster format at larger meetings.
  • However, Print Posters are far from extinction—still a significant part of large meetings and the dominant poster format for smaller ones. Compared to digital, print has advantages that will not be quickly supplanted.
  • Hybrid solutions—where both ePosters and Print Posters are displayed—are increasingly popular. These let larger meetings have it both ways, but also reveal that the competition is not a zero-sum gain.
  • All ePoster systems are not created equal. Due diligence is necessary to ensure that they take full advantage of online exposure without violating the rights of authors, association rules, or edicts of external authorities.

For more about CTI ePosters, click here.

CONCLUSIONS

From my research, I have found the following about the distribution of poster formats at European meetings in 2018:

The ePoster was a significant component of conference content and the leading poster format at larger meetings.

  • However, Print Posters are far from extinction—still a significant part of large meetings and the dominant poster format for smaller ones. Compared to digital, print has advantages that will not be quickly supplanted.
  • Hybrid solutions—where both ePosters and Print Posters are displayed—are increasingly popular. These let larger meetings have it both ways, but also reveal that the competition is not a zero-sum gain.
  • All ePoster systems are not created equal. Due diligence is necessary to ensure that they take full advantage of online exposure without violating the rights of authors, association rules, or edicts of external authorities.

Keith Foley has been involved in scientific publishing (Elsevier) and meetings business for his whole career. For much of this time, he was responsible for Marathon International in Europe, one of the first companies to offer digital ePosters with an emphasis on the medical market.