Yes, no, maybe.

There were a couple of good comments yesterday that bear discussion. My "partner in crime" Peter V in the UK asked if the reader were partly to blame for the demise of media in the world, and Loring Wirbel points out that part of the problem is bean counters and greed. 

We could blame readers for not being willing to pay for media, because the income from the audience has always been inconsequential. But that was, historically, the point of advertising-supported media: The common man could not afford to bear the cost of media.
Up to the late 1700s, print could only be afforded by the wealthy. 

In fact, even into the mid 1800s a personal library was considered a significant asset that could be borrowed against. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson bought themselves out of debt by selling off portions or all of the libraries. Advertising made it possible for common man to afford newspapers.
Fast forward to today. There are lots of magazines that are delivered for free to "qualified" readers. I get about 50 a month and read just about all of them. If they were to start charging me for the honor, I would be down to 5 pretty quickly because I could not afford more. And they probably would not be B2B pubs either. Without large circulation you can't sell the advertising. 

Without qualified circulation you can't sell advertising.
But the fact is, readers DO support the media because readership and viewership has never been higher. The audience WANTs the content, but lacks the resources to get it. The problem is advertisers WANT to reach the audience but doesn't want to PAY for it. It's a culture of entitlement we're dealing with: I want what I want and I want someone else to pay for what I want.
Could readers pony up? Yes. Would it be enough? Nope. Is there another way? Maybe. But that's another story. 

Meanwhile we have Loring pointing out that the VON collapse was a combination of hubris and greed. He points out that VON had 12 conferences worldwide and that was excessive. Yes, voice over network is a killer app, but there are only so many engineers in the world working on it and they can't all be jetting around the world to attend all of them. Either the conference venues had to be cut down or the sheer number of them should have been. A good marketer would have been able to point that out.
But Pulver Media was being run by bean counters who pushed the concept that if one conference was wildly successful then 12 would have been obscenely profitable. 

Jeff Pulver bought the encouragement and overreached the market.
But technical conferences can be profitable as long as you understand the audience and the limitations. That's why United Business Media continues to pursue them and why Reed isn't planning on selling off their exhibition business.
So can you make money putting on conferences? Yes if you understand marketing. Is the potential profit unlimited? No, all budgets are finite and under assault so do your homework. Is it the best way to reach a technical audience? Maybe, we're all just searching for answers right now.