If it ever does happen, this is how I'd picture it:
One giant room, similar to ComiCon, with a stage and microphones.
Authors sit at tables, which are set up everywhere. For table space at the 3 day conference, authors pay $25 a day.
Attendees get in for free.
Authors bring their own paper books to sell. They can accept cash, or credit cards via PayPal Here.
Authors can bring cardboards stands, giveaways, whatever they'd like to make people come to their tables. I suggest having QR codes on promo material, so attendees can instantly buy ebooks.
Conference fees pay for the room space, advertising, and maps that show where the authors are on a numbered seating chart (also name plates and name tags for authors) and the schedule for the author talks.
Use Autography as the ebook vendor. Each author can autograph and personalize ebooks for anyone who stops by their table and buys one, and the ebook will be sent directly to the buyer's email address. Autography will collect payment then pay writers 70% of the ebook price after the conference.
Any author who wants to appear on the main stage in book room to talk for 15 minutes can, for an additional $50. Authors who want to appear on panels can book a block of time together (for example, 3 authors on stage at the same time would get 45 minutes and it would cost a total of $150).
In addition to the main room, there will be additional side rooms available as needed. If an author (or group of authors) want to appear in a side room to speak, it is $25 for 15 minutes per author.
Author speaking fees include a "we'll be back by" sign for when they are speaking or taking a break.
Joe sez: There are a lot of benefits to a conference as I've described it.
All authors are welcome. You are guaranteed signing time and speaking time as long as you sign up for it.
Fans get in for free, which will allow them to spend more money on books.
All authors can sign for as long as they want to.
All authors can speak for as long as they want to, on whatever topic they choose.
Even if an author has a table every day, and talks every day, the max they'll spend is $175. This is cheaper than most conferences, with a lot more visibility.
These fees pay for the hotel space, advertising, and paper programs for the con (these programs will also be available online, since many people will have tablets). If there is extra money left over, food for the green room.
With no booksellers, authors make 100% of the price they sell their paper books for, and 70% of the signed ebooks they sell through Autography. Authors can also sell whatever they want on their tables, like Cafe Press swag.
Free attendance would encourage walk-ins.
I can envision some sort of self-pub awards going on after hours. Sort of like an Indie Oscars. With a bar, of course.
Legacy authors would be welcome, but would probably need permission from their publishers to sell their legacy titles. I know Autography has deals in place with many big publishers already.
It seems to be doable. And if it got enough buzz and attracted some big authors, I could see it being successful. Money would need to be spent on advertising, and every author who attended would really need to get the message out to their fans.
Also, I want to be clear that I am NOT organizing, running, or will in any way be involved in an event like this. I'm simply musing about what such an event would entail, and maybe someone will run with the idea.
Am I missing anything? What would make you want to attend, both as a writer and as a reader?