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May 2024: Are model railroad magazines still viable?

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    May 2024: Are model railroad magazines still viable?

    Kalmbach Media Corp. announced this week it has sold its flagship magazine Model Railroader and other rail titles. Railroad Model Craftsman owner Carstens Publications declared bankruptcy in the early 2000s. Model Railroad Hobbyist is no longer free and can barely afford to pay authors on a timely basis. N Scale Railroading is no longer a going concern, and owner Kirk Reddie recently passed away.

    Meanwhile, overseas model railroad magazines appear to be quite stable, even thriving, and a rejuvenated RMC has risen phoenix-like to be as good a publication as it was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Niche hobby magazines such as N-Scale and Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette are hanging on.

    So, is there a future for magazines still in this hobby? What do you think?
    Southern Railway Slate Fork Branch: https://realisticmodelrailroading.ne...-fork-branch-n

    #2
    Viable, no. Desirable? Yes. Any physical media is historically giving way to "available" media (online) imho. I'm a "physical" person. Magazine, book, newspaper, dvd, cd, tape. I want to own whatever it is so I can easily go back to source material. With record album/ 8 track tape/ cassette/ cd progression in media tech, we've been taught/ grown used to repeatedly purchasing the same media over and over. (By design; for others to profit). The natural progression from there is 'net/ online" or the "you own nothing" philosophy. As our society ages, the physical drops away. The business model changes. It always will. So viable? Nope. Overseas? Different societal values prevail. The fact that (again imho) physical still exists HERE is due to perception of better quality content as you alluded to via R.M.C. resurection. Slippery slope though...

    michael
    Aspire to inspire before I expire

    Common sense, is so rare it should be a Marvel "superpower".

    Comment


      #3
      I think print media overall (not just hobby) is slowly moving away from "gather all ( or X number) and publish as a magazine/newspaper etc to a "publish when we get finished". It's instant and that's hard to do non digital.

      Are hobby magazines dying? They can't compete with the vast amount of information available freely. And there's no interaction between the reader and author. And all too often magazines are dependent on advertising to pay the bills and this will give glowing biased reviews.

      Yeah I don't see MRH lasting beyond Joe F's death.

      Follow along on Facebook as well.
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/424898032713171/

      Comment


        #4
        Wow, hadn't heard about MR getting sold. I did have some trouble logging into my digital account the other day. I always check the January issue for circulation. Back in 1990, it was over 250K. Last year it was 66K. I think it is only because print in general is dying, and not that much that MR itself is dying. I also think during the economic boom of the 90's-2009 that other specialty mags, like N scale, and even their own mags devoted to Lionel may have cannibalized their own MR circulation which was general interest without any specialty.

        In 1990, there was an article about what it took for magazines to thrive. This was the era of slick mags, with paid "content providers" that weren't that good. They cited my two favorite magazines - MR and Golf Digest - as successes, saying that they are run by hobbyists and knew what readers wanted.

        It also seemed to me that as N scale grew, these newer modelers went straight to forums like this one for their info, not only for instant news, but also user opinions of new products, hobby issues, etc., which is a general trend in social media and internet.......they tend to make everyone an expert, even when they clearly aren't.

        Comment


          #5
          Is there a future for print magazines? Doubtful. Is there a future for digital versions of these magazines? I believe so, but this may be age dependent. Younger generations are much more comfortable reading content on-line and on YT videos. I really do not like either venue, and will use them only if I can quickly find what I am looking for. Talking head videos, earn a quick exit. I have better things to do.

          At the present, I have a subscription to "Model Railroader". That subscription is worth it to me, as it also gives me access to the MR digital library, and the layout plan database. Most important, I can download a digital copy of each and every "Model Railroader" from the dawn of time. I didn't have to do that, though, as I was all over the MR and Trains CD-ROMs faster than you can say "recycle magazines". I only had to download the issues from 2009 on, which I finished doing a couple of months ago, and download the latest issue immediately after reading it.

          So, to me, a 65 YO "old fart", the price I pay for a monthly "Model Railroader" is worth it. And it will continue to be worth it to me as long as I can have a digital copy of what I bought.

          I view Model Railroad in it's current form (edited by Eric White, a model railroader) as functionally equivalent to RMC in it's current form.

          There, however, is where RMC comes up short for me. Effective January 2024, WRP switched over to in in-house digital platform. In it's current form (which I was told four months ago was going to be fixed) looks like they took apart a magazine and ran it through a digital scanner. I confirmed my suspicions by measuring out one of the freight car plans which spans the fold. It was shorter at the fold, not to mention the shadow that results when the subject is not totally flat ). So, for me, the digital product is not "fit for purpose" when I want it for the plans, and the plan will not be accurate when I import it into my CAD software (Fusion). In addition, they will not provide the utility to download a digital copy. They think that since you can download a copy of RMC to your digital device such as a notepad or phone that they are doing me a BIG favor. So, color me a lost customer as of June 2024. I have been a subscriber since WRP took over RMC. Complained twice to the HMFIC of the digital platform, and also to Otto Vondrak. Otto actually wrote back to me, but said it was not something that he had any control over. That is really too bad, as he is doing an excellent job with RMC.

          And then there is MRH / RE. I am a FORMER RE subscriber, and only download the current free MRH if there is something of interest. I will purchase a copy of RE only if there is something of value to me. Most often, there is not.

          Regards,
          Jerry

          Comment


            #6
            You see that dude on the corner, the one holding the big signs declaring "This Is The End For Print Magazines" and "Repent, Go Digital"? Yeah, that guy.

            He's been standing there a helluva long time.

            And every month, print magazines for model railroaders keep showing up in mailboxes and in hobby shops.

            Print has a quite a while to go before the end.
            Southern Railway Slate Fork Branch: https://realisticmodelrailroading.ne...-fork-branch-n

            Comment


              #7
              Interest, relevance and content. If it meets one of those criteria then I'll consider buying the Australian mag but not just because it's out on the newsagent stand.
              The print mag for model railways here in Australia is still going strong as is the prototype interest mags.
              And whenever I see a UK model mag -usually the Railway Modeler, but some others as well- it's huge, almost obsenely so.
              Yet this is despite internet activity and plentiful information readily available.

              The AMRM (Australian Model Railway Magazine) is a part of a large and healthy railway interest publisher and the Railway Modeler magazine's a part of the Peco company so both will be around for a long time yet.

              Comment


                #8
                Originally posted by Russ C View Post
                And whenever I see a UK model mag -usually the Railway Modeler, but some others as well- it's huge, almost obsenely so. Yet this is despite internet activity and plentiful information readily available.

                The AMRM (Australian Model Railway Magazine) is a part of a large and healthy railway interest publisher and the Railway Modeler magazine's a part of the Peco company so both will be around for a long time yet.
                The high page count in the titles you mention, Russ, is comparable to what MR's once was 30 and 40 years ago. The "Why" behind that has always intrigued me. And "Why" are so many other rail titles (prototype, heritage, and modeling) thriving in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, and in Europe? On a per capita basis, it seems almost inverse of what's happening in North America.

                Parts of the answer, I believe, are:

                1) The abundance of model railway exhibitions in those countries on any given weekend. These shows expose the public, and especially children, to the hobby. In turn, they get active in the hobby sooner and the magazines are part of the experience and culture.

                2) These magazines feature smaller, attainable layouts, rather than the basement-size types favored by MR and RMC. The complaints of "I don't have the space" or "It's too expensive" are far easier to refute when one builds a small sectional 4mm scale exhibition layout of 2x8 feet, for example.

                3) Aussies, Kiwis and Brits are far more focused on the "modeling" aspects of the hobby --even a casual glance at some of the superb, small exhibition layouts reveals this. Operations a la OPSig? Well, not so much.

                Maybe there's a lesson there.
                Southern Railway Slate Fork Branch: https://realisticmodelrailroading.ne...-fork-branch-n

                Comment


                • Russ C
                  Russ C commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I think you're pretty close to the mark there Paul. Space is the big thing, we don't have basements to use so, out of necessity, smaller is an imperative. Many use garage space but not everyone can do that, I can't and really, don't want to go big. I'm finding my developing ops setup is going to be more to my liking (even though a 12 sided dice is an important part).

                  There's a young guy -Will James- who does a monthly news and exehibition calander that's worth a look to get an idea on things 'down under'.
                  Posted some links for you (the last 2 are particularly interesting)...
                  https://www.youtube.com/@WillJamesRailways
                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwPHXiqXuAE
                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIS1LlVmAog

                #9
                Originally posted by Paul S. View Post
                2) These magazines feature smaller, attainable layouts, rather than the basement-size types favored by MR and RMC. The complaints of "I don't have the space" or "It's too expensive" are far easier to refute when one builds a small sectional 4mm scale exhibition layout of 2x8 feet, for example.

                3) Aussies, Kiwis and Brits are far more focused on the "modeling" aspects of the hobby --even a casual glance at some of the superb, small exhibition layouts reveals this. Operations a la OPSig? Well, not so much.
                Well, a couple comments. Large layouts do exist in the UK and draw a great deal of attention when they are covered. Search for "Pete Waterman Railway" and see what comes up. Unfortunately, the MR/RMC etc emphasis on big layouts makes it hard for US editors to ferret out the good small layouts because their owners have been brainwashed into thinking they are not of general interest. The prevailing exhibition mode in the UK and Europe does give small-layout-builders more prominence.

                Modeling is indeed a big aspect of the hobby throughout Europe and Aus/NZ, but there are examples of operating layouts going back to the 1930s. Look up "West Midland." That railroad may not have made it onto the web but it was running scheduled passenger operations long ago.

                Comment


                  #10
                  Originally posted by Josef2618 View Post

                  Well, a couple comments. Large layouts do exist in the UK and draw a great deal of attention when they are covered. Search for "Pete Waterman Railway" and see what comes up. Unfortunately, the MR/RMC etc emphasis on big layouts makes it hard for US editors to ferret out the good small layouts because their owners have been brainwashed into thinking they are not of general interest. The prevailing exhibition mode in the UK and Europe does give small-layout-builders more prominence.
                  Yes, large layouts do exist in the UK, but per capita are not the norm. My point being that these large layouts, while attention-getters, as you pointed out, are not staple features month by month in the UK magazines, unlike their US counterparts.

                  Originally posted by Josef2618 View Post
                  Modeling is indeed a big aspect of the hobby throughout Europe and Aus/NZ, but there are examples of operating layouts going back to the 1930s. Look up "West Midland." That railroad may not have made it onto the web but it was running scheduled passenger operations long ago.
                  Edward Beal's West Midland, as well as Peter Denny's Buckingham Branch and a few other well known UK legacy layouts emphasized operations, true enough. And Buckingham Branch was not a large layout; I once had the trackplan in an issue of the now defunct Model Railway News magazine published in the 1950s.

                  But as I stated, UK outline layouts designed for intense operations represent an even smaller slice of their model railroad culture compared to those in North America.
                  Last edited by Paul S.; 2 weeks ago.
                  Southern Railway Slate Fork Branch: https://realisticmodelrailroading.ne...-fork-branch-n

                  Comment


                    #11
                    3) Aussies, Kiwis and Brits are far more focused on the "modeling" aspects of the hobby --even a casual glance at some of the superb, small exhibition layouts reveals this. Operations a la OPSig? Well, not so much.
                    Sorry, but I am not buying that the lack of viable model magazines is due to lack of exhibitions, RMC / MR have large layout bias etc. There is another driver here, COST OF LIVING.

                    Country Annual Income Gross annual wage
                    United States 76,770 $ 77,464 $
                    Australia 60,840 $ 64,326 $
                    Canada 52,960 $ 60,954 $
                    United Kingdom 49,240 $ 50,209 $
                    New Zealand 49,090 $ 51,073 $
                    ​​
                    https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php

                    Like it or not, disposable income is THE driver for how people determine what to do in their hobby. And lest we forget, disposable income is AFTER TAXES.

                    Regards,
                    Jerry

                    Comment


                      #12
                      Originally posted by JerryZ View Post

                      Sorry, but I am not buying that the lack of viable model magazines is due to lack of exhibitions, RMC / MR have large layout bias etc. There is another driver here, COST OF LIVING.

                      Country Annual Income Gross annual wage
                      United States 76,770 $ 77,464 $
                      Australia 60,840 $ 64,326 $
                      Canada 52,960 $ 60,954 $
                      United Kingdom 49,240 $ 50,209 $
                      New Zealand 49,090 $ 51,073 $
                      ​​
                      https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php

                      Like it or not, disposable income is THE driver for how people determine what to do in their hobby. And lest we forget, disposable income is AFTER TAXES.

                      Regards,
                      Jerry
                      Help me understand how you are translating this table to support your conclusion, Jerry. How much different is the cost of living here than say in the UK, Australia or New Zealand?

                      Again, their model railroad magazines seem to be thriving.
                      Southern Railway Slate Fork Branch: https://realisticmodelrailroading.ne...-fork-branch-n

                      Comment


                        #13
                        Probably age related, but I still really enjoy print publications. If I can get either MR or RMC for around $30 per year, I will subscribe. I currently have a subscription to MR. It’s hit and miss on how much enjoyment I get out of it month-to-month. I would like to get RMC again, but haven’t found any deals on it. I especially like the "Craftsman Workshop" section by George Dutka. He does a lot of fantastic articles on various materials, products and kits and the use of and building with using them.
                        Last edited by LorenC; 2 weeks ago.
                        Loren Clarke - Fort Worth, Texas
                        Modeling the Pittsburg & Shawmut railroad.
                        https://www.flickr.com/photos/pittsb...wmut_railroad/
                        "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above". James 1:17

                        Comment


                          #14
                          Originally posted by JerryZ View Post

                          Sorry, but I am not buying that the lack of viable model magazines is due to lack of exhibitions, RMC / MR have large layout bias etc. There is another driver here, COST OF LIVING.

                          Country Annual Income Gross annual wage
                          United States 76,770 $ 77,464 $
                          Australia 60,840 $ 64,326 $
                          Canada 52,960 $ 60,954 $
                          United Kingdom 49,240 $ 50,209 $
                          New Zealand 49,090 $ 51,073 $
                          ​​
                          https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php

                          Like it or not, disposable income is THE driver for how people determine what to do in their hobby. And lest we forget, disposable income is AFTER TAXES.

                          Regards,
                          Jerry
                          Certainly the cost of living impacts hugely on actual model purchases, which is mainly why I've turned to 3D printed models. They are a sort of 'semi kit' but, here at least, are a viable and cost effective alternative to equivilant mainstream models, I know I've struggled to buy items I want or need due to a fixed income but this has been both a handicap and a blessing..
                          But print magazines are cheaper, provide reading entertainment and in some instances, are a reference resource when you can't buy that obscenely expensine loco,
                          Speaking solely about Australia, cost of living is up (way up), new engines and rolling stock continue to hit the market -$700 to $850 at one end (and reruns of previous popular models too) and $399 cheapie steam has a feeding frenzy of sales.
                          Lastly 3D printed cars are drawing huge sales. A fellow club member started doing printed 4 wheel wagons and can't keep pace with demand. He bought a second printer then released his first passenger car. The car got an immediate order of 16 cars from 1 person (dunno when I'll ever get my pair) and has to keep both running continiously for the next 2 weeks to fill current orders.​

                          Comment


                          #15
                          Originally posted by Paul S. View Post

                          Help me understand how you are translating this table to support your conclusion, Jerry. How much different is the cost of living here than say in the UK, Australia or New Zealand?

                          Again, their model railroad magazines seem to be thriving.
                          Quite simple. A lot of disposable income yields:
                          • More money available to purchase higher end (Tangent, Rapido, Intermountain) rolling stock that falls out of the box onto the track as opposed to assembling Proto2000 (and follow-up Walthers P2K) kits. On motive power, no need to spend time detailing, painting, and decoder installation when most common locomotives have been done in a myriad of paint schemes, with high levels of detail, and can be had with sound decoders installed.
                          • More money to purchase a large basement with a house planted on top of it.
                          • Spend lots of money on the large amout of structure kits that go together easily and can be kit bashed with a minimum of skill.
                          Huge amounts of RTR equipment makes it a lot easier to do a larger layout, to a much higher level of detail and fidelity than 25 years ago.

                          All of the countries in the list I posted are also higher tax locations (although there are US states that are giving the UK and former Commonwealth countries a "run for our money") further reduces available income. Houses in AU and NZ are a lot smaller than here in the US, so if you want more than a bedroom size model railroad in your home, you need to pop for an outbuilding. I saw two large US based model railroads on various AU business trips, one north of Brisbane (close to Bundaburg IIRC), and one in Perth in very large outbuildings. The Perty layout was in a suburban location, and between the house and outbuilding, there wasn't much green space. Notice I said US-based. While probably more common now than when I was over there quite a bit in the early 2000s, a lot of AU modelers did US based roads for two reasons, cost, and available AU prototypes (available AU models have increased greatly in the last 20 years). And regardless of who I talked to, they ALL complained about how expensive RTR equipment was in AU.

                          Another case in point. Russ stated that there is a huge market for "cheapie" steam kits. Contrast that to the USA. Bowser gave up on "cheapie" kits. They simply did not sell once BLI, Bachmann, and Walthers started selling "drop out of the box" steam.

                          Things are changing rapidly here in the USA, largely due to the decline in the standard of living of the middle class in the USA.

                          Russ also brought up 3D printing. This is becoming more and more common. There is a LOT of information out there on what people are doing on their own. Unfortunately, the medium that gets most of this content seems to be Facebook. It has been largely ignored by all of the "big three" magazines, since it is still in it's infancy. I know why I now do 3D printing. I get what I want for the cost of resin, and a huge investment in design time. I'm retired, so like most retirees, I now have now transitioned to having more time than money than more money than time. So, I'm looking for more "frugal" ways to get what I want.

                          What I have written is pretty much the case for the HO market. I won't speak for the N scale market, as I don't know enough about it. But modeling magazines, such as "O Scale Resource / S Scale Resource" produced by Dan Dawdy, and O Scale Trains by WRP, all cater to smaller railroads (the stuff is a lot bigger), and a high degree of scratch building. It is a necessity for those markets, as the variety of equipment is far smaller, and because of the smaller market, much more expensive. I know a lot of people in both 2 rail O scale and 3R O scale / gauge. Even the 3 rail O scale guys are doing things like custom building passenger cars. I marvel at their skills. One of my 3R friends does work comparable to what Lester Fisher used to turn out back in the day, except he builds his cars 70 feet long, and hangs a lobster claw on the end.

                          Guys that pursue the logging and narrow gauge modeling also have a magazine that caters to that niche with a high level of scratch building and customization, even in HO scale.

                          One of my other 3R friends also used to be an HO modeler. Once the high quality 3R steam came out from the likes of Lionel and MTH that "fell out of the box" onto the rails ready to go choo-choo, he transitioned to buying RTR stuff that he ran on a pretty darn nice 3R layout. This was a guy that build a LOT of older wood kits (Ambroid, Quality Craft, Silver Streak, etc), and took apart and painted his own brass steam. He was able to make that transition due to a sufficient amount of disposable income.

                          So, in summary, high disposable income drives sales of higher detailed (and high quality most of the time) motive power and equipment, adequate variety of buildings, and more affordable track. Availability of these components drives the desire for larger layouts, and makes it achievable to attain an adequate level of completion to satisfy most modelers. Lower level of disposable incomes cause modelers to work harder to achieve their goals, which causes a reduction in the size of their railroads due to a lack of time to complete a large railroad, and not enough money to secure the materials to complete a large railroad. And that drives the market for what all three of the "major" magazines produce. As noted above, "niche" magazines exist in the USA where the market needs allow for their success.

                          Regards,
                          Jerry

                          Comment


                          • Paul S.
                            Paul S. commented
                            Editing a comment
                            But, Jerry, while that's a lot of thoughtful points, how does it boil down to why model railroad magazines are apparently on better footing in the UK, NZ and AUS, especially given their smaller populations. I guess I'm missing the point your making.
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