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Modeling Popularity: Up or Down?

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  • Member since
    April 2015
Modeling Popularity: Up or Down?
Posted by Mark Lookabaugh on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 2:39 PM

I'm curious what the popularity of the modeling hobby is now vs the past.  Anecdotal evidence is fine but I'd be more interested in hard numbers. 

For example circulation of FSM over the years, or production run sizes of popular kits today vs in the past.

I don't run across many people with this hobby... and that got me wondering. :)

 

 

  • Member since
    July 2011
  • From: Armpit of NY
Posted by MJames70 on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 2:53 PM

Unfortunately separated from my magazines or dvds, but without being able to look it up, FSMs circulation today runs around 30/40K. That's less than half of its heyday 20+ years ago. At the same time, the magazine industry in general has collapsed, and hobby magazines are all but extinct in the US except for Kalmbach. Most of the magazines are European these days. So, I would not take the diminished circulation numbers as solely an indicator of hobby decline. 

There is no denying that the hobby has departed the mainstream and gone thoroughly niche, though. Models have disappeared from general merchandise stores, and specialist hobby shops are vanishing rapidly, too. At the same time, there are more manufacturers than ever, offering things you thought you would never see as a kit. Better manufacturing techniques, like computer aided design, and such, have made it more possible for companies to do injection molded plastic. With these economies of scale, it's possible for a company to make money on a run of a few thousand kits, instead of the tens of thousands Revell/Monogram, etc. used to crank out. Even though there are far fewer modelers around today. 

So for now, it is kind of a new golden age. How long it will be viable without new hobbyists entering to replace those that have aged out or passed away is another question. Anecdotally, all my local hobby stores have closed. They relied heavily on trains, and the train enthusiasts aging and market saturation of train products had killed the railroad hobby locally even before the stores started closing. 

  • Member since
    November 2003
  • From: Naples, FL
Posted by tempestjohnny on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 3:03 PM
FSM also has a digital edition of the magazine. Modeling may not be what it was. But it's still here. There are a few young modelers. Mostly they are into Gundam. I think the majority are middle aged who built when they were young and now have restarted again as their family has grown up. I'm one of the few who never really quit. I did have a year here and there where life got in the way but I always came back.

 

  • Member since
    July 2004
  • From: Sonora Desert
Posted by stikpusher on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 4:52 PM

It definitely looks to be changing. Until the mid 90’s or so, kits could be found at most any department store, drug store, or any other store that had a toy aisle or section. Nowadays, you would be hard pressed to find model kits at any store that is not exclusively hobby oriented. And entry level kits, simple to build and inexpensive, the kind that get new blood into the hobby, have dropped in availability.

I’m a member of a couple local model clubs, and with few exceptions, the members there are mostly age 40 and up. With the greater proportion being well over 50, and very few members under 40. At local shops, that demographic matches as well. With one major exception- the anime genre modelers are certainly a younger group. So if there is any new blood coming into the hobby, it’s mostly there.

The US based model manufacturing industry has pretty much collapsed, aside from a couple of companies that mostly just re issue old kits from the companies that were the industry titans in the past. A few companies in Western Europe survive, more recent companies from Eastern Europe have appeared, but the manufacturing industry is truly dominated by Asian companies. The same goes for supplies. There is pretty much one mainstream US based paint company. And their product line is contracting and shifting away from this hobby. Again, overseas companies are dominating that portion of the market. 

But they must be making some good money somewhere. Because new companies keep appearing, certain established companies look to be going strong, and new kits keep on being developed and released by all of them. I just wish that there was not so many multiple rehashes of certain subjects, and that they would fill in the gaps of subjects that also existed, may or may not have been kitted decades ago, but could use a new tool release. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

 

 

F is for FIRE, That burns down the whole town!

U is for URANIUM... BOMBS!

N is for NO SURVIVORS...

       - Plankton

LSM

 

  • Member since
    June 2003
Posted by Jammer on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 8:55 PM

Mark,

For what it's worth

The hobby is evolving.  It's not going away any time soon.  When I was younger in the mid -70s, model kits were indeed much cheaper.  Both in terms of cost and quality. I could buy an MPC plan kit a week at the local Ben Franklin for $1.99 using paper route money.  The planes were toys.  My friends and used them as part of our air forces refighting WW II in our back yards.  Scale was not important.  1/48 and 1/72 fighters attacked and defended 1/144 B-29s and 1/72 B-17s.  We regularly fought battles between the Tirpitz and Bismarck vs the Missouri, Arizona, Enterprise, Intrepid, and other ships.  Scale was not important, they were toys.  The "hobby" was geared toward kids, though, like Legos today, they had a lot of appeal to adults. I remember back then the Air Force Museum had cases of probably 1/72 planes to represent the aircraft that were extinct or they hadn't obtained a copy of one yet.  I really wanted to know how to get a job building models for them.

Fast forward to now, and the hobby has moved forward.  Most models are easy to make into museum quality models.  The hobby has become an art form.  Read the forums.  The talk is all about technique.  Painting technique.  Construction technique.  Aftermarket use.  Scratch-building technique.  Art.  The kits are much more detailed and complex.  And more expensive.  I just saw a 1/200 RMS Titanic for ~$500.  Most newer kits are well over $50 US at a minimum.  But there is still a market for the inexpensive kits. Car kits from Revell are still less than $30 and will build into a pretty decent model.  The guys over at Scale Auto regularly turn out great artistic work with these kits.  Everyone who has looked at my model shelves is awestruck with what I've done.  And I think I'm a run of the mill modeler who mainly builds OOB.  I just aspire to be able to build museum quality models  Whether I get there or not is irrelevent.  I build because I enjoy it.

In a lot of ways, model building reminds me of the cooking show Chopped.  The idea is not to just cook with the ingredients, but to transform them into something better than the individual components.  And like cooking, model building allows the builder to work at his comfort level; you can work at whatever level you want. You can be a basic cook and build you kits out of the box.  Or you can up your game and try to transform the kit into something better.  I tend to fall in the middle here.

The hobby isn't for kids anymore.  I think it is now specifically geared to better-off males, and probably geared more toward those who are attention to detail oriented, what with all the detail that is added and detail that can be added.  It probably explains why there is a strong military contingent here.  We (with a military background) have been talked to repeatedly about "attention to detail."  Those modelers without the military background would probably have done well in the military, they just might not realize it.  

I think the biggest change in the hobby is the entry point.  It's no longer the pre-teen boy with a paper route.  It's a middle-aged guy with a propensity for attention to detail and some disposable income.  Like most of the arts (think painting, sculpture, and literature) it is and will remain a niche hobby.  But I think it will remain vibrant for many years to come as today’s youth age, settle down, take care of their ADD, and look for something to turn their creative talents toward.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 10:37 PM

I've never been happier in this hobby than I am now.

I know quite few wood kit ship modelers that are giving me their stash and tools as they go to the beach, because they trust it will be passed down.

Hand made tools, old plans, collected thread.

I am online with the likes of all of you who pass along tips, recommendations and history.

I don't do much to pass it on.

Personally, I find what's available simlpy astounding. A 1/400 island for HMS Illustrious in resin, with the correct airfoil shape, as an AM to the Heller Kit- Stick out tongue

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Fort Knox
Posted by Rob Gronovius on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:52 AM

It's definitely become a niche hobby. When I was a kid (soon to be 56), just about every neighborhood boy built models. Maybe only one or two that were gifts, some had comprehensive collections, hand painted or unpainted colored plastic, very few models I saw would have been considered show quality. Every boy was proud of their work.

It was very popular in the 1980s when we were getting high quality kits in a constant scale from Tamiya, Testors/Italeri, Revell and Monogram. Into the 1990s, model kits were everywhere from Kmart, Walmart, Toys R Us, hobby shops. Mail order and then internet ordering made even hard to find kits available.

Once the internet became the "go to" place for information, we started getting "modeling snobs". Tsk, tsk, you built that kit and didn't fix this well known inaccuracy? You painted it the wrong color, markings, scheme, etc. You didn't use the better Model Kasten tracks, should have spent the extra money on the Aber photo etch because the Eduard set is garbage, etc.

It was like, anyone who wanted to build a model and share it online better build it to show quality or you'll be critiqued. It seemed like the days of the casual modeler were over.

Instead of reasonably priced models that were readily available, a lot of kits became high end multimedia affairs that took skills beyond what your average person had to even complete. Every build seems like it requires a master's degree in historical research just to build it. You know, in case there's a well known error in this $75 model kit.

It's still popular, it's just aged with the 10 year olds who built models in the 1960s.

  • Member since
    April 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by keavdog on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 1:29 AM

Lots of good comments here.  As an aside I imagine model manufacturers have some computation that involves the stash.  Imagine the collective value of all of our closets full of models.  "Well the population is X, we made 10X kits because we know the model geeks will buy 4 o or 5 and shelve them.  The rest will go to enterprising collectors who will sell them at 3 times the price 5 years from now"

There is an age gap that is clearly being addressed by manufacturers.   In my local hobby shop roughly 1/4 of the kits are gundam / scifi (I'm not qualified to categorize, just not tanks, planes, cars and ships)  

Hobby seems to be alive and well.  Bottom line still super fun and today's catalogue is incredible. 

Thanks,

John

Ain't no reason to hang my head, I could wake up in the mornin' dead 

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • From: Honolulu, Hawaii
Posted by Real G on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 2:33 AM

Yes fun.  That is the ingredient that I seek nowadays.  Those 1,000+ part kits used to excite me, but my eyes and brain get tired just looking at the instructions now.  It’s an age thing no doubt - I find myself longing for those fun, simple, carefree builds of yesterday.

That is one thing that has changed over the years.  Most kits were simple back in the 60s and 70s, and were cheap and thus accessible.  Nevermind inflation, kits are more expensive now.  And the complexity can be daunting - I have given kits to beginners not thinking about it, and ended up causing frustration and disappointment.  Note to self: Do not hand out indie link 1/35 armor kits to someone who never built a tank!  This is where the older kits of decent quality are most useful.

And that brings me to the mentoring thing.  We older modelers must do our part to engage the younger generation, to help them get started and to answer questions along the way.  It is also a great exercise in self improvement, learning to know what not to say and keeping personal biases in check.  Let them choose what they want to build.  Let them set their own goals.  Emphasize fun.  I speak from experience here!

It gives me great satisfaction to introduce someone to modeling, watching them catch fire and take off on their own.  That, I believe, is the way to keep the popularity of modeling on the uptick.

“Ya ya ya, unicorn papoi!”

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Fort Knox
Posted by Rob Gronovius on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:00 PM

Real G

Yes fun.  That is the ingredient that I seek nowadays.  Those 1,000+ part kits used to excite me, but my eyes and brain get tired just looking at the instructions now.  It’s an age thing no doubt - I find myself longing for those fun, simple, carefree builds of yesterday.

Yes, I originally marvelled at the high tech kits with hundreds of parts. But more recently, I enjoy the simpler 1/48 scale Tamiya armor kits that are well engineered and quite a pleasure to build. Same with the Bandai Star Wars kits. They are so well engineered that it virtually takes no skill to build beyond being able to carefully trim parts from the sprue. Such a leap forward from the old MPC Star Wars kits on the 1970s and 80s.

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • From: Honolulu, Hawaii
Posted by Real G on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:14 PM

Rob,

One thing I noticed though is that revisiting old kits for a second go-around is not always what I thought it was going to be!  I built the Tamiya 8-ton halftrack w/ flakvierling when I was 14, and I seem to remember it was a breeze.  I am currently fighting with the same kit, dealing with heavy mold lines, ejector pin marks, and poor fit in certain areas.  The first two issues were probably overlooked in my younger years, but the fit issues have me stymied.

I have a couple more older Tamiya kits in the stash that await nostalgia builds (Chieftain, Type 74, PAK 40) - I hope they don't bite back as hard!

“Ya ya ya, unicorn papoi!”

  • Member since
    September 2006
  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:16 PM

Be careful using FSM circulation, or of any magazine, as an indicator of the popularity of the hobby.  For one thing, as others have noted, hardcopy has declined as digital technology has become more prevalent.  For another, even before the digital era, not everyone involved in a hobby subscribed to the available magazines.  When I was a kid, in the 70s, I build models, but I never even heard of the magazines that were available then.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

  • Member since
    July 2014
  • From: Boise ID area
Posted by modelcrazy on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:47 PM

the Baron
When I was a kid, in the 70s, I build models, but I never even heard of the magazines that were available then.

Neither did I. All I had was a father that got me intrested, later a mother that encouraged me and a hobby shop owner (Mr King of King's hobby for y'all Texacans who know him) who would help me out and was paitent enough to endure my juvenile questions. I agree that the hobby has just changed, especially here in the US. There are kids with the same amount of intrest that we had, they just have diffrent outlets like Lego's and Technic now. It seems the hobby is booming in Japan and Aisa.

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • From: Honolulu, Hawaii
Posted by Real G on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 1:15 PM

For me, the mags served two purposes: 1) To show me what my models SHOULD look like, and 2) To let me know what new kits were available so I could start saving my pennies.

OK and 3) To stare in amazement at the prices for those Waldron punch sets!  Man, punch sets are expensive by today’s standards, but it amazes me that they cost pretty much the same in the 1970s.

“Ya ya ya, unicorn papoi!”

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Fort Knox
Posted by Rob Gronovius on Thursday, February 13, 2020 12:40 AM

Real G

Rob,

One thing I noticed though is that revisiting old kits for a second go-around is not always what I thought it was going to be!  I built the Tamiya 8-ton halftrack w/ flakvierling when I was 14, and I seem to remember it was a breeze.  I am currently fighting with the same kit, dealing with heavy mold lines, ejector pin marks, and poor fit in certain areas.  The first two issues were probably overlooked in my younger years, but the fit issues have me stymied.

I have a couple more older Tamiya kits in the stash that await nostalgia builds (Chieftain, Type 74, PAK 40) - I hope they don't bite back as hard!

 

OMG, you are very correct; I was amazed at how "difficult" many of the old school kits I built as a kid were to "build correctly" to today's standards.

  • Member since
    September 2006
  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Thursday, February 13, 2020 11:34 AM

modelcrazy

 It seems the hobby is booming in Japan and Aisa. 

I agree.  And most of us in the West have little visibility into the hobby in the East.  I didn't realize how many people enjoy the hobby there, in one form or another, till I got interested in anime kits (Motoko!) and Maschinen Krieger.  I started to see the websites, the content on YouTube, the Facebook groups, and I saw how many modelers there are.  I think they have a similar ignorance of us, too, generally, and similarly experience contacts now via the Internet.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • From: Honolulu, Hawaii
Posted by Real G on Thursday, February 13, 2020 4:43 PM

Baron,

I have asked around and Japanese modelers have told me that they are experiencing a downturn trend as well.  Real world scale models used to dominate the shelves up to the 1990s, and that is what most people built.  But the anime kits that have exploded in pouplarity are overtaking the market.  As the scale-only guys age and pass on, they are replaced by the younger generation who build Gundam.  One only needs to compare the "real world" new tool releases from Hasegawa and Tamiya from 30 years ago to today, and it is obvious that fewer kits come out now.  Of course they kick butt, but there are mostly just reboxes these days.

Gundam actually experienced a market slump a few years ago, but thanks to some new shows that took a more direct line towards consumers, it has picked up again.  Personally I hate the shows, but they seem to work, and have attracted new blood into the franchise.  It's kind of like the same phenomena that World of Tanks did - it got a lot of people who were uninteresed in tanks suddenly wanting to build models of them.  So yeah, it's a good thing.  At least for now they help keep the momentum going forward.

One day the party may actually end.  But today the model buffet is tastier than ever, new stuff keeps coming out of the kitchen, and the dance beat keeps playing.

“Ya ya ya, unicorn papoi!”

  • Member since
    October 2019
  • From: New Braunfels, Texas
Posted by Tanker-Builder on Friday, February 14, 2020 11:41 AM

Hi Mark;

       I wouldn't say it's not popular. It's just that the ones who buy have changed. Plus when's the last time you got a model car or plane for less than $ 20.00 bucks?

      The kids that have that kind of money spend it on Games or other stuff. I used to do a class at the North Little Rock Community Center. Older adults, even then, liked building Model Cars.

       The class expenses were pretty much under thirty bucks. A new Monogram Car kit ( Or plane) and Knife, Glue and a Basic paint set.( I taught them paint color mixing). The same stuff today would be over forty bucks. That's hurt the hobby. The point is The Hobby is one of the few so heavily dependent on the price of a Barrel ( 42 U.S.gallons) of oil.

       Plastic is a petroleum based product and the price has gone up over the years. This drives the costs up. Folks that would buy model kits on a weekly basis now have to make it last longer in the build to get( as they see it ) their entertainment Dollar value back out of it.

      Then there is another factor and you have heard about it from other replies. ( This is correct or terribly off) I didn't know when I started the hobby back in the wood and plastic day that we would have ( Rivet Counters ) so deeply entrenched in the hobby. I used to love showing off my work.

    If I got Honorable mention that was nice. Nowadays, you put a model on the table built OOB you will be terribly disappointed as the interest seems to be centered on the But! look at all the aftermarket stuff, he or she put on it!

   This means the average, slightly out of scale, to many panel lines or not enough rivets is gonna disappoint many. Personally, one of the most fun models I have built over the years is the Monogram P-51 and I don't really like planes that much! The next is I think Hasegawa's or Tamiya's ME-262 Clear edition. The clear Plane took me over six months to build. Why? all the detail I added that could be seen and the P-51 because it was just a pleasure to build.

      By the way all the detail in the ME-262 came from my scrap box. Nothing aftermarket. I had an Air Force friend show me the differences in Ejection seats and most of my planes benefit from that knowledge. Aftermarket, Why?

    Ships , well I don't know about to many ways to re-create 1/350 rails and ladders without going to P.E. There is a method from way back, no one uses now. The ships in the Travel Agency window had rails done with strips of clear plastic with the railing printed on them

     I divised a way to do this in scale with artists pens ( Ink) and a T-Square. Worked great til my first I.P.M.S.Show and boy, did I get shot down hard. So there's that. I developed a way to clean up the Inca Pyramid type stairs and add rails to them That worked. For Ladders and hatches I shaved the items off railroad kits close in size and that worked, til Tom's Modelworks, Eduard and Gold Medal models came on the market.

       Has modeling slumped? Most definitely! as a regular purchase for the regular family on a tight budget. Son to Dad-" But dad it was $24.00dollars, I couldn't get it" Dad - We'll see. Dad goes to store and sees the model in question. " Well,It didn't cost that much when I bought one in High School "

       Times and costs change. It drives the whole market and we have really become, like LEGO, a Niche market! I don't believe it will die out though. I have friends now cranking them out on their 3-D printers!

    

  • Member since
    February 2006
  • From: Boston
Posted by Wilbur Wright on Friday, February 14, 2020 8:44 PM

Kids are no longer coming into the hobby. Full stop.  It's another era now where 3 year olds have iPads.  The economics also dictate that firms sell their porducts at a level that only working adults can afford.   I would bet that the average decent armor model including all finishing supplies costs over $100.  Ships and planes probably more.

That said the die hards like many of us here continue to buy expensive kits.  The kits are better than ever, however again, their complexity is not something a kid could tackle.

It really is a great time to be in this hobby, and I would say that adults who have the money will keep it going.  When I was about 7 (1967), my Dad bought the big Cutty Sark model by Revell and we built it together.  That was model #1

  • Member since
    February 2011
  • From: AZ,USA
Posted by GreySnake on Saturday, February 15, 2020 8:16 AM

Real G

 

One thing I noticed though is that revisiting old kits for a second go-around is not always what I thought it was going to be!  I built the Tamiya 8-ton halftrack w/ flakvierling when I was 14, and I seem to remember it was a breeze.  I am currently fighting with the same kit, dealing with heavy mold lines, ejector pin marks, and poor fit in certain areas.  The first two issues were probably overlooked in my younger years, but the fit issues have me stymied.

 

 

Had those problems with the 8 ton with the 3.7cm flak recently as well as the M/13/40, Challenger, Merkava and T-34 from Tamiya. I’m sure it’s a combination of overlooking the flaws in our youth and the molds are getting pretty old for some of those kits.
 
As for the health of the hobby well it’s had resurgence as far as Gundam models go it seems. People in my age range late twenties-early thirties that grew watching the shows on TV at least in the US are very big into building the kits nowadays. My hobby shop can’t keep the kits in stock and they usually place a big order for a hundred or so Gundam models every two months. It’s doing enough for them where they can stay afloat and still stock the latest military models.
 
Not to mention in the city nearest to me one group has a monthly Gundam building club, there’s fairly large Gundam building groups online and there’s a few guys on YouTube English speaking mind you that are pulling in over 100k views reviewing the latest kits. In addition there are handful of online stores more or less specializing in Gundam models that are doing well. Modeling is popular its just changed. 

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Fort Knox
Posted by Rob Gronovius on Saturday, February 15, 2020 4:14 PM

Wilbur Wright

Kids are no longer coming into the hobby. Full stop.  It's another era now where 3 year olds have iPads.  The economics also dictate that firms sell their porducts at a level that only working adults can afford.   I would bet that the average decent armor model including all finishing supplies costs over $100.  Ships and planes probably more.

Even in the 1980s when Tamiya started putting out new tooled modern armor kits like the M1, M2/3, M151A2, LVTP7, Merkava, they were much more expensive than the average armor kit of the day.

  • Member since
    July 2011
  • From: Armpit of NY
Posted by MJames70 on Saturday, February 15, 2020 4:44 PM

Some of that high Tamiya pricing was the utter gouging taking place by MRC, who was their importer then, though. They nearly drove Tamiya out of business here with their insane pricing, and were part of the reason TamiyaUSA came into being - they started being their own importer after dumping MRC. Meanwhile, somehow MRC has survived, despite destroying Fujimi in the US with their ridiculous pricing, too. I well recall the 1/48 Bf-109 series having MSRPs of $40-$50 - and this was in the 1990s! That's still a lot for a single engine WWII fighter now, let alone over 25 years ago...

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Fort Knox
Posted by Rob Gronovius on Sunday, February 16, 2020 1:35 PM

Yes, I spent 1987 through 1990 in Germany; Tamiya kits were more expensive than Italeri, Esci or Revell of Germany for obvious reasons, but not as expensive as they were in the States.

The downside to buying a Tamiya German armor or aircraft kit in Germany was the box had been opened to either cut out or black out the offensive and illegal WW2 German markings like the swastika or death's head insignia.

  • Member since
    July 2018
  • From: The Deep Woods
Posted by Tickmagnet on Sunday, February 16, 2020 1:58 PM

Glad I came back. It's heads and tails above what it used to be with anything you want, need, or need to know, just a click away.

 

 

  • Member since
    July 2011
  • From: Armpit of NY
Posted by MJames70 on Sunday, February 16, 2020 2:05 PM

I remember them chopping away at the license plate decals for things like Kubelwagens and staff cars, too, because SS license plates had the numbers preceded by the sieg runes...

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