Vital Signs


Is scale modeling on the way out?

This question is brought up almost on a monthly basis, whether in passing conversation between modelers or as hot topics on the most popular internet forums. The notion isn't even confined strictly to scale modeling. It is inescapable. As a matter of fact, there is probably a disgruntled modeler, sitting at his computer right now, drafting a post on some General Discussion board about how the local hobby shop down the street has closed its doors forever. He'll curse the internet and reminisce about the good ol' days of walking to the store and purchasing a kit with his hard earned allowance. Then his argument will close with an off-base swipe at today's youth and their brain frying addiction to video games and social media. Sound familiar? No? Here, read one or two. The fact that both of those threads are running concurrently on the same forum gives you an idea of how often this question comes up and how, perhaps, it is not being answered adequately enough. It is with this post that I intend to lay the question of a dying hobby to rest...

When Squadron once again dug up the notion of a dying hobby in a recent blog post, I felt the need to address my views on the matter. Considering a prominent internet cornerstone in the modeling community has deemed it worthy enough to write about, there is no reason I shouldn't feel the same though we do not share a similar opinion. Those with whom I disagree tend to believe the hobby is dying a slow death, over shadowed by technology in the gaming industry and the idea that children do not have the attention span they used to. Well, if the hobby truly is passing away, like any other diseased creature, it should show symptoms. So, lets examine what these hobby doctors generally finger as the pathway to this hobby's destruction.

Hobby Shops Closing!

Most, if not all opinion pieces (like this one from 2010) regarding the state of the hobby point to the gradual demise of the brick-and-mortar hobby shop as a sign that scale modeling is destined for an early grave in a pine wood casket. I have no doubt that many mom and pop shops are closing down but if you think that it is unique to scale modeling, you are wrong. Read the recent reports and you'll see that troubled retailers are closing their doors across America (and I'm sure the rest of the world), giving way to online stores. This is not our hobby's problem. This is a national problem. Does the closing of 225 Staples office supply
stores have every white collar employee in the United States wondering if they won't be able to add to their collection of red Swingline staplers any more? Unlikely. And while that example may be a bit of a stretch, I hope you are catching my drift. The closing of hobby shops across the country are not spelling doom for the continuation of our passion, its simply the trend of the economy in America and the world.
Online retailers have been putting the pressure on the market for a while. Just look at Amazon and eBay. A consumer can find everything they want without having to leave the comfort of their own sofa, and often times for lower prices. Our beloved mom and pop shops just can't compete.
With more private hobby shops closing, modelers are left to rely on the meager selection provided by arts and craft chain stores like Michael's, AC Moore, and Hobby Lobby. Most naysayers decry such stores as inadequate with limited supplies and fewer options, especially in regards to paints and necessary tools. The majority of their model kit inventory is made up of Revell-ogram boxes, which by some folks' standards are only fit for beginners and children. The perception is that this is a sure sign the hobby is destined for obscurity since not even the mainstream hobby corporations are willing to stock quality kits like Tamiya, Hasegawa, and others.

Poppycock.

It is this writer's opinion that the mere fact these stores continue to stock any models at all is a positive sign for the hobby. Let's face it, the hobby is not that popular (I will argue it never has been if you keep reading), thus a store like Hobby Lobby is not going to spend bags of money to stock pricier kits and supplies that will, for the most part, only gather dust on their shelves. If the hobby was truly dying, don't you think these stores would cut the dead weight? If they are willing to close the doors of entire store fronts, I am pretty sure wiping a handful of model kits off the shelves to save in the cost of inventory wouldn't be a second thought. Because Revell kits remain available at hobby retail chains across the country is reason enough to believe the hobby is doing just fine.

So, why does the diminishing presence of the LHS bother us so much?

Because it strikes right at our heart and hits us personally. Scale modeling is our life, our obsession.
We grew up enjoying the weekend day trips to the hobby shop, perusing the aisles for hours, touching every kit and pondering the possibilities. To see them shut their doors is like an open wound in our very own flesh. But it certainly isn't a mortal blow. It is merely a scratch that will heal. If the big guns like Staples, RadioShack, Sears, and Kmart are vulnerable, why shouldn't the LHS (which is not a franchise or corporation with stock options and investors) have any less difficulty in today's day and age? Even at their peak, a hobby shop on the corner of First and Main was never a gold mine.

Kids and Their Loud Music!

Well, if disappearing hobby shops isn't reason for concern, what else could possibly point to the death of plastic modeling? As is the case for much of society's problems, the finger is pointed at today's youth.
Like a bunch of grumpy old men, these doom's day modelers bemoan the younger generations as far too dependent on technology, glued to television sets, smart phones and Playstation consoles to sit still long enough to put a model together. You see, their perception states that the ranks of the hobby are now filled with old men, who've been dedicated modelers since before Shep Paine penned his first book. They think once the old guard has died off, so too will the hobby; the baton being left for an indifferent and impatient generation.
The problem with this mindset is that it doesn't give our youth time to develop. You see, scale modelers are selfish. We believe in the one true hobby and any other interest outside of modeling is blasphemy. We expect our children to take up the holy sprue cutters and follow us at an early age, but I'm sorry, this is not going to happen. As we've become so hobby-centric in our thinking, we have failed to realize that our hobby is boring. Yes, it is. Today's youth are FLOODED with stimuli. Instead of playing cops and robbers in the back yard, they can live it on the couch with surround sound and vivid graphics thanks to games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. But what is wrong with that? Even surgeons play video games!
Sitting down and putting a model together just is not that appealing. Heck, I didn't even enjoy it when I was a kid (admittedly, there are times I find it extraordinarily boring now!). Instead, I let my father do all the work and I reaped the rewards, playing with the airplane when he was finished. I did not start seriously modeling on my own until I was a junior in high school, or around 16 years old. In a recent Facebook poll, I asked how old my followers were when they started modeling. Out of 63 responses, the average was eleven years old. Certainly younger than I was, but I was too busy playing Golden Eye and Mario Kart to be bothered with hobbies. Yes, I was a gaming fool when I was younger and look how I turned out - a proud modeler with a blog to call my own. But I developed into a scale modeler.
Why?
Because it was instilled in me by my father. We often get disappointed in our children for their lack of discipline and patience, but perhaps its us that need to learn how to wait. I have a four year old son and a seven year old daughter, neither of which show the slightest interest in sitting next to dear ol' dad and putting glue to plastic. However, my son shows an intense appreciation for aircraft and I believe that reinforcing that appreciation will one day bring him over to the hobby. For it is not an interest in modeling that we should be concerned about passing on, but an interest in the subject matter. Cultivate an interest in aircraft, tanks, ships, and I suppose even automobiles, and you have a recipe for a scale modeler. I love aircraft, therefore I build them. I hope one day my son will say the same.

But have the times really changed that much? Are kids really less inclined to model now than they were years ago? I don't think that they are, and the reason for my saying that is this: the hobby was never really that popular to begin with.
The grumpy old men who make it out to seem like scale modeling was the be-all, end-all hobby of their life time are probably a little biased. While there were undoubtedly more local hobby shops dotting the landscape, I have trouble believing they were frequented by hordes of anxious children waiting for the next big Airfix release to blow their allowance on. My evidence? During a recent Facebook poll, I discovered that on average, during their childhood years, modelers knew of only about one or two other kids that were also into building kits. 1.7 to be exact. That is not an indication that scale modeling was as grand a hobby as we all thought it was when our fathers were growing up.
Furthermore, in the same poll I discovered that the same modelers, as children, knew an average of 0.9 adults that were also modeling at the time. Strange that during the supposed heyday of modeling, when hobby shops were alive and well, that the community of modelers was still so small.
Fast forward to the future and the statistics have changed very little. Today I can't think of any child that I know who models, including my own, but then again, I barely know any adults on a personal level that model either. Chances are, neither do you. The final poll question found out that most modelers know only about two other modelers on a personal level that they had met outside of hobby related avenues. In other words, people that they had met at work or school, as opposed to model conventions, online forums, or hobby shops. Two. The numbers haven't really changed a great deal, have they?
While this isn't an exact science, the stats are none the less telling, and I believe positive. If anything, it means the hobby has probably not declined at all, to say the least. Scale modeling was never the booming hobby that every kid was talking about, but neither was it just a flash in the pan. It simply just exists. It isn't dying because it never truly lived.

Hobby of Old Men

Are you still worried that the hobby is dying? I suppose its natural to worry about the well-being of something that you cherish. We have all devoted so much time, money and effort into the hobby, how devastating would it be if it were gone tomorrow? Nightmarish. The idea that the hobby will one day be extinct is a notion that some people just can't get passed. Its not unusual for us to look around and see we are quite lonely in the community of modelers. Sure, we may meet once a month at the local VFW for a club contest, or stay up late to see who's building the latest Tamigawagram online, but for the most part we know no one else in the hobby. Moreover, not even our family understands it. Beyond buying us a kit for a special occasion every now and then, the wife and the kids are content not getting involved in dad's archaic pass time. Its not out of the ordinary to receive strange looks from people when scale modeling is brought up in casual conversation. Of course, more than one argument has arisen when some one used the word "toy". Our favorite hangout, the local hobby shop, closed five years ago (though we did get some killer close-out sales!) and to top it off, we're so old.

Or are we?
You can't have a debate about the death of the hobby without talking about age. Scale modeling has
been around for a long time. It has certainly been carried to this point on the shoulders of men much older than myself. My dad, who taught me everything I know, still models to this day, and he is in his sixties. But is that the norm? Are most modelers reaching the age where they need to start moving up in scales to compensate for their eye sight? And is this the increasing age of its participants a clear sign that the hobby is sure to die?
No. Don't get your dentures in a bunch there fellas. The hobby is actually much younger than you might think. In another Facebook poll, I asked my followers to tell me how old they are. After totally up a total of 63 responses, the average age was 40. Only ten years older than myself, and 20 years younger than my father. (We can debate that older modelers may not be inclined to use Facebook as much, thereby skewing the numbers downward, but honestly, its kind of irrelevant) Also, thanks to Facebooks simple statistics graphs, I can see that 35%, or the majority, of my followers are in the span of 35 to 44 years old. Followed by 45 to 54, at 25% and 25 to 34 at 20%! So, if I've done my math right, 972 of my followers are between the ages of 35 and not quite over the hill. That is a respectable amount, considering my meager 2,778 followers as of this writing isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to other notable Facebook pages.
What I am telling you is that this hobby isn't for old retirees. I mean it is, and there isn't anything wrong with being old and building models. The thing I am pointing out is that there are a lot more young folk out there putting kits together than you might think. One response to that poll was a fifteen year old, the youngest person who bothered to comment. At fifteen, he makes up the bottom 3% of my followers but still, its a positive sign. That's 83 teenage modelers. I'll take it.

Prognosis...

There is no question that back when modeling hit its stride in the 1960's, more kids were modeling than there are today. But probably not many. The hobby is changing. It is no longer geared toward kids, but directed at adults who have grown up living it. Kits are extremely detailed, in some cases complex, and high priced - factors that keep the youth away, but keep us adults crying for more!
Don't look around you and base your fears on what you don't see. The store fronts will slip away, and the youth will have something better to do but the hobby is thriving. Focus on the positives, look at what you can see.
New companies have arisen within a decade to produce some of the most compelling subjects. Meng and Kitty Hawk are killing it. Dragon continues to deliver quality kits, and set the bar for detail in armor kits. Tamiya and Hasegawa are still pillars in the industry. Trumpeter has improved its quality, and often makes a splash in the large scale world. I could go on and on.
The aftermarket is strong. For the most part, a modeler can find exactly what he or she (females make up 3% of my fan base) is looking for, whether it is a resin cockpit, decals, weapons, or landing gear. New 3D printing will only make this easier.
Despite the fall of the LHS, there are numerous online retailers that provide the latest and greatest kits. The business of modeling is doing just fine.
Likewise, the community of modeling is also healthy. If you want to join an online forum, there are a plethora to pick from that will be sure to keep you interested. There is a wide range of Facebook pages and blogs that offer helpful tips, great pictures, and kit reviews. If the computer isn't your bag, pick up a magazine, like Finescale, Tamiya Model Magazine, and the Weathering Magazine. If you're in a social mood, seek out some model shows in your area. There is no better water mark for the state of the hobby than attending a convention like the IPMS Nationals, or the Telford Model Show.
Modelers push the boundaries of possibility. The talent pool is immense and growing, not fading. The sheer number of jaw-dropping creations that I see on a regular basis tells me that the hobby is doing the best it has ever been, not only here in the States, but across the globe.

So, take a deep breath. Relax. Let the hobby shops go. Let your kids play their Xbox. Just remember that this hobby was here before you got into it, and it will likely be OK when you leave.

Thanks for reading!

Agree or disagree? Fill up the comment section below!


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Comments

  1. I'm 24 right now, and I started this hobby about 3 to 4 years ago. I knew nothing about the hobby or knew anyone who made models. I got into it thanks to remembering when I was a kid that Walmart used to sell scale cars and paints (Testors or Revell maybe). I'm in college so with some spare money from my scholarship I did some internet research and bought my first model online and hand painted it. Since then I got an airbrush and I have build many models during my vacations. In my case the problem is not that the hobby is dying. It is more a thing of interest. I have always being interested in aviation and I saw in the hobby 3 things: learning the history of the airplane (maybe even find pictures of the actual buno of the plane) learning about its engineering (I'm a ME student) and finally having in my hands an actual model of the real thing, specially when I would have to take a plane to visit a museum. I agree the hobby is not dying, but I think this is not a hobby for every one. People with interests in airplanes, ships, tanks sooner or later will be tempted to start in the hobby. And for kids, there's even an app with licensed revell models available. They can build them without getting all messy and desperate, adn maybe a great way to spark interest on the young ones.

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  2. Great post buddy! Gave me plenty of insight as a wargamer rather than pure scale modeller, and full of passion for the hobby. Fly the colours high my friend!

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  3. Personally I don't care if the hobby is dying or not. You'll have to read my blog post when I finish it to find out why. :P

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  4. I'm 36 now. I've been modeling on and off since the age of about 9 or 10. You know what else I did at that age? Ran around outside, played baseball, collected Legos, and oh yeah, played Sega ALL THE TIME!

    Like you said, just because kids aren't 100% dedicated to modeling, doesn't mean some don't do it as part of the long litany of fun things kids do.

    Some will carry it over to adulthood.

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  5. My response:
    https://dknights.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/sprue-cutters-union-feb-2015-is-the-hobby-dying/

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  6. great post Jon. My sentiments exactly and here's all of my thoughts laid out: http://www.scalemodelworkbench.com/2015/02/is-scale-models-dying-hobby.html

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Sorry about that let me start again...Great read Jon and some excellent points.
    http://motorsportmodeller.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/sprue-cutters-union-is-hobby-dying.html

    ReplyDelete

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