By Michael Benolkin, Senior Editor
IS OUR HOBBY DEAD?
I've been hearing a number of folks wondering about this - is our hobby dead or dying? They say that existing modeling community is getting older and dying off, that kids are more interested in the internet and in computer games than modeling. To some degree, this is true - but not completely true.
Talking with many of the vendors and representatives at the RCHTA hobby show, there are many symptoms that our hobby is in trouble. Attendance at the show was down, and they perceive that there are few new offerings in the coming year. The big North American companies like Revell-Monogram, AMT/ERTL, Lindberg, and Testors are cutting back on new product development. In Europe, the Humbrol-owned giant of Airfix and Heller are at a virtual standstill in new products. In Japan, Tamiya and Hasegawa have also slowed down their new product investments.
So what is going on? In the last big hobby drought of the 1970s, the world economy was fighting inflation. Oil prices were going crazy and the price of kits were following suit. People were not too inclined to spend money on hobbies when other addictions had to be paid (food, clothing, transportation, you know, the basics!). During that time, most of the hobby manufacturers put the brakes on new investments until the market turned around. And turn around it did.
Now it seems that the economy is reaching the other extreme, we have good incomes, we have some semblance of world peace, but we're working more and have less time for recreation. To top this all off, those of us who grew up in the instant gratification generation have little time or patience to model like we used to. It was only natural for the hobby manufacturers to capitalize on the pre-finished models to cater to some of those whims. That is one reason that the die-cast market is exploding - those models come with lots of details and they are essentially finished straight from the box.
But like all extremes, they are only temporary. As the tempo in the workplace settles down, and it will, people will need to chill out. Those that were enjoying the outdoors during the summer months will turn to their workbenches to weather out the winter months.
If you look past the hype, you'll see that the hobby industry is still doing fine. Where the big companies are marking time to wait for the demand to resume, the small companies are still putting out some dynamite offerings. If you read through the RCHTA report in this issue, you'll see that we'll be enjoying some great new offerings from companies like ICM, Eduard, Academy, Italeri, MRC, Hobbycraft, Modelcraft, Polar Lights, and many others.
If you attend your local model clubs, the average age is still relatively low, and new blood is entering our hobby every day. Even members of the computer generation are starting to discover the hobby.
It will take some time for the big companies to adjust to the changing marketplace and to draw modelers back into buying new products. Those that succeed will stay with us, the others will unfortunately go by the wayside.
Tamiya, for instance, is merging their expertise in RC products with their model lines, and we've got the beginning of a new hobby. Watching those Tiger tanks battling each other at RCHTA may provide a new draw to bring the Nintendo generation into our ranks (if they can get the price of their products down). I can just see the new categories spring up in future IPMS conventions based on modeling skills AND number of kills.
New companies are springing up all over the world to add their creativity into our marketplace. And with each one, the level of excellence continues to rise. Product quality that we used to see come only from Japan are now coming from Korea, China, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. Companies like Revell/Germany, Hobbycraft/Canada and Accurate Miniatures are also challenging the Japanese standard.
So is our hobby dying? Not bloody likely. You'll continue to read and hear many differing opinions out there, and you've just read another one. Don't worry about it - kick back and build another model!