SCU: Vital Signs

Hello all! This month we are back with another question from the Sprue Cutters Union blogfestivities. I must warn you, it is rather a longer article, and will defenitely keep you busy for a few minutes, but I promise that it is worth your time. This month’s subject on the chopping block is:

Is scale modeling on the way out?

What?! Another bloke was saying the hobby is dying? That’s a joke right? Wait, you’re thinking the same too? Oh bollocks! Well, being quite younger than… well actually pretty much nearly everybody in this small world, I think I might be able to shed a different light on this. Well, I’d better get right to it, because I’m pretty sure the hobby ain’t gone yet, and here are some damn good reasons why.

Have you seen the likes?
That’s a questions for all you people who are on that thing most of us younger people can’t live without. Yes, of course I’m talking about Facebook. Have you recently taken a look to the number of likes on the company pages? Yep, you probably didn’t since you were most likely drooling all over the newest sprue shots of the next Trumpeter release. But I will save you the time by looking up the numbers for you, at the moment of writing these are the amount of likes of some of the company pages I can think of at the top of my head.

  • Tamiya: 94,549
  • Revell (RoG): 72,473
  • Airfix: 59,115
  • Revell USA: 38,382
  • Zvezda: 32,253
  • Hasegawa: 29,336
  • Eduard: 25,736
  • Trumpeter & HobbyBoss fan club: 25,457
  • Italeri official account: 20,091

Now okay, I hear ya. Companies like Land Rover have 8 million likes and H&M has over 22 million likes, but let’s stay realistic. Their fanbase is far larger and probably quite active on Facebook, unlike many of our older colleagues (or younger) who are probably not even familiar with computers. Even so, those are not numbers you can just ignore, especially Eduard, who just produces scale models kits and nothing else. And yes, likes can actually be bought, so we actually can’t know for sure, but I doubt any of those big companies would spend money on pointless ‘Facebook likes’ for their company’s page. I’d think they’d rather spend money on banners on dedicated scale model websites instead of that. I certainly never had any scale model pages pop up randomly in my feed like ‘you will probably like this’ or ‘your friend liked this page’ because they paid Facebook to do so.

But even ‘random’ scale modeling people are getting some good numbers, Doogs has a little over 9,100 likes, and Pinnacle Scale Models has a 23,311, which is more than Italeri. But pages aren’t even the best part. I recently joined some ‘groups’, and these are just massively clogging up my feed with people who are just building away. Some of these groups have over 22,000 or 15,500 members, with many members actively posting. But okay, I see you thinking, that’s great and all mate, but what about the kids? If we don’t interest the kids, there is no future for this hobby! To which I say, hold your horses buddy, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Like mushrooms I tell you!
Aside from companies not exactly dying out left and right, you might have noticed that there are actually new companies sprouting as well, almost like a plague! Mainly these are aftermarket, but also names like Xutong models, Tarangus and Freedom model kits are just a few dozen months old, and seem to fit in quite well. How could it be that new companies like these, who take on less popular subjects like the XB-47 or a Saab 91 training aircraft, keep afloat? And still we have other companies like Trumpeter or Revell, just throwing out new kits left and right every month.

Even more staggering is that limited editions from a newer and smaller company like Eduard are selling like hot cakes, with some kits having a production run of over 1000 units, being sold out in a month or even less. Yet these kits are for one, quite expensive (I mean it’s a good deal, but 100euros or 130 dollars isn’t exactly cheap) and second, range from 1/72 WWII aircraft to 1/48 Modern jets, so it’s not really like these have certain massive fanbase to build on, who will just buy whatever you throw at them. Even Revell is going to release a limited production run again of the massive 1/48 B-1B kit again with 3000 units, and I’m sure it won’t need many clearance sales to get rid of them.

And if 3000 is a ‘limited’ production run, how much is a ‘normal’ one? Even these sell out after three years or so, and I remember somewhere reading somewhere that a Accurate miniatures kit would have to flip 5000-7000 kits at 30$, just to break even ($150,000 – $210,000), before the molds even started being profitable. Not even considering packaging, box art, customs fees, material, etc… Think about it. Where do all these thousands of kits go to? Who buys all these?


Kids aren’t into skeletons and dust
Yeah sure, the kids are not building scale models in your area, I heard you… or are they? How can you know for sure? I once asked my previous LHS owner how many kids came to his store. He told me that teenagers kept away, aside from me. Yet younger kids did come occasionally. Few in numbers, but then again his visitors numbers wasn’t mindblowingly high either. The days of picking up small kits at your newsagent for half a dollar is just long gone and that’s just how it is. As time went forward and technology changed, the hobby just changed with it. We have to go with it, and most of you happily did it, because most will pick up the new box costing 70 bucks instead of the cheap/ classic kit.

Now people keep on talking about their IPMS charters where no kids are involved. There are many reason for this, like being unaware of any clubs around and the fact that scale modeling is quite a secluded hobby. I mean, you are often building all by yourself too, are you not? Now, I admit that I had never heard of ‘IPMS’ or anything the like, until a mother of a friend of mine showed me a tiny article from some obscure regional newspaper about ‘some club in my town. A place where people meeting on a montlhy basis with their scale models’, adding that they were always looking for new members to join, especially people from younger generations.

On the other hand, be honest. What do you guys do to attract young folks? Everybody at my chapter complains about ‘how kids don’t come’. Yet, me being only a third to a fourth of any of their ages, for over 3 years nobody has never even asked me what we could actively do about it. You can’t just sit around and think they will miraculously fall from the sky…Yes, I have seen the occasional kid here and there on a convention, but think about it, how are kids supposed to know about these when people don’t do it for them? How many people or clubs did you know at that age?

Aside from that, young people just aren’t interested in clubs anymore. A recent article stated that clubs have seen the numbers of young people dwindle as much as by 75%. Unless they absolutely have no choice to join a club, like say horseback riding, they just won’t come. And with a secluded hobby like scale modeling, why not stay in that warm and comfy room of yours?


Those other kinds of modeling
There is this thing that most static modelers keep on forgetting. Namely that there also are other kinds of modeling as well we aren’t really aware of, the two most prominent being Wargaming and RC models. I’ve seen quite some kids playing with RC models, the ones which needs to be constructed from huge kits. The bigger and more important one is the wargaming part, have you ever heard of the ‘Games Workshop‘?

Let me explain, the Games Workshop has nothing to do with our fellow blogger, The Combat Workshop. No, the Games Workshop is a company (like Airfix if you will) who releases and focusses on their lineage of products. It has a quite dense network of ‘individually’ owned shops, which often will only stock materials of the company itself and nothing else. These products are part of various boardgames you can play. Names are for example Warhammer 40K, Warhammer and The Hobbit. These have many pawns you can play the game with, and can be individually bought and build to add to your personally army, like how you would construct your own personal air force in scale. It gives you the choice between various tribes or teams to pick from, like the Space Marines or the Dark angels, or sometimes even mixing them together.

Personally I don’t play these games, and I don’t really have a genuine interest in them. However, a couple of years ago, one of these stores settled in my city. I do actually visit it on occasion. Every time I’m there, it seems that different kids are constructing and painting their pawns, even playing the actual game in the store, like some IPMS branches do. And by kids, I really mean the ones that are ten to nineteen years old. I’ve also been to some conventions with friends who are massively into mangas and all that, and even there you could find whole sections dedicated to Warhammer and such, also full of ‘kids’. So even if our hobby was ‘disappearing’, it would probably just move from one kind to another. And if I must be honest, assume there was some type of game in which I could use my quarter scale models, then I would probably be playing it too.


Opening the mind to what’s beyond.
It would be a good idea to think further than your own back yard. What I’m trying to say is, think about all the people we aren’t in contact with, for whatever reason. Sure, we have the internet now, and a lot of people are connected with one another, but what about places that are cut off from us or use different alphabets like Russia, Japan, Korea and China? Every time I see pictures from conventions of those places (mainly Asia), you can see seas of people, including a large amount of children. Now, I took the time to contact some people through Scalemates, people I had contact with before. Three of them were very willing to tell me all about the hobby’s popularity in their surroundings. I did shorten their answers a bit, but kept the essence of their messages. The first person is Matthias, a German man who lives in China.

Chinese children are not really able to start with scale modeling for
various reasons. For one, most their parents grew up in a heavy 
communistic society, who never really had a hobby and therefor not 
really hand it over to their children. Second of all is the budget 
for it is simply non-existing. Children are pushed to spend pretty 
much all their time at school and learning for it. Since the expenses
of going to school are pretty high, parent simply don’t have the time
to afford such a hobby which needs a permanent investment. A computer
is rather chosen, which can be used for school and videogames.

Also the way of life is different. Chinese people tend to live with
their grand-parents, until they grow up, get a job and have children
of their own. The tradition is slowly fading, yet the way of 
parenting hasn’t changed much over the years. They do sped a lot of 
money on their kids, but rather choose some productive like a camera,
instead of toys.

I do know some talented scale modelers though, which are in their 
thirties, but I doubt that you will find many 16 to 25years old or 
even younger. Although not yet, because the society here is heavily 
changing, and it might be a whole different story within the next two
generations. Once the Chinese will reach a better living standard 
here, I am sure we’ll get a lot more young Chinese scale modelers.

Another person I contacted was Jin, a Chinese born man who builds static car models.

First of all, I myself am 23years old, yet most of the people of my 
age are not really interested into the hobby. Even more so, the 
number of people who build cars and military models is small, since
most people are more into robotic Gunpla (of Gundam) scale models.
These don’t need any glue, paint and are cheaper than most kits, 
because there are a lot of copies on the market. But even I as a kid
had trouble building scale models when I was younger, because I had 
to study really hard at school. Otherwise my teacher would have been
very mad at me. Now, I am from a smaller town, but in the bigger 
cities, the wages are higher. Like that it has become possible for 
some kids to build models.

Now, our wagers are still lower than say, somebody from Europe or 
the USA. So a kit is very expensive for us, because the price 
difference between a kit in China or in Europe isn’t big. This means
that even with a bigger wager, it is still hard for kids to get 
model kits and will therefore reach for something easier like 
playing games. And even as it is true that Chinese parents will do 
anything to make their kids happy, they will rather pick things like
quality food or a something they can learn from and use with their 
job later, instead of a 'toy'. But things can vary a lot here, from
one end of the spectrum to the other.

Last of all, I contacted Luciano, who moved to Japan in 1981.

When I came to Japan over 30years ago, scale modeling was very 
popular. But now young (and older) people prefer to play videogames.
Many of the shops are now closed, the number in Osaka can be counted
on two hands now, while 30 years ago there were hundreds. Many 
companies also vanished into obscurity over those years. But, the 
hobby is not defunct yet! My eleven-year old nephew recently started
building car and aircraft models. At the famous Shizuoka Hobby show
each year, half of the people at the convention are between 11 to 18
years old. When I asked the spokesman of Tamiya how they plan to 
keep alive, they told me that “they had partially diversified their 
production to educational items, but will continue with the 
tradition of the more classic types of scale models.”

But also companies like Bandai and Kodansha are changing their 
catalogues. For example, the latter released a series of magazines 
on the A6M Zeroes of the Second World War. With every copy came a 
model kit of the various types in 1/72, and was a huge commercial 
succes. At bookstores you can also find long rows of many young 
people who buy magazines like ‘model art’, ‘Scale Aviation’ or 
‘Model graphix’.

The new generation might not be as depending on scale models as we 
were, but the situation is definitely not desperate yet. The future
of modeling is definitely in Asia though, with new companies rising
from China, although I do think that the top quality wil stay in 
Japan with Tamiya, Hasegawa, Fine molds and others.


On the matter of videogames
One final thing I do feel like I need to add, is that videogames are being mentioned over and over again. Like it’s easy to just pick on it and blame it for everything
“Look at you, you never had to do anything to get populair, did ya? Noooo, everybody likes you, don’t they? With your pretty little video games and your pretty little controller and your huuuuuge budgets and massive conventions. Yeaaah, You never had problems, YOU NEVER HAD ‘PROBLEMS’. Everybody looooves you… You’re just PERFECT!”

Now don’t be silly, because it is also because of videogames that scale models actually still have a good chance for survival, together with other ‘popular’ stuff like the Girl und Panzer or other animes you might have heard of. But even I started building scale models thanks to a video game. It was called Battlestations Pacific and focusses on the Air and Naval war between the US and Japan during World War II. Yes, it was because of this video game that I started modeling, and I would never ever have discovered it otherwise.

The days of playing battlestations are now long gone for me. Nowadays I play games like War Thunder and Spintires, who keep inspiring me to build new subjects and keep on sparking new interests, just like movies or documentaries probably inspire you. It keeps me busy with many subjects that I might otherwise not even care about, and playing with a certain machine long enough will get me pumped to start building one of it. Even on the forums of these games, there are small scale model followings who post their work solely on that place and not on any other, scale model dedicated places. So who knows how many more people are actually out there, building all by themselves.

In the end…
Now, I hope I kept you interested long enough to read everything. I know it was long, but I had so much to say and could actually still go on for a while. There are certain things I did not add, but I think you got the most important part of my opinion. So please, go back to your bench, build a little, Relax. Because we won’t die out soon, and I’m pretty sure we will still have our beloved hobby for a good amount of generations to come.

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