Editorial: Model Building,
is the hobby dying?
(And what's the deal with the
American Model Manufacturers?)
Saturday, August 11, 2001
This article originated from a bulletin board posting that I made.
Sooo, what's happening to the Model Building Hobby and what's the case with the American Model Manufacturers? Is the hobby dying and are the American Model Companies collectively giving up the ghost? I mean, what's the last release that Revell/Monogram or Racing Champions/AMT/Ertl or Testors or Lindberg have come out with? Other than one or two new or re-released automobile kits that have come out here or there, they have all been deathly quiet.
(The American Model Kit Manufacturers)
I've heard that Racing Champions will no longer be releasing Star Trek or Star Wars kits. (This, despite the fact that AMT/Ertl previously purchased an exclusive license to do model kits for ALL THREE of the latest Star War Movies, beginning with The Phantom Menace). I also heard a rumor that they are getting rid of their molds for the existing ST & SW kits that had been released.
Revell/Monogram was (or still is) up for sale by the owners who purchased them only a few years ago. Their kit releases have also trickled down to practically nothing.
It seems that Revell/Monogram, Racing Champions and Lindberg have decided to go more and more with pre-painted & snap-tite kits and toys than with "traditional" model kits. Their idea (I guess) is to try to make modeling easier for the new modeler, by taking away the dreary, burdensome tasks of painting and gluing and applying traditional decals. (Hey, I thought that was the whole point to modeling)? Not surprisingly, it appears that they've had very little success with this strategy.
Testors has not released anything other than modeling paint and supplies for some time now. (I don't know what good paint and modeling supplies are if there are hardly any new models being released)? I guess there still are numerous "old-head" modelers like myself who have a healthy stock of unbuilt models that will require paint and glue.
I know that Testors has partnered up with Italeri a number of years ago, to be their distributor here in the states. However, I have not seen many new Italeri releases this year either.
It appears that Polar Lights is the only shining star in the US kit-manufacturing universe. Although their kit output has gone down a bit, they nevertheless still continue to release model kits.
I think P.L. has actually discovered a niche that had been completely missed or ignored by the other long-term US modeling companies. They have been releasing kits tailored both to the younger, new model builder, along with coming out with kits aimed at the older sci-fi, fantasy, and horror modeler.
They've had some very good success re-releasing a number of old Aurora kits that many of us have built and loved as kids. In addition, they've hit the mark with the NEW releases that many of us would have loved to see as kids, but never did. Their recent C-57D spacecraft from the Forbidden Planet Movie is a prime example of this.
With the mention of six or seven new releases scheduled within the next year or so, P.L. will most likely continue tapping into this secret to modeling success that they've discovered.
(The Japanese Model Kit Manufacturers & the "kids" factor)
With respect to the Japanese Model companies like Hasegawa and Tamiya, they have been equally quiet as well. They've maybe popped out a couple new releases here and there. But, their output has dramatically dropped down from the point where it had been a short two or three years ago.
Bandi seems to be the only Japanese Kit Manufacturer who is doing a halfway decent job in model sales lately. Gundam kits have been filling up and emptying out of Toys R Us Store shelves pretty regularly. These kits have even been popping up in specialty shops, like electronic game and video stores. Heck, some of the "better" hobby stores have started stocking them as well.
I'm not really surprised with this, due to several reasons. The first is the fact that Cartoon Network since last year has been airing the Gundam Wing and Endless Waltz series'. Also, they have just started showing two new Gundam Series - (to us, at least): Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam: 08th MS Team. (There's nothing quite like exposure in a modeling subject to help generate interest in the associated kits).
I heard or read somewhere that Toys R Us is going to expand the types of Gundams that they will be offering, (probably to jive up with the two new Gundam shows that have been airing).
My second reason is the fact that kids are really tuning into the Gundam Universe. (I've seen this with both of my sons, along with other children as well).
I have a question here: What was the last serious attempt that the American model manufacturers made to first determine what modeling interests kids may have, and then follow it up with actual kit releases? I suspect that they have done very little if anything in this area. Instead, they've probably gone with the (false?) assumption that kids nowadays will continue to be interested in things that kids years ago were interested in, mainly military armor and aircraft, along with automobile models.
In addition to Bandi, it seems that P. L. is the only other kit manufacturer who is trying to reach the younger and new modeler. One can just look at their recent release of Aurora dinosaurs, Crash Bandit kits, Speed Racer's Mach 5 and the Scooby Do Mystery Machine as examples.
(What's wrong with the overall picture?)
Ok, I've gotten a bit off target here with my modeling musings. With respect to one of my originally posed questions of whether or not this Model Building Hobby of ours is dying, I really don't think so! There are still far too many older, experienced model builders (who have jobs and hence have some money to spend), who are still very passionate about this hobby.
In addition, there is being established a pretty regular, consistent number of young, new model builders who are being introduced to the joys of model building through numerous Make it take it programs being conducted by various groups. Unfortunately, this positive is probably being quickly negated by the very limited choices if any at all that the young, new modeler has once he or she decides that this is something that they'd like to spend more time on.
We are definitely in a modeling recession or rut. A lot of this probably has to do with the economic recession or slowdown that we are experiencing. I really feel that this is a temporary condition, though, - (both the economic and modeling parts) - and within the next year or two we will start seeing an upturn in the hobby.
When all model kit manufacturers (including the Hasegawa's, Tamiya's and the Bandi's) start going belly up, then I will start becoming concerned.
(Are the American Model Manufacturers in trouble?)
This modeling downturn seems to be affecting American Model Manufacturers more than any others. In addition, I think that most of our modeling companies are in dire straights.
I have two reasons why I feel this way. The first has already been touched base on. This is the fact that these companies have not and are not targeting their kits to what kids may be interested in building.
It has often been argued that the reason American modeling companies currently are not releasing anything is due to the lack of interest in model building by kids. However, it's my contention that just about no one has released a kit on figures from the Digimon, Poke'mon, Rug-Rats or Power Puff Girls cartoon series'. You know, things that kids watch and know (and love)? These programs that children have been watching (and watching a lot of) have been thoroughly ignored by the American model companies.
I've heard the additional argument of "Why should a model company go through the expense of obtaining licenses to do kits on a subject that kids might be interested in. They should not spend all that money on the design, tooling, manufacturing and releasing of these types of kits, when kids are just not into building models anymore. Kids are more interested in numerous immediate-gratification 'distractions' that currently exist for them, than in a hobby that takes much longer in comparison (and may require some work)."
I say that the current interest in those MITI programs DO show that kids will build models when given a chance to do so, and that the flip side of the argument is if you DO NOT release kits that are targeted towards children, they WILL NOT buy your products. (Sounds like a vicious circle here)?
Ok, my second reason on why the American Modeling Companies have been having problems and are in trouble is probably more important than the first. These companies, (with the exception of Accurate Miniatures), have not released very good model kits over the past 20 or 30 years. They had been getting much better up to a number of years ago, (when the bottom of the industry seemed to dropped off). However, it had taken them too long to catch up to their Japanese counterparts.
These fitting and accuracy problems tend not to be all that important to the new model builder. However, ultimately most new modelers (if they stick with the hobby long enough) will become more experienced model builders, whom fit and accuracy are indeed important to!
This hit me one evening when I went to my modeling room. I have close to 800 or 900 model kits stashed away in my room. Most of these kits are 1:72 and 1:48 scale Hasegawa aircraft models, along with some Tamiya aircraft, armor, and automobiles.
Traditionally in the past, because of the superior qualities both in fit and detail that Hasegawa and Tamiya offered over the American Model Companies, along with the greater variety in subject matter, I started paying more attention to and purchased more of these kits than any other type. From previous conversations I've had with fellow modeling club members, there are many others who feel the same way.
How many bad things have you heard about earlier releases by AMT/Ertl of Star Trek kits? I know just a few years ago Revell/Monogram received some flack from model builders about the poor fitting characteristics of their Starfuries along with their thick, non-sticking decals. (I was one who was making them). It was good that they released the kits. However, I could tell that they weren't as concerned with the fit of those kits as Bandi would have been.
My feeling on the American Model Companys slant on things is that they never did view this hobby as seriously as Tamiya and Hasagawa had. They viewed the hobby as something for kids and hence were not concerned with continuing to try to improve their products.
Accurate Miniatures, when they came on the scene really seemed to "finally get it." However, they took things too much to the extreme, (in my opinion), spending waaaay too much money and time on trying to release that ultimate B-25, (for example). In addition, I really feel that their exclusive emphasis on WWII aircraft and the lack of greater diversification is what helped to do them in as well.
(What's the solution?)
Since Model Manufacturing Companies are still businesses, they must adhere to the general business model: Give the customer a good quality product that they're interested in, at a reasonable price, and you have a very good shot at not only staying in business, but in thriving.
The American Model Manufactures on a whole never really did this. However, hopefully they will start. (One can always hope).
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