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Editorial: The State of our Hobby

Cybermodeler Online Editorial

Every year or two, we’ve written about the state of the scale modeling hobby here in the United States and abroad. We look at a variety of factors from the relative health of the hobby industry to the ratio of new kit releases versus reissues, from the number of hobby-related companies to the number of active hobbyists. We talk with many folks involved in various aspects of the hobby during the previous year and then examine the world’s largest hobby shop that exists over the span of each IPMS/USA National Convention.

Over the last two decades, it seemed like our hobby was shrinking as modelers grew older, the economy was getting worse, our favorite hobby shops were closing, hobby businesses were either consolidating or leaving scale modeling, etc. During this time, we watched the US’s leading hobby industry show, iHobbyExpo, shrink before disappearing altogether. We saw one of the leading hobby importers and distributors, Hobbico, enter bankruptcy. Of course, one major reason for all this turmoil is the shrinking modeling population which was reflected at many of the major IPMS/USA events around the country including the National Conventions. It reached a point a few years ago where some hobby companies stopped (or minimized) the use of the US market reaction to select their hobby releases.

During the last year or so, that downward trend appears to have changed. While Airfix did go bankrupt (receivership), it came back stronger than ever. The loss of Hobbico saw Revell and Revell/Germany consolidated into one company (in Germany) under new ownership and it too is coming back. Out of those same Hobbico ashes came a small company called Atlantis who acquired all the old Revell, Renwall, and Aurora molds from Revell’s US archives and are starting to release kits that haven’t been available in decades. While there are still some surviving ‘brick and mortar’ hobby stores surviving, the trend continues to shift to online hobby stores and many are thriving. And while there are still some surviving distributors left, more global hobby companies are selling directly to retailers and consumers to keep prices down.

As the hobby retail market continues to evolve into the online marketplace, two noteworthy entities are worth mentioning as they continue to assimilate and grow into their niches – Sprue Brothers, who have built a strong online retail business around the scale model aircraft and armor/AFV world; and CultTVman, who likewise supports the science fiction and fantasy markets (and watch out for their growing online car/truck hobby business).

Which brings us back to us, the modelers and consumers of hobby products. While it is true that the number of modelers among the baby boomer generation is indeed declining (one business who buys kit collections joked that wives were keeping their phone number on their speed dials ‘just in case’), this year’s IPMS/USA National Convention showed that the demographics of scale modelers is finally changing, and for the better. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of attendees in Chattanooga for a variety of reasons. In addition to the baby boomers, there were far more younger modelers including kids in attendance. Fellow military veterans, recent retirees out of various businesses, working modelers, and even modelers still in school. While online gaming is still popular, more folks are also working on their interests in scale as well.

In short, the state of our hobby in the United States is stronger than I’ve seen it for a while, and I hope that this is not a temporary uptick on the previously downward trendline, but as long as the economy is strong and modelers have the time and money to enjoy the hobby, I’d say that things are looking good. I’d also like to extend my congratulations to the folks in Chattanooga who hosted one of the best conventions I can recall as well as the city of Chattanooga that offers great public transportation to a variety of activities and restaurants which makes such a convention a family-oriented success.

Have a great week and go build something!

Respectfully,
Michael Benolkin
Owner/Publisher, Cybermodeler Online

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