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Model Railroader Magazine has only 15 years to live!

November 21, 2008

Something shocking came across my “usual rounds” across the major model railroading sites this week. It’s been my fondest wish to someday win the coveted Model Railroader Annual Sweepstakes GRAND PRIZE, which was as much as a $5,000.00 cash prize back in the mid 1990’s. I looked down the prizes and thought, nice. Buildings by Custom Model Railroads, the hopefully popular and beautiful turn-of-the century sky scrapers were what I most wanted from that list. The staples were also there, the $100.00 micromark gift certificate, which has been there for more than 20 years in varying dollar amounts, and the year’s subscription to MR in 5th place. (not shown in the screenshot) Woodland scenics had their Mod-u-track insta-modules (just add water, apparantly) up there which is a nice new addition.

The REALLY shocking thing is highlighted in Orange in the photograph below:
MR Sweepstakes

That’s right, the value of a LIFETIME of MR’s (presumably at cover price of $5.95) is $1,073.75. Hmm, well let’s do some simple division: $1,073.75/ $5.95 gives you exactly 15 years of unusual. Perhaps this cold calculation is based on the average age of the reader which must be more than 50 years old at this point, I’m sure, perhaps even more than 60. I suppose they factor the life expectancy in there and voila, 75 years old is when you’re too old to care about playing with your trains…but so many of the baby boomers are projected to live longer and be healthier than those of the greatest generation…something doesn’t add up.

The clock must be ticking for Model Railroader itself, not the winner of the GRAND PRIZE.

We all know that the print medium has been in steady decline in the last 8 years, or haven’t you been reading the newspaper? At any rate, does Kalmbach publishing project that MR will collapse in a flaming heap in exactly 15 years due to the rise of the digital era? Will visionary concepts like Joe Fugates’ groundbreaking Model Railroad Hobbyist trounce the printed competition? Time shall tell, but due to the littany of quality complaints about the kowtowing to the manufacturers by espousing the “fun” of the plug n’ play railroad among other shifts in reading material between the covers.

Perhaps thanks to the internet is has proved what the “letters to the editor” haven’t proven; strength in numbers. Back in 1974 you and your friends found something objectionable in a magazine and had absolutely NO idea whether it was just you, or thousands of readers complaining. The rise of the Online Forum has added the creepy element of transparency, looking into MR’s mailroom perhaps? What you see here and there isn’t pretty by any means.

When was the last time you heard somebody getting really inspired by the Black River Subdivision articles about plopping buildings and connecting UNItrack? Frequently I read blog posts waxing poetic about the 1980’s articles covering Malcom Furlow’s HOn3 project layout the San Juan Central or the Clinchfield modular N scale layout of the 1970’s. Personally my favorite MR project layout was the Alkali Central, the why of that I’ll cover later in another article. You see though? It’s the craftsmanship of a couple of people coming together to build a layout like the Alkali Central, Redwing Subdivision or The Clinchfield that adds the unique character that makes a model railroad a work of art and not just plopped buildings. Perhaps this is what’s hurting MR, among other things.

Perhaps it’s the synergy of both the aging readership AND the digital medium?

The most worrying part of this whole excersize is that I haven’t ever seen MR offer this before. Why now? Sure, it’s just one person, but a bean counter had to come with the numbers that speak the unspoken truth here..

Now too many people have said that the death of MR in upon us! I have taken this with a spoonful of salt and proclaimed that the death of MR is greatly exxagerated (with apologies to Samuel Clemens) but this leaves me worried. Perhaps there’s something to actually be worried about it now, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over I suppose.

I’ll decide whether it’s the truth when I see it for myself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bret Sutton permalink
    November 24, 2008 10:29 am

    Looks to me like the author misread MR’s ad. They have roughly 30 years left. That’s probably longer than I have…

  2. Anthony Coppola permalink
    December 21, 2010 3:13 am

    The author didn’t read anything wrong. The add was read correctly; the grand prize was for $2073.75- but a thoussand of it is for a buying spree at a hobby store. Looks like Model railroader still only has fifteen years left.

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