Modelers of every skill level are losing a truly valuable resource. Westlake Publishing’s 2013 Modelers’ Annual will be the final printed edition of a series of books that also included annuals on narrow gauge and one covering logging, mining and industrial themes.

In an initial announcement earlier this year, Publisher Russ Reinberg states that the cost of printing the editions, along with the number of damaged and lost issues during postal delivery as the major factors driving his decision to suspend printing physical copies and to focus on digital editions. From a statement in the current Modelers’ Annual, he alludes that he may suspend publishing all together.

Today and for the foreseeable future, publishing in all genres struggle through a hellish no-man’s-land of changes driven by forces no one can predict, let alone hope to control. The Internet has brought a sea-change in the way information is presented and consumed. Driven by technology that was science fiction mere decades ago, the changes have impacted us all. Consider this very text: I would have typed it on a typewriter, taken the proofed copy to a commercial printer for the copies needed. They would have to be folded, have stamps applied and sent to people by mail. For readers overseas, you would never have heard of me or my work unless it appeared in some magazine with an international distribution. Today, regardless of where you are, you can read my words almost as soon as they’re published.

For all the hoo-ra and handwringing by people in and out of the trenches, it’s simplistic to just blame everything on the Internet. The hobby of model railroading has seen its own sea-changes in attitude and approach, which have had just as large an impact as any digital technology. In truth, I argue they’ve had far more impact than the Internet.

You have to be willfully blind not to see that model railroading has changed significantly from the idea of making things and striving for excellence to a consumer culture driven by the latest got-to-have-this-new-shiny-thing. A generation of modelers who wouldn’t think twice about scratchbuilding a turnout, has been followed by one that trembles at the thought without the crutch of an expensive single purpose set of commercial jigs. More than anything this it’s too hard attitude has determined what gets published and the quality of that material. Over a short period of time, a vicious circle formed, whereby fundamental skills and knowledge are no longer being passed on to succeeding generations. For a growing majority, such skills have been replaced with a checkbook and the hobby as a whole suffers accordingly. In this regard, model railroading in particular seems to be on a curious path compared to others.

My own modeling interests don’t include narrow gauge, logging or the other subjects covered by the Westlake annuals. I purchased them for the unprecedented opportunity to look over the shoulder and learn from some of the finest modelers in the world. Model railroaders gripe how they aren’t interested in an article if it doesn’t address their pet subject. This is laziness, pure and simple. It’s an attitude of spoon feed me what I want or I’m going elsewhere. You will get the hobby you deserve with such shallow thinking.

I understand Russ’s decision completely. Speaking as an author who publishes, I can confirm that the general hobby population is clueless about the amount of work and the actual costs involved in producing a high quality publication or podcast. For people like Russ who care about the state of the craft of model building, producing such work in the face of an increasing attitude of indifference is frustrating to bear.

In the end, it’s a hobby as I’m so often told. You get to choose how you want to play train or practice a craft. No one is getting rich working in this craft. People like Russ Reinberg and his peers do their work out of love and concern for the state of the craft. They do it because they care and know that words matter, presentation matters, the details matter. They labor to preserve skills and knowledge for the future, hoping the hard work done now will positively impact the craft in fifty years. If you give a damn about this craft at all, then you owe a debt of gratitude for the gift they’ve given to us all. Thanks Russ. I’m a richer person for being exposed to your work.