It’s a great time to be a publisher. You don’t often hear that sentiment because most publishers are married to traditional modes (i.e. books), which are being marginalized by new digital tools and ways of presenting information. These tools also bring different kinds of business models that are upending the way publishing has done business for centuries. It’s true, there’s lots of hand wringing out there. Equally true: there are tons of opportunities waiting to be discovered. Like I said, it’s a great time to be a publisher.

Ahem. Excuse me, model railroading. Remember? Yes, I do and I’m ready to connect the two dots.

From day one when Joe and I started this publishing company, I was committed to digital products and formats. I didn’t know the specifics then, and really, I still don’t. I do know that the digital sphere is where we need to be focusing our thinking NOW, rather than later.

We’ve had lots of give and take discussions about the: “What kind of products?” questions and even whether any kind of digital product (e-book, video, audio, etc.) would have an audience among model railroaders, both those we currently serve and those we hope to serve. There aren’t easy answers. It simply boils down to “try it and see what happens.”

I am currently at work on our first e-book. It will cover P48 and at this point I don’t have a timeframe for when it will be ready. Initially, we were going to do a printed book, when cold feet syndrome set in, and we grew concerned that there wouldn’t be a big enough market to justify the cost. Printing a book is expensive in the extreme. Paper cost is a huge factor, along with the labor involved in printing and binding. Then there’s shipping, both to get the books from the printer and then to the individual customer. In the size of print runs that we do, these costs add up to several thousand dollars quickly. It’s a lot of overhead to carry and recover through sales.

Lest you think that a digital book is a cash cow just waiting to be milked; let me dispel that idea too. Whether it is printed or downloaded, a well-done book takes just as much preparation in terms of writing, proofreading, design (I’m learning e-books require a greater level of design thoughtfulness than print), and then, there are the technology costs of proper software and hardware, e-commerce tools (all of which are forever changing), and on it goes.

The real bottom line is this: What is of genuine use to the reader? Nowadays, the container (paper or pixels) has become a lesser part of that equation. In model railroading, some things change overnight (DCC was adopted quickly in most scales) others don’t change at all. (Need I go there?)

I feel deeply that model railroad publishing is ripe for a significant change in how relevant information is presented to the hobbyist. While the hobby already has one digital format magazine, that is just the beginning in my view. No one really knows the future. We’re making it up as we go. Consider these thoughts a conversation starter.