The changes in model railroading over the last thirty years reflect the changes in our society at large. Modeling skills that were once common knowledge are today considered too hard to learn. The internal satisfaction enjoyed from doing work with your own hands has been systematically assaulted by mindless consumerism. Why bother handlaying track when you can fill a basement with flex track? Why bother scratchbuilding, with so much ready-to-run available? Who has time is the refrain heard in many hobby circles now. Among increasing distractions and over scheduling, some people now consider the time required for such things a wasteful indulgence. This, in my view, is where we’ve arrived. It begs the question: Is this where we want to be? I, for one, must answer no.
Seeing ready-to run touted as the panacea for the allegedly time-starved modeler and in some quarters, the disrespect toward the ongoing and lengthy practice of developing skill in the hobby makes me sad. I’m not alone in these sentiments. Serious modelers share similar views about the loss of respect for craft, excellence and taking the time required to build genuine skills. It’s a sad testimony that such dedication to excellence is labeled as snobbery and elitism by a small minority these days. The craftsmen I have met and corresponded with are as far removed from the category of snobs as one can get. To a person, they are among the most humble people in the hobby and the most generous and helpful. I started The Missing Conversation, a publication that presents the hobby as more than the empty pursuit of mass consumerism and escapist fun, in response to this downward spiral. It’s dedicated to those who still strive for the best in their modeling.
The wild west.
It’s a new world in publishing now and so far, there’s no law west of the Pecos. Current technology makes the tools of publishing and global distribution more accessible and easier to use than at any point in human history. That’s the good news. What’s the bad news? Mere tools don’t make a craftsman. A keyboard, an Internet connection and a blogging account hardly makes one a publisher. Because the barriers to entry in publishing have fallen so drastically, there’s exponentially more noise and clutter in the marketplace that one has to sift through and filter out. As a result, getting and maintaining a person’s attention has become more difficult and said attention more valuable. The ability to craft a compelling story and to convey ideas via words and images is a more urgent skill than ever.
Having something of genuine value to offer and doing it in a quality manner is simply the price of entry now. I chose to focus the magazine on works of excellence and to cover a single topic in each issue, in contrast to the something-for-every-taste approach common elsewhere. I simply don’t want to play that general interest game. Producing such a tightly focused publication is feasible now because finding a niche audience is both practical and cost effective.
The design of the magazine is uncluttered and simple, another deliberate choice. With a slightly larger font size, a clean and easy to follow page layout, it’s meant to be read, not skimmed. A quarterly publication schedule allows adequate time to research articles and to produce a high quality product and, while the first two volumes featured my views and work, volumes three and four will feature the work of outside authors for a broader perspective. The work of these individuals was specifically chosen for the quality and the contribution they’re making to the hobby.
Another deliberate choice was to keep the magazine ad free. I want to be accountable to my readers first and foremost and want the magazine to stand or fall on the merits of its content. Forgoing advertising revenue flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Such revenue can often become a two-edged sword and a crutch that you’re dependent upon for survival. If the publication is going to fail, it’s better to know it sooner rather than later.
I’m well aware the $9.99 cover price is an immediate turn-off for many people. Since it isn’t subsidized by ads and given the amount of work put into each volume, plus the fact we pay our authors for commissioned articles, Joe and I believe the cover price is a fair exchange of value. Ultimately though, that decision is yours.
The Missing Conversation is an experiment in model railroad publishing and the ultimate outcome is unknown. I chose the long road and an artisan’s approach because I feel both will be more rewarding in the end for the readers and myself. The fate of the magazine rests in your hands. Your continuing support will be critical to its long-term success.
Volume 02 will be available November 1. The theme continues the discussion of layout design from Vol. 01 by focusing on the practical matters of making real world choices in the design of a layout. Volume 03 switches gears by covering the topic of finescale modeling in the different scales. Look for it in early January 2013.