Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The health of our hobby

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This blog entry as a response to a thread I started on
My gratitude to the serious responses thus far, and a 'chuckle' to those less serious, but more predictable! [:)]
I don't seek to be flame bait here, nor are my thougts intended to be trivial, but to engage in some serious dialogue.
There are some facts and data that could help assess the state of the hobby's size and assumed health.
Are overall sales $$ of model railroad related items growing or shrinking? What are key economic health indicators of related suppliers and manufacturers?
  1. Bankrupcy rate of current leaders U/D/S (up/down/static)
  2. Number of new suppliers and manufacturers each (U/D/S)
  3. Mergers and buyouts of existing suppliers and manufacturers (U/D/S)
Internet presence
  1. Forums that are growing with new members and postings
  2. Forums that are stagnant, dying or died in the past year
  3. New forums this year
  4. Same data on train blogs
Local, National and regional club health
Train shows per year, attendance and demographics
These are just a few of the metrics that I'd think would give some legitimate response to my question. The state of the hobby is not an abstract construct. It seems to me that instead of relying upon antedotal information gleaned from pundits and members of the OFC, real facts can be collected to better understand the issue.
So, Joe Daddy, who is responsible for doing this, well, I'd say no one is actually responsible, which is why we don't have clear or supportable data. But there are those who's best interests are served by knowing this. Large, leading magazines, national organizations and manufacturers themselves all need and would value this data as legitimate marketing information. Actually I would be very surprised if none or all of these people do not have some hard data on this subject. They may consider it to be highly secret or priviledged internal data; a part of their competitive advantage.
Personally, I think the known facts support the idea the hobby is enjoying at least a moderate amount of growth. Here is why I would say that, meaning these are the facts that support my conclusion.
  1. Recently the evening news announced the hobby of trains is making a comeback with younger people, citing the reentry of some retailers into the business. Antedotal for sure.
  2. We see what appears to be an increasing number of new and finely detailed models in all scales being offered.
  3. Young faces are appearing in the pages of leading magazines, suggesting their data suggests a youthful appearance will have an appeal to their audience. (these people look at the angles trying to make it all work to their advantage)
  4. Global competition works to keep prices in check. Look at the price of flex track over the past 40 years and compare it to wages. I'd say that price is muc flatter than my wages have been.
  5. The baby boomers are retiring, looking for mentally and physically challenging activities that don't require further abuse to their already jog ruined knees.
This brings me back to us. It is my recommendation, based upon my conclusions drawn from the known facts, that we are best served by thinking about our hobby more in the eyes of newbies than the OFC. This means it is valueable to help newbies be successful at making their trains operate well, look reasonable and have some fun, before we insist they have 9 rivits on each handrail, 4 bolts on each timber of a trestle bent and have a fully indexed card system before they turn the DCC controller on.
A growing, healthy hobby attracts better products, research and keeps the prices low while choices go up. A real advantage to everyone in the hobby, especially the OFC who mostly rely upon fixed incomes.
For those who don't know, OFC (Old Fuddyduddy Club)
And yes, I agree, a Poll would be completely useless for this purpose.
I just got my NMRA membership card yesterday #137808 00. It seems to me that one of the missions of the NMRA should be to know the health of the Model Railroading hobby.

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