Monday 7 September 2009

Technology in the hobby - publishing

I susbscribe to Model Railroader magazine (MR). I have about fifteen years' worth of back issues plus some from 1978-1979. Only recently have I begun to look at actually modelling a US prototype railroad - the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern (DME) which I blog about at DME Down Under.

Yet my decision to renew my MR subscription earlier this year was not based on just getting a monthly magazine in the post box. The tipping point for me was the additional content one has access to from the Model Railroader web site. MR is really using the internet to leverage more of it's magazine content and provide new ways of delivering that content for subscribers.

This additional web-based content gives product alerts and reviews, model railroad industry news as it happens (I see Faller has recently gone into bankruptcy), additional layout photos, a track plan database, and a series of videocasts by Cody Grivno, David Popp, and others on various model railroading topics.

But for me, the History according to Hediger series has been terrific. The format is an interview style between David Popp and Senior MR editor, Jim Hediger. Jim has been with the MR publishing team for over thirty years and his Ohio Southern layout is one of the greats. Jim shares some anecdotes about the history of his layout (now thirty years old) in his gravelly voice and with his wry sense of humour. The use of this web format interview style really brings Jim's knowledge and character to life, especially for those of us living on the other side of the world.

And this is where Model Railroader magazine is ahead of the rest - the supplementary content for subscribers available on the internet. The web allows for so much more than just the monthly publication of text. The web allows for video and podcasting, it enhances the scale of content (e.g. the thousands of track plans in the track plan database), and it allows for more immediate news and interaction (e.g. the news and MR reader forums).

The MR reader forums can also be used by the publishers to see what the the current issues of importance are to modellers (often emergent issues that can be picked up before they become mainstream) and whether the magazine and website can cater for these interests ahead of the model railroad magazine competition.

I do think, however, that MR could use a blog based on Tony Koester's Trains of thought column (as could AMRM with Ron Cunningham's Branchline Ramblings). I realise that Tony's column comes out monthly with MR magazine and Ron's column is now irregular in the bi-monthly AMRM. Good blogs usually have content loaded more than once a month (weekly is a good consistency to aim for) but I think there would be enough comments and interaction to provide sufficient content changes to overcome this lack of weekly updating by the authors.

We often think of how technology is improving the hobby through digital electronics and more life-like scale model locomotives and rollingstock. Technology is also helping to deliver model railway and prototype information in more interesting, more personable, and more timely and interactive ways.

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