Thursday 29 July 2010

Model railway magazines - what do we like?

I had intended to do a quick summary of the contents of the latest issues of model railway magazines I have received recently. They include Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM), Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, and NZ Model Railway Journal.

However, rather than just describe the contents of these magazines, I want to open up a discussion about model railway magazine content. Now I realise that content for model railway magazines mostly comes from the readers themselves, and that magazines can only publish content that they receive. Except in some cases where the staff of a magazine write their own articles, nearly all model railway magazines published around the world rely on contributed content from readers and railway modellers.

Nevertheless, I am interested to know what people want from their model railway magazines since the readers are in fact the consumers. What are the features of a model railway magazine that readers want from such publications? What do readers enjoy and dislike about model railway magazines in general?

For me, I have a few key preferences that cover what I like best in a model railway magazine. These features include:

1. Model railway industry news - I like to be able to go to one place in the magazine to read a summary of what the local model railway industry is up to, especially about new products and new manufacturers.

2. Model railway layout article - I like to read about other people's model railroad layouts. What I really like in these articles is not just reading a description about the layout, but to get some insights into the thinking behind the layout, the construction (including scenery and buildings), and operation. There should be at least one "method" or "detailed tip" for readers to learn about. The article doesn't have to include ALL of my pet wants, but simply describing a layout is not enough for me. Good photos really help too, as does a track plan.

3. A construction article - I like to know how people do things in the hobby, whether it is scratchbuilding an industry or designing a traverser for a layout. And I need some detail - I need to get enough information in the article to be able to build the item, or use the techniques for something else. A construction article to my mind is not just what someone has done, it's about giving the reader something to do as well.

4. Advertisements - Well, they largely pay for the magazine so that's important! But I also like to know what's going on and what's coming up (as in point 1).

5. Innovative thinking - I like to hear about innovation in the hobby and different ways of doing things or seeing things. Innovation is not something a person or a magazine can initiate; innovation is one of those rare and intangible occasions that just happen. I realise this, and I certainly don't expect innovation to be featured in a model railway magazine on a regular basis like an editorial! However, when I do read about innovative thinking in the hobby, I always like it and appreciate it.

That's it from me; anyone else with an opinion on what they like (or don't like) about model railway magazines?


  1. Hi Brad,
    I think that articles from prototype to model is for me and you don't see it much. I am not well versed on the prototype, particularly wagons and their loads. For example, Austrains released the MLE, what I would like to see is an article on the MLE and detail photos. What loads it carried and how those loads were loaded and removed. How they were tied down etc.
    Then followed with an article on the model and how to improve it and create these loads. I used a RTR wagon in this example but you could use any kit as well. I think mags miss this and assume we already know but I bet there are hundreds of modelers that want to know more history on the model they are purchasing.

  2. Hi Brad,
    I buy, AMRM, Model Railway Journal, Narrow Gauge Gazette and Narrow Gauge Down Under. The reasons for buying these magazines are as follows and thats not saying each magazine delivers all of these requirements. Some deliver more of these than others but that's a different discussion ;-)
    1. Trade News
    2. Trade Advertising
    3. Product Reviews
    4. Prototype Analysis / Plans
    5. Layput Visits and Layout building articles
    6. Locomotive / Wagon Scratch building
    7. Articles on innovtion in scenery techniques, locomotibe construction, etching, casting, layout construction, whatever. New ideas on layout design / construction etc etc.

    Some magazines are better than others but I find the ones I buy regularly will deliver a fair percentage of the of these points. And being published from 3 continents, you get a cultursl balance of how people make their models which I think plays a part as well
    You've initiated a good discussion point Brad.


  3. Brad, I think that the role of the magazines is to be a fair representation of what the 'masses' want to know about our hobby. This does leave it wide open to the influences of the editors, or indeed the people who provide the articles for publication.

    The role of editor would be the most challenging, especially wanting to get it 'right' for the readers. The difficulty I imagine would always be having articles to publish that met the criteria that had been set out by the editorial team. I have been left occasionally asking 'what on earth' with some of the supermarket purchases or film canister articles. The balance has been kept with some decent articles about prototype subjects.

    I don't buy magazines regularly, they don't have the detailed information that I need to build a model equivalent. I do enjoy seeing photos of what others have built, but not often enough. I do need info on new models, but I don't need pages of info to go along with it that leaves you wondering if the whole purpose of that edition is to support the release of a new model.

    I am still at the 'beginning' of my experiences with model railways. I enjoy the challenge of seeing a model that has intricate detail to be a very fair representation of the real thing. I do not enjoy seeing a film canister being used as a fair representation, with absolutely no effort used to do better than 'toy' level.

    No, I say now that I've done nothing to influence any railway mag, have written no articles, nor have I let any mag editor know what I'm looking for, so all this bleeting stands for what exactly? Well, maybe a challenge to myself to do more to positively influence the hobby. So look out for an article from me in a future issue, no film canisters, promise!

  4. Thanks for your comments, chaps.

    Firstly, Andrew touches on something I will elaborate on in a future post - prototype to model. Andrew referred to understanding how a particular wagon was used. I want to know how the freight wagons (in NSW in my case) moved around the state and the method of instruction to do so. I enjoy some of the articles in "Byways of Steam" for that very reason. But I still don't really know for sure how that S truck went from Darling Harbour to Gundagai and then ended up at Bathurst. Understanding the movement of freight wagons on the prototype would help me determine a suitable plan for operations on the layout - not necessarily something for everyone I realise.

    I agree with Rob's comments about getting some variety from the model railway press because not every issue from individual magazines will have 100% of what a reader wants. I think the hope is that over the course of a year, for example, a reader feels satisfied with the content they have been delivered during that period.

    Geoff reinforces the point that magazines can only publish material that they receive from railway modellers. This has always been the case but I wonder if the magazine editors also have a role in seeking out articles that might match the needs of the masses and some of the niche interests as well.

    Content in model railway magazines is always an interesting discussion and there are probably no definitive answers. But keeping in touch with the wants and expectations of readers is also very important for magazine publishers - all magazine publishers.

  5. Hi Brad

    I started buying AMRM as a 13 year old in 1984, and stopped around 1990 when other interests took over. I started buying it again in mid 1997, and since then have gathered every issue back to 1977, and a few older ones as well. Traveling from the Central Coast to Sydney every day gives me a lot of reading time, and so I get to go through these magazines in chronological order in a reasonable amount of time.

    I do tend to find the last few years of AMRM becoming an infomercial, rather than a modelling magazine to a large extent. If you took out the coming soon and stuff section, the magazine would be a great deal thinner, and although it is nice to read, it isn't like it is an extra ten pages of info, it merely consumes ten pages of what could be otherwise be modelling articles.

    I appreciate that any magazine is a result of the input by readers and skilled modellers, and maybe this is part of the problem, people are not writing enough good quality articles on topics "we" want to read about.

    Reading the editorials in the Bob Gallagher and Allan Brown era, they were full of pushing for better models, better track standards, improving the hobby as a whole, and didn't mind shaking the boat a bit. I think these days magazines have to be so safe so as not to be sued or lose readership, that they lose that spark that ignites peoples passions, not simply lets them chug along doing whatever.

    I find the thing that annoys me the most about the hobby is that newcomers, and I'm talking mature modellers not kids, don;t seem to be able to access the right information about certain things before they begin to spend up on items that will to a degree cement their path in the hobby.

    Magazines like AMRM have the ability to get a lot of this information out there, and I've often wondered how they would go by putting out a "beginners" issue where they go back through all of the really good articles over the years that outline some of things new modellers should know about before they begin? I know printing costs are not cheap, but the articles are there, and surely they could do print runs on demand to some extent. All hobby shops should stock it and then new medellers have a good publication that is aimed at what they will need to know.

    We the modeller are to take some responsibility as well for submitting stuff if we feel it will be useful. I wrote an article for the N Scale Modeller magazine about the construction of my N Scale Coffee table layout. The subject was more aimed at a more fun aspect of the hobby, although the concept does lend itself to some interesting variations. Sure it took some time to write it, take photo's etc, but I had a lot of peolpe comment very positively about it, and it inspired a few people to enjoy the hobby in a capacity they can, rather than not be involved because they could not have the empire they dreamed of.

    A few of us have some good stuff on our Blogs as well that wouldn't take much to form into an article. The best thing is a lot of it is quality modelling which I think is important to show. I agree everyone needs to start somewhere, but why not start by trying to do something as well as it can be done, not as simply as possible with already mentioned "film canister" which sure is easy, but looks nothing like what it is supposed to.

    I'd rather read about something inspiring to begin with, than simply beginner projects that don't encourage any real development of skill.


  6. Hi Brad,

    I subscribe to AMRM and generally I enjoy it. Andrew gave the MLE example - a zillion years ago I think AMRM did exactly that when a plastic or resin MLE came out. but those sort of articles have dropped off largely because those writing them have moved on in various ways. It seems from the authorship that it was a more collaborative effort than writing articles is now.

    I also buy MRJ but feel the focus has dropped off since they sacked Tim Shackleton. There are far more articles along the lines of "well I didn't like this part so I just cast an new on in titanium and turned it in my computer driven lathe" rather than the more practice focused ones Shackleton allowed in.

    I subscribe to Model Railroader for the introductory articles but get sick of the Kalambach hard sell. I think I had subscribed for a month before I got my renewall notice!