Dave Nelson made a good comment on Part 1 of this series:

he wrote

Three observations

  1. When comparing page counts how do you factor in Great Model Railroads, Model Railroad Planning, and other “special” issues that didn’t exist at one time? Arguably MR is now a 14 or is it 15 issue a year magazine now.

  2. I would also point out that using the August issue as comparison is a bit odd — I bet that has the lowest news stand sale of any issue (since I suspect less model railroading is done that month) and thus they probably tend not to put their best articles in that issue.

  3. Third observation is that had I ranked issues years ago, before beginning my layout, I would have placed far less value on articles about benchwork, tracklaying, wiring, yard design etc than I would now. Soon I will be deeply involved in structures and I imagine my ranking of articles will change once again. Just a point
    Dave Nelson

These are good points and bear expanding on:

Page counts and special issues: No, I did not include the new special issues in the page/cost comparisons but these special issues are not part of the 12-issue annual subscription. Even subscribers must pay extra for them. I might feel better about my subscription dollars if MR spread the content in these issue into the 12 issues through the year. No doubt Kalmbach would need to charge more but at the same time the quality of the magazine would be improved.

Why look at only August? I agree it is probably the low mark of the year. People tend to be on vacation in July and August. However, this should be true over all 40 years I looked at. If I compared December issues to August issues that would obviously be a problem. Despite all that, there were some really good August issues! Really it was random timing that led me to choose August — I had just recieved my August 2006 issue when I started the series.

Why look at only one month of the year? This review ended up being a LOT of work just looking at 40 issues. There’s no way I could have done a resonable job including more months and I was interested in including as many years as possible.

Dave’s last point: that what constitutes a “good” article is changable and prejudiced by what you are interested in TODAY. I absolutely agree. That’s why I gave up on ever reducing my MR collection to a file collection of “just articles I like.” I tried that once and almost immediately regretted it and had to spend a lot of time and $$ on eBay getting the whole issues back. As far as affecting how I reviewed the issues? Obviously the reviews of the issues are my personal opinions.

I have been feeling for many years that the quality of the magazine has declined. I was interested in whether I would find that old issues were bad too, in which case MY standards had changed, or whether I really liked those issues better. For my part, I found a real trend downward in quality in MR.

However, one thing that Dave wrote REALLY got me thinking:  those “special” issues. I have bought several of them over the years and they have good material. If MR included all that great content — and yes, charged more – I would very likely feel better about the magazine.

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 1

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 2

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 3

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 4

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 5

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 5½

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 6

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 7

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 8

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 9

5 Responses to “40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 9”

  1. Joe Daddy Says:

    As a fellow blogger, I find your work has a certain quality and character that has great appeal to me. With your permission, I’ll add a link to your blog from mine.

    As one who writes ‘assessments’ of different things, I agree with your points in regard to evaluating the magazines in August. So long as you picked the same month of the year, I think you are gold. So far as preference, we certainly all have them, but if you can make your criteria have a level of objectivity over subjectivity, you win, for example rating articles as best or better is much more subjective than to accurately describe the topics and the level of expertise required to appreciate.

    And some would argue those points too!

    Best regards, and may you and your family be graced with the Peace that transcends all understanding.

    Joe Daddy, Erie, CO

  2. Iain Stuart Says:

    I found your blog while browsing and was very interested in your analysis of MR. As an Australian MR is of interest for prodcts and techniques – those huge basement layouts are rare in Australia. In recent years I have really enjoyed the work of Iain Rice and Pelle Søeborg. I have not enjoyed the endless “the Blank and Blankety Blank: another model railroad you can build”.

    However I understand why it is nessecary to have those articles there which is to capture the new entrants in the hobby and get them building something that can be finished. I think this is why I go througgh buying cycles and for months at a time not purchase a MR.

    It would be good to see the Kalmbach Publications financial reports over the same time period as one reason for a decline in page size may have been income and profits.

    Anyway it is an interesting analysis, I hope the MR people find it.



  3. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    Hi Iain,

    Thank you for writing. I really love Iain Rice and Pelle Søeborg’s work too.

    I’ve been really impressed with all the Australian narrow gauge modeling (U.S. and Australian prototype) that I’ve seen in The Narrow Guage & Short Line Gazette over the last many years. Considering Australia’s population compared to the U.S. there seem to be a whole bunch of great modelers there!



  4. Bill Says:


    I just came across your blog while doing some surfing (aka work avoidance) and your analysis of MR intrigued me. Nice work – I wonder if anyone from MR will a) read it and b) address it if they do.

    One comment in response to one of the previous comments on this post:

    Iain said:

    “However I understand why it is nessecary to have those articles there which is to capture the new entrants in the hobby and get them building something that can be finished. I think this is why I go througgh buying cycles and for months at a time not purchase a MR.”

    I think this is the case with any mass market publication. MR is obviously targeted to model railroaders, but it needs to appeal to as broad a group of us as possible.

    I sometimes have to step back and realize that not everyone who is interested in model railroading has been at it as long or as seriously as I have. Eventually you outgrow the magazines and have to look elsewhere for information. They may still have things that are of interest, but the relative percentage will get less and less.

    This usually hits me when I get caught up in some new interest. For the first while, every magazine on the rack has an article where I learn something new and exciting.

    Eventually, they all start to seem more and more similar, with less and less new ideas and information.

    Anyway, just thought I’d add my thoughts – keep up the good work.


  5. Chris Says:

    It may be possible that in 40 years the modeling sophistication of Dan or others has increased, whereas the average modeling sophistication of MR’s audience has decreased. Like all magazines, MR’s purpose is to sell advertising to advertisers by delivering the publication to an audience that the advertisers want to reach and that MR can accurately identify in demographic terms to the advertisers. In my view, the skill level (or relative interest in craftsmanship) of the average model railroader has decreased in proportion to the page count curve shown in the graph. Ready-to-run and ready-built products are supplanting kits and taking more and more space on hobby shop shelves. The average “craftsman” modeler is aging and new modelers want things to work today, now, without building a kit. MR is simply dumbing-down to match the bulk of the audience that it is selling to advertisers — a form of Darwinism in the publishing world. Disappointing, perhaps, but explainable, and fortunately we have other publications (like Bob Brown’s Gazette) that cater to craftsmen.