There’s a question that regularly pops up in various forums, on social media, and other places – Is scale modeling dead? Or is scale modeling dying? The answer is simple.
Scale model building is not dead and the hobby is certainly not dying. The hobby has undergone a lot of changes when compared to the 70s or 80s but it is in fact flourishing. The number of companies producing model kits is increasing and the number of model kits being regularly introduced to the market has never been larger.
The companies know the market and their audience very well and if there was no audience, there would be no models and no new companies.
Sure, some companies have gone out of business in recent years – for example, Chinese Kittyhawk or Wingnut Wings from New Zealand, but these seem to be exceptions.
Back in the day, you find plastic model kits in many retail stores. Nowadays, not even the largest stores have kits in stock. However, that does not mean model kits are no longer being sold. It’s just that most of the sales have moved to the online world of shopping. Stores such as Spruebrothers.com, MegaHobby.com, or even Amazon, offer plenty of kits and accessories in the US. In Europe, the situation is even better.
Scale Modeling Has Turned Into A Hobby for Adults
Fifty years ago, the hobby was practiced mostly by kids. Boys often used their pocket money to buy plastic model kits. Kits of legendary airplanes such as the B-17 Flying Fortress were the most popular back then and they still are even today.
However, the target audience of most modern model kits is no longer young kids. The models have changed. They are more complex than before, require better skills to build and, of course, are more expensive.
Many of the current model builders are also older men who built a couple of models as kids and then left the hobby for decades. Now, with more time, more money, and more patience, they are returning back to the hobby and are enjoying it a lot more than ever before.
Technology Has Advanced a Lot
It is no longer as complicated to design a scale model kit as it used to be and it is also easier to create the molds for the injection molding process used to create the plastic sprues with model parts.
Nowadays, the designers of model kits have a lot of tools that help them with the design process. Models are now designed using CAD software which makes the process quicker and more precise. New technologies such as 3D printing and CNC machining are also helping tremendously.
Long gone are the days of crude models by Frog. Now we have super detailed model kits such as the GWH’s SU-27UB Flanker, that require almost no aftermarket parts.
This all results in a wider variety of models being available on the market with much better details.
The same can be said also about the tools available for model builders themselves. A modeler’s toolkit is now much bigger than before. Special tools, types of cement, fillers, and paints have been designed specifically for model builders. If you see someone recommending a set of Golden acrylics for painting models, then you know the person knows nothing about the hobby.
All these changes and increases in difficulty lead to people taking up the hobby at the later stages of their life instead of their childhood. All the mentioned facts also result in a higher cost of entry for the hobby. For example, a good-quality airbrush will set you back by 200 bucks.
Model Building Has Found Its Way On Youtube
In recent years, Youtube has seen the rise of model-building YouTubers. Many of these channels dedicated to model-building have tens or even hundreds of thousands of subscribers. A striking example of such a modeler would be David Damek and his “PLASMO” channel which has reached over 650 thousand subscribers.
Would a channel dedicated to a dying hobby have such a following? Probably not. Although one must keep in mind many of those followers just enjoy watching people build models and they themselves do not build models.
Kids Cannot Afford Modern Model Kits and Tools
Seeing all the cool models shown on Instagram or Youtube, most kids won’t be impressed by a 10-dollars snap kit. The problem is many of the models they see online required an investment of possibly hundreds of dollars. That’s not something an average kid would be able to spend.
Of course, the parents buy a model kit for their kids. However, the plastic model building requires much more than just the kit itself. When you count everything in, the final price might look a bit intimidating for something you don’t know your kid will actually enjoy doing.
Yes, there are model kits designed specifically for kids and they are not that expensive. However, they are very simplified and most kids will grow out of them rather quickly.
Also, most kids do not see scale model building as a cool hobby to practice. When they will grow and start working, they might start looking for a hobby that would allow them to release their creative potential. And that hobby they find is often model building. Or perhaps another form of art.
Modeling Is More Popular Outside of the US
The curious thing is that scale modeling is way more popular outside of the USA. It is especially popular in Europe, namely in the UK, Germany, Italy or France, but also in smaller countries such as Czechia or Slovakia. Why is that so? That’s hard to say. I guess it’s mostly because of the long tradition and more manufacturers coming from these countries in the past.
Asia is another market where scale modeling is very popular. Japan is obvious with so many highly-respected manufacturers such as Tamiya, Hasegawa, or Bandai being based there. The Asian country that has seen a huge rise in both model building and model kit manufacturing is China. That shouldn’t be surprising really as pretty much everything is being made in China nowadays.
There you have my take on the “dying hobby” question. Scale model building is not dying and its future looks brighter than ever. The hobby has changed a lot in the last decades but it surely is not going anywhere.