The face of our hobby has changed massively over the past 20 years. Technology has played a fundamental part in those changes for any number of reasons. Changes in the way models are designed have led to a huge expansion in the number of manufacturers out there who are producing high quality plastic kits. Allied to this has been a huge growth in the number of small (and not so small) aftermarket companies that are releasing equally high quality and often very niche products.
Much of the expansion has been the result of the Internet taking hold of our lives, for better or for worse. Our knowledge of, and access to, manufacturers in other countries around the world is infinitely greater than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. It has also opened our eyes to how the hobby operates in other countries. A great example is the consistent level of commentary about Tamiya ‘re-boxing’ Italeri kits. We in the western hemisphere question why Tamiya would bother to do this, not realising that they have been doing so for the past 40 years for the domestic Japanese market. That’s the difference. Pre-Internet, this part of their operation was hidden from much of the rest of the world because those kits rarely left Japan. Post-Internet, when anything available in Japan is also available across the globe (and vice versa), the practice has become common knowledge but the justification for it seems to be lost in translation.
However, global access has brought with it more negative changes too. Gone are the halcyon days of a local hobby shop. Granted, they still exist, but they represent a small proportion of what used to be out there. Whilst the concept of mail order has long been a staple of our hobby, the Internet and related changes to payment technology has made it far easier to purchase items remotely, often from the far side of the planet, and have them delivered to our door within a few days. The actual cost of the kit is often significantly less than the UK retail price. Couple that with the overseas guys stocking items that we can’t get easily in the UK and the temptation is to look outside the Uk for our retail therapy. The ease with which we can obtain products has done wonders for the hobby, but is potentially the death knell for the traditional hobby shop, whose running costs almost inevitably mean they can’t compete with an online retailer.
I’m as guilty as anyone of buying online and from overseas but before you go rushing off with the idea that buying from abroad is always cheaper, take a moment to do your research. I recently decided to purchase a newly released kit. My first action was to work out what the UK retail price was and then the best price I could get online from a UK retailer. Finally I checked out my preferred overseas retailers in Asia. Then I factored in the cost of delivery, which was comparable for both UK and overseas retailers. The surprising result was that where traditionally I’d expect to save around 15-20% by buying from overseas, changes in the world market and the value of the Pound meant that I would be lucky to save 5%. I don’t buy enough over the average year for that 5% to mean much to me, so it actually made sense to buy locally. If I’d been buying several kits then it soon becomes cheaper to buy from overseas. However, there is a hidden cost risk in all this. You can never be sure if your package might be inspected by Customs and they can then decide to impose an import duty on the kits based on their own estimation of the value rather than the actual cost you’ve paid. What may have looked like a good deal at the start suddenly becomes a more expensive result than you anticipated.
With no model shops locally, or at least none that cater for my somewhat specialised taste in 1/48 scale armour, my other main source of purchasing is the model show circuit. Ironically, one of the stands I buy most frequently from is run by a long-established model shop in Birmingham. I’ve never been to their shop but I’ve been a regular customer over the past 5-6 years. There is no substitute for being able to view the products in person, to consider them in detail and then make an informed decision about whether or not to buy them.
All this leaves me with a dilemma – the amount of money I put aside for my hobby is limited so do I spend it with my local retailers in person, thus helping the support them and keep the hobby vibrant for others, or do I take the better value option for me and buy more of my stuff from overseas, thus maximising the value of my available budget? It a decision that will be personal to each and every one of you but is those decisions that will shape the future of our hobby.
First published in Scale Military Modeller International magazine