Viewpoint – April 2019

So much of our hobby is coloured by perception. Several small conversations over the past month  have only served to confirm that many modellers seem to have a very skewed understanding of the realities of the way our hobby works. It’s not that they are consciously taken in by what they hear and see, but rather that there are certain ‘truths’ that seem to persist within the hobby.

Perhaps the most obvious from the point of view of IPMS (UK) is the enduring idea that we are only interested in aircraft and that modellers of any other genre are not welcome within the society. It’s true that the majority of modellers tend to build aircraft of one sort or another, but any trip to a model show, and Scale ModelWorld in particular, will soon demonstrate that this is not the case. Nonetheless, it is a ‘truth’ that seems to persist.

If IPMS was only about aircraft, I would never have joined it. My first visit to an IPMS club, the one I still belong to some 30 years down the line, showed the level of variety that members were interested in. I was hooked at an early stage and have never regretted my decision to join. However, there are many who find it difficult to make that jump for one reason or another. I was reminded of this just last week. A fellow 1/48 scale armour modeller commented that he’d seen me operating an IPMS membership stand at a show and was astonished that anyone in IPMS was building armour. Not only that but he was also interested in how popular that subject matter seemed to be amongst the visitors to the stand.

IPMS was seen as elitist for years and years. It was a well-known ‘truth’ that you had to build models of a certain standard before we would accept you. I’d never understood where this perception came from until I came across a reference to the early years of IPMS. Back in the 1960s, prospective recruits had to present their models to a panel of IPMS members to determine whether they were a suitable candidate to join the Society. Thankfully, that particular level of stupidity soon got lost as the society continued to grow. However, the initial elitist attitude made such an impression on the hobby in general that it continued to haunt IPMS for decades. It is only really in the last 10 years that we have finally managed to shake off the ‘elitist’ tag and our steadily increasing membership surely reflects a more realistic attitude towards the benefits of belonging to IPMS (UK).

Lest you think that this matter of perception is unique to IPMS, I was also reminded via a conversation with someone who works in the commercial magazine industry that perceptions about the hobby can vary significantly from country to country. Over in Europe the approach to the hobby is very positive and they generally have a really pro-active view of the hobby. Conversely, in the UK, there is a persistent assumption that the hobby is struggling and that it isn’t addressing the needs of modellers.

It’s the classic glass-half-full, vs the glass-half-empty dilemma. A trawl through the various UK-based forums and social media groups only seems to confirm the pattern. All too often it’s about what the manufacturers aren’t doing, rather than celebrating the vast choice that we actually have. It’s almost as if the greater the choice we are presented with, the more desperate we are to highlight the lack of obscure and esoteric subjects that ‘prove’ the market isn’t listening. Company A announces a new kit and immediately you comments about how bad it will be and that if only Company B released it, it would be a much better kit.

The hobby these days is a global one. It always has been but the advent of the Internet has served to make it more obvious. Despite this, there is still the perception that Europe and North America are the epicentre of the hobby. The growth of the many Asian manufacturers is assumed to be the result of demand in the West, rather than the reality of an increasing demand in their own domestic market. The emphasis is changing and whilst we can reap the benefits of the hobby in Europe and North America, we are no longer the primary market for so many of these glorious new kits.

Take a moment to sit back and question what you ‘know’ about the hobby. Seek out the wider influences that really shape our hobby and better understand them. If you try to pack it into a box that was invented 50 years ago and hope it stays that way then you are condemning the hobby to a slow and lingering decline. Our hobby is vibrant and inspiring. Celebrate the vast choice of kits and accessories that are out there rather than spending time and effort bemoaning the increasingly rare and unusual subjects that may never see the light of day. It has a great future, but only if you allow it to grow and change and you are willing to change with it.