An Open Letter to Model Railroader Magazine

Dear Model Railroader,

This year I have finally decided to allow my subscription to expire. Rather than me just going away quietly, you deserve to know why you lost my business.

I bought your magazine on and off during the 50s and 60s, and in the late  80s I decided I would subscribe. The price was reasonable, photos and illustrations were plentiful and helpful, and the advice I found between the covers wasn’t over my head; and it was presented in just-enough-detailed illustration to show that, yes, I really could do this.

Over the years the friendliness and accessibility of the advice remained a constant, and I continued to read the magazine cover-to-cover. There may not have been a great plethora of stories in each issue, but each one made up for it by being covered completely and in-depth. Layout tours included materials with both photos and expertly-done illustrations on how certain tricky aspects were accomplished, but at the same time showing how everything printed in the story was attainable. If it was mentioned in the copy, it was covered by the photos or illustrations. Or both. Unusual things like swing-away sections for access typically got the royal treatment of both photos and illustrations. Several times, I could have mistaken the quality of the explanatory line art for Popular Mechanics. And the cover price remained accessible all the while. Each time I renewed, it was at a good discount from the cover price. So you had me coming back as a customer.

But lately there has been an ever-increasing focus on photo-journalism, and a shift away from the illustrative artwork that was your magazine’s trademark. The shift to photo-documentation means that concepts better explained by illustration are made more difficult to understand unless there are enough photos. But space limitations created by printing budgetary restraints means if you’re relying solely on photos, important details have to be left out. You can’t show hidden lines or cutaways anywhere else but in line art. At the same time, each issue attempts to make up for this lack of depth by covering more subjects. I hold up a recent article about a sliding bridge access which uses a drawer slide as an example. Now, I’m a very technically-oriented person, and as a Senior Technical Writer, I create explanatory photos and text, and also commission an awful lot of explanatory line art. But this article screams for a good illustration, as I had to pore over the explanations and not-so-helpful photos far too many times to finally understand (at about the 75% level) the concept.  In my work, I try very hard to achieve ‘first-pass comprehension’; something which this story was sadly lacking. This was the tipping point in my deciding to end my subscription.

I respectfully submit that this chasing more subject matter has come at a detriment to the depth of coverage which has marked your magazine in the past. The lack of access to illustration services is showing.

There has also been one more shift that perhaps characterizes the move to photo-journalism: this new fascination with video. Doing this in itself might not be so bad, if clip subscriptions were offered at a discounted rate for subscribers.

But they are not.

And meanwhile our modern world has moved to electronic media such as tablets and phones (although I cannot understand why you’d want to read this magazine on a phone!), and this might not be so bad, if the electronic subscription were offered at a discounted rate for paper subscribers.

But it is not.

To pile dung on a smoldering fire, “opting-in” to so-called email updates has brought a daily barnyard stink of spam to my inbox. I contacted you folks at Kalmbach to see if there was a way to filter this down even a little bit, and was told, ‘no’.

Wait a second: no saying ‘we’ll look into it for you‘?

What happened to Customer Service? (Note the initial caps, please)

So now I get spam from Garden Railways, Classic Toy Trains (sort of interesting but WAY too expensive for my level of interest), Trains (which is filled with far too much stuff I don’t care for – standing trackside on Railroad private property to photograph railroads I have no interest in), and everything feeding into an ever-increasing level of spam trying to get me to purchase expensive digital subscriptions to all of the above, PLUS expensive video subscriptions (at FULL cost!) for ALL of the above.

And now you ask … no, let me clarify in capital letters: you TELL me, a long-time subscriber, via an impersonal STICKER obscuring the front of my latest issue to renew my subscription AT FULL RATE. NO DISCOUNT.

You already have my answer.

Thank you, and have a nice day.




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