Friday, March 31, 2017

Hey Big Model Railroad Media: Where's the Audio Content?

The revolution in big model railroad media is being televised, or at least video-streamed on the internet. But why hasn't the big model railroad media revolution also included podcasts and audio content?

Big Model Railroad Media is Fighting the Video Insurgency...

Big Model Railroad Media such as Kalmbach, Model Railroad Hobbyist, and former Kalmbach video guy Allen Keller all have rolled out paywalled video services. They are all professionally produced and edited, and bring to life much of the art and craft of model railroading.
Watching tree making and airbrush techniques, for example, on Trainmasters.tv, boosted my confidence and took the mystery out of methods I should have learned decades ago.
Video tours of layouts also are both impressive and humanizing in a way that staged and static magazine photos often are not. I've particularly enjoyed seeing Bob Hayden and Dave Frary's Carrabasset and Dead River and Tom Piccirillo's Somerset County Traction system layouts--among many others--on video.
Big professional model railroad video is in large part big model railroad media's survival response to shrinking circulation of paper publications. Remember when the local drug and grocery store had most of an aisle of magazines, including Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman? Now it's 6 or 8 feet of magazines, and not a hobby magazine in sight. Model railroad video content, paid up front instead of print media paid by ads, is the idea here. Kalmbach and MRH in particular have positioned their video as complements or adjuncts to their magazine offerings.
Big professional model railroad video is also a response to insurgent small amateur model railroad video, which has sprung up like weeds on YouTube. Big model railroad media has noticed that some of these small do-it-yourself video makers actually are competing with the old magazine-centric model of big model railroad media. For starters, YouTube channels command significant audience numbers--James Wright's thorough and informative model railroad video product review channel has over 28,000 subscribers, Kathy Millatt's charming and edifying how-to channel has over 4,500 subscribers. There are lots of other individual model railroaders posting to YouTube as well, and there's even a group called YouTube Modelers that--in a twist--even publishes its own online magazine.
There is a more ominous competitive threat to Big Model Railroad Media than insurgent collectives of video- and magazine producing model railroaders, and that is how YouTube is changing model railroad commerce. Model railroad manufacturers have already taken notice of the power of online video to connect with customers. Hobby manufacturers and retailers who formerly connected with consumers almost exclusively via ads bought from Big Model Railroad Media now have their own YouTube channels. Woodland Scenics and MB Klein are two excellent examples.
And remember James Wright with his 28,000 subscribers? His YouTube reviews are now a sought-after venue for showcasing new model railroad products and events. In short, YouTube and online video are an alternative to ads in Big Model Railroad Media--why would manufacturers pay money to put ads in big model railroad magazines if a popular YouTube reviewer or your own marketing and video people can show sights, sounds, and motions to a world of Internet users?
I'm currently signed up to all of Big Model Railroad Media's paywalled sites, and I put a fair bit of mileage on several of the YouTube channels. Not sure if I will keep the subscriptions over the long haul, but I would gladly gift them to a newby in lieu of a how-to book or old model railroad magazines, much same way I was helped at the beginning of my model railroad interest. I'll admit that I don't consume video content like "normal" people do: my TV consumption has always been minimal, thanks to a childhood more or less without TV.

...But Big Model Railroad Media is Sitting Out the Audio Insurgency

But I did hear a lot of radio as a child and young adult, so there's another internet-based form of broadcast-like communication that has more appeal to me than video, and that's podcasts. Podcasts are free and easily accessible via smart phone or computer. Why hasn't Big Model Railroad media launched into podcasting to showcase their strengths--access to the industry and prominent model railroaders, tightly edited expert content--and cross sell their money making magazine and video offerings?
There are a number of model railroad podcasts currently available on iTunes or other sources, most of which enjoy significant listener bases. Some are updated regularly; others are out of production with archived back episodes available. I've mentioned my favorite, Trevor Marshall and Jim Martin's  The Model Railway Show, several times here before, and though out of production, its archive is thankfully still available. I also listen occasionally to Lionel Strang's A Modeler's Life, Tom Barbalet's Model Rail Radio, and Mike and Scotty Live. There are others as well.
So far, model railroad podcasts have been grassroots undertakings, typically produced by one or a few folks on a part time basis, with bare bones production. The result is that most model railroad podcasts--like most podcasts generally--tend to be a few people talking in an unedited, meandering conversation for long period of time. For model railroad podcasts, the long conversation format works fairly well, with each of the above podcasts reaching thousands of loyal listeners.
But there's also room, maybe even a need, for another approach to model railroad podcasts besides a couple of dudes cracking in-jokes and talking about trains for an hour or two . For example, how about a radio show-like podcast with a host or hosts that is edited and switches between interviews, stories, and industry news?
Big model railroad media or maybe even a large organization such as the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) are in the best position to launch such a podcast--it's not that great a leap from the editorial and production capabilities required to produce a magazine or video to produce a radio show-format podcast.
The best example of the potential for high-production value, radio show-like model railroad podcasts was the The Model Railway Show mentioned above. It was scripted and featured news, stories, and interviews. To be fair, the show's hosts, Trevor Marshall and Jim Martin, are veteran radio journalists, and their skill and experience was evident throughout each tightly crafted episode. However, TMRS demanded significant time and attention to create, and ultimately Trevor and Jim stopped producing the show so they could focus on their own model railroad pursuits.
Indeed, there are other tantalizing precursors or elements of professionally-produced, Big Model Railroad Media radio show-style podcasts already out there. Model Railroad Hobbyist already has a traditional, monthly (or so)  'couple of dudes talking for an hour or two' podcast. Model Railroader editors have monthly (or so) videos like 'Inside Cody's Office', highlighting new products and industry, as well as separate video previews of the upcoming magazine issues. Could MR not re-fashion these kinds of periodic video offerings into an engaging podcast? Perhaps White River Productions (publisher of Railroad Model Craftsman, Model Railroad News, and other train-focused magazines) could venture into this space with a monthly or weekly radio show-style podcast.
As Trevor and Jim's experience shows, serious podcast production requires serious production wherewithal--it's really more than a hobbyist with a day job can be expected to do. Which is why Big Model Railroad Media players ought to offer podcasts as a digital adjunct to their print and video products.