The Expensive Model Kit Myth

One of the repeating things you hear in hobby circles is that the price of models today is out of line with the prices of years ago.  There are several variations of this theme:

  • Today’s manufacturers are pricing themselves out of the hobby
  • Kits are too expensive for kids
  • Models cost a lot more today than they used to
  • I’m on a fixed income, I can’t afford the hobby anymore.

I am not sure I agree with it. Yes, everything model related is “more expensive” than it was years ago.  But then again, everything is more expensive.  As well the industry today includes a massive variety of kits to suit every budget.  I think this was always the case as I distinctly remember seeing the “big models” on the tops of the shelves at my LHS – they were WAY out of my price range as a kid so I always ended up leaving the store with my 1/72 Hobbycraft, Minicraft and MPC models and only occasionally with a 1/48 Monogram kit.  I still remember buying this one:

Has anyone ever called the F-4 a “Phantom 2”?

I also remember messing it up pretty badly!

Can we compare kit costs?

Still, these theories persist.  And due to my addiction to scale model magazines I thought I could conduct a vaguely scientific study to determine whether model kits in 2019 are “way more” expensive than in the past.  Now I am no economist or expert in inflation and the consumer price index but lets begin by looking at some of the models featured in FineScale Modeler August 1987.

According to one of the Consumer Price Indexes available online to me (aside, it seems funny to me there are so many), prices in 2019 are 121.86% higher than prices in 1987.  That means $20 in 1987 is equivalent to $45 today.  And that $3 1987 FSM cover price is equivalent to $6.66 in today’s money.  I started looking at the following before giving up:

Item 1987 Price 2019 Equivalent Price 2019 Similar Model and Price
Bare Metal Foil Sheet $3.50 $7.77 Same product is listed $6.75 from BMF
Fujimi 1/72 British Phantom $14 $31.06 $23 price for a Academy F-4 at my LHS
Hasegawa 1/48 F-16C $14 $31.06 $27-$56 for a Tamiya F-16?

This does not prove much as, obviously, a lot of the models available in 1987 are out of production.

So then I thought I could compare the “modern equivalent” of the models listed in FSM in 1987.  For example, I thought it would be possible to compare “cutting edge” models available in 1987 to those available today.  Going out on a limb here – I’d say that the Tamiya 1/48 F-16 is the cutting edge these days?  At least its the modern “equivalent” of the Hasegawa F-16 of 1987…right?

Subjectivity…. so much for a vaguely scientific approach!

But are we talking about the same kind of kit?

So I then thought to look at the pricing of a bunch of “expensive” models today and then looking for equivalent pricing back in 1987.  I see a lot of big models in the $200-$300 for the higher end.  So were there $100-$200 model kits in the mid 1980s?  There did not seem to be any in the 1987 FSM but I did not do an exhaustive look.

A problem with this approach is that the industry and the hobby is different.  A model in 1987, even a cutting edge one, is fundamentally different than a new release in 2019.  Be it parts breakdown, the number of sprues, the detail on each part or the quality of the decals, what you get in a kit box is night and day different.  As well, how these models are made (and where they are made) is significant.

And that reminded me of a very interesting blog posting about Accurate Miniatures models from way back in the day: Accurate Miniatures, A behind the scenes look.  In 2007 when $30 for a kit was considered expensive, the CEO of Accurate Miniatures answered questions about the model making process and there were a few explanations about why models were becoming more expensive:

  • “The more parts, the more cost there is to the kit.”
  • “…the goal is to limit the number of trees in order to reduce the cost of the kit.”
  • “Depending on the complexity of the kit, there may be 2 or 3 “test shots” made before the actual mass pressing of the plastic parts”
  • “Unfortunately, the whole process is very cost intensive. That is why the average cost of a model kit is $30.00 or higher. The mold for a new release runs between $150,000 to $200,000. We use a more expensive type of mold, made of copper barilium, in order to enhance the details and improve the quality and fit of our part.”
  • “Our average run of kits for a new release is around 5,000

I can only assume that the cost realities of Accurate Miniatures is similar to any model manufacturer today. So, assuming for a minute that models today are more expensive, then maybe these are the reasons why.

What initially surprised me in that interview was the initial production run being so limited.  That would mean a lot of thought going into the pricing and promotion of the model because 5000 kits is not a lot of models to cover the upfront costs.  Then again, what is the global appetite for a given model kit?  While I truly appreciate the wonder that is the new Wingnut Wings Lancaster, are there 5000 buyers for this kit?  I don’t know the answer to that but I am confident there will not be 5000 of them built!

I think it would be easy to conclude there are definitely some kits that are far more expensive than back in the day.  However, you have to consider these kits to be a completely different product from what was available 10-50 years ago.

Final thoughts

So yes, we have definitely been seeing more models with a higher price tags but we also have access to new kits that are not breaking the bank.  I’m still not convinced that all models are more expensive when we consider things like inflation.  I’d like to hear some thoughts on this point.

As for the more expensive 2019 kits, I am pretty sure that the complexity, detail, parts count and sprue count is what is driving up these prices.  I also believe these wonder kits are not at all comparable to what was available in the 70s, 80s and 90s so it really is not possible to do a direct comparison.

Lastly – re-reading that article made me think about how much I miss Accurate Miniatures.  It is too bad what happened to them.  I really liked their original stuff and while I am glad most of it lives on through Academy and Italeri, I’m sad I won’t ever see their take on any other cool Pacific War aircraft.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

18 thoughts on “The Expensive Model Kit Myth

  1. I have a Revell 1/72 P-40 (around 1965) that has .39 on the box. It sells for $10.95 now. And we won’t even talk about my Aurora 1/48 Hellcat ( .79). (On Ebay for $55).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve jus picked up a new-tool Revell Fw 190 in 32nd scale for less than £30…while there don’t seem to be many ‘bargains’ in the smaller scales ( 72nd Airfix Fw 190 is £7) the bigger scales provide some excellent kits for relatively little outlay – certainly no more than a round of drinks on a night out with friends for example!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a better one, I think. I remember back in the early 70’s that the average price I paid for a 1/25 scale car kit was $1.57. I did your CPI thing; from 1972 to 2019 its a 513% increase. That would make the adjusted price $8.04. The re-releases of the SAME car kits (albeit with some improvements like better decals and tires) are $25.00 or more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A big part of the cost increase is reduced volume. In the 1960s many car models, like the Red Baron, sold about one million over their lifetime, not the 5000 or so the current market supports. So even at the $1.39 I was marking these as a teenager in a local department store in the late 60s there was a lot of volume to make a profit. Having spent my career in manufacturing I know that has to be a significant factor.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Also, especially when it comes to airplanes, I don’t think it is fair to compare an older wood master designed kit to a modern cad-cam designed kit. The parts fit and detail are amazingly better, so you get more value for your money. I think it would be of more use to do a dollar per hour cost; i.e. how much per hour is this kit costing you? Even a low price Tamiya 1/48 kit like the FW190s work out (for me) to less than $1 per hour; I don’t think anyone would dispute that is a bargain. If you went out today and bought Airfix’ dreamy 1/24 Hellcat for $170, how many hours would you spend building it? I think many of us would be kept busy for realistically 3 to 6 months. If you use a conservative 120 hours on that puppy, that’s $1.41 per hour, and you’ll end up with something that is better than what you’ll find in most museums. Bottom line: this is NOT an expensive hobby. Unless you have a stash of 500 kits, like I do. But that’s another story, LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My thoughts on this subject go right to a couple of kits: Tamiya’s 1/32 Japanese Zero and Hasegawa’s 1/350 IJN Akagi.
    Not trying to start any arguments, they are both great kits! I just can’t see spending $150 or more on a 1/32 airplane.
    And after you buy the “base” Hasegawa Akagi, then the aftermarket “A, B, C & D” photoetched kits, you are looking at around five-six hundred dollars for s static display.
    I realize some are willing to pay for quality, it just seems a bit steep to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Agree with the statement today’s kitsch are not like earlier kitsch. It is obvious that they are more complex, in many cases.
    It is a simple accounting procedure to compare prices of anything via indexed pricing, on a broad scale, consistent with the marketed goods. I believe one would find that kitsch are more available than ever, with prices about the same or less than they have been in both the far past (60’s) and near past (90’s).
    Truth be told the amazing difference is the disposable income available for such things, in general.
    I am retired now but my last salary was enormously low comparative to my indexed earlier salaries.
    We are losing ground in this country in personal buying power in the last 50 years, at least.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. On the 1/350 Hasegawa Akagi with the A, B, C and D sets, while I will agree it’s a bit steep(and also in my stash, I may have lost my mind in that one), thinking of the complexity and time frame for a build of that size, is it really that astronomical? If your a guy who is a complete machine with a bender and your mind cycles as fast as a Mac, well, then maybe it isn’t worth it. For someone like me, no screw up, I’d expect that build to take over a year depending on other commitments to family and work. I can drop $200 in ammo at the range in under an hr. All things have to be gauged by what your looking to get out of it I guess is the point I’m throwing out….l

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For the most part, model kit prices have remained equivalent (controlling for inflation) to prices 30 years ago, for the same kits. Comparing apples to apples, I looked up several Monogram kits in my August 1988 issue of Fine Scale Modeler, using the Squadron ad. Comparing those prices to the EXACT SAME KITS today for sale at Scale Hobbyist (an online retailer), the prices are within a couple of bucks. I used the federal government’s official CPI calculator. Interestingly, the current price for the A-10 is a bit higher than what inflation would suggest, while the MIL-24D Hind helicopter is currently under-priced. I guess demand for the A-10 is currently higher than demand for the Hind!

    Interestingly, the guest editorial in that 1988 issue, written by Paul Boyer, was about…you guessed it…increases in kit prices.

    I’ve generally found these “rising prices” stories to be myths that do nothing but provide fuel for the “good old days” narrative that people like to buy into. Have the costs of certain things risen unreasonably? Certainly. Health care and education come to mind. But consumer products have generally not, or have even fallen in price after controlling for inflation… and that’s what everyone seems to fail to realize.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A good comparison is the old Revell 1:72 Fokker D.VII and the new Eduard one. The old, very basic Revell one sells new now for around $5, the new Eduard one, with all its extra detail, PE etc is $15. Not sure what the original issue price of the Revell one was, but I know which one I’d buy!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Not model related, but in the same vein, back in the late 70’s I could drive to my girlfriend’s house (now my wife of 32 yrs) take her to a movie, take her to McDonalds for a meal and put $5 of gas in my Dad’s 1974 Impala for $20. I figured out what the same thing would cost today and it came to $73.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Several reasons : good quality casts; copyright fees from popular franchises; the more pieces, the more details, the more sprues, the more colors, the more cost; limited runs on production; and last but not least : SHIPPING COSTS. Since most of these kits are produced in japan, you’ll have to pay for the export fee. The last argument easily covers 30 to 50% of the kit’s price. Other than that, given the quality of most kits I bought, I think the prices are reasonable. It’s a hobby, first and foremost : if you’re going to get serious with a hobby, it’s going to cost you moneyz (and don’t me started on the gear you need apart from the kits themselves). Hobbies are pretty “niche” things that have a limited public, if the manufacturers want to survive, they have to raise the prices.

    Liked by 1 person

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