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:
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.
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.