Last year I wrote a post about the expensive kit myth where I compared prices of kits from over 30 years ago. The summary was that the comparison is very difficult because the kits from today are entirely different products from years ago. As a bit of an update, I came across a very interesting Atlantis Models blog entry that is well worth a read. It discusses the purchase of Aurora molds back in the day:
…. By 1976, Monogram Models’ two largest customers were K-Mart and Toys-R-Us. These two firms accounted for more than 50% of the annual kit business for a number of years. The annual volume derived from these two customers was driven by allotted shelf space for each hobby kit supplier and the rate of sale ( or “turns”) on a monthly basis. Holding or slightly increasing shelf space by inserting new product while closing out dated product and increasing the rate of sale per SKU (stock keeping unit) were the metrics that were crucial to these two customers. The main buyers expected the very “best product” on their shelves.
My takeaway: If inventory turnover and rates of sale are key considerations, then you had better not have product that takes months to complete. Models need to be cheap and easy to build to get customers coming back regularly. Also, you need to develop new kits regularly because customers can only build so many Spitfires and Mustangs. Also, things like detail, engineering and perfect fit were probably not prime considerations.
The Bias Begins
This is the era (1980s) where I got my start. Most of my models were bought at department stores and toy stores. I remember building kits that left me disappointed in that I could never achieve what the thing was supposed to look like; at least according to the pictures on the box. They were crude; had gaps; and decals that either fell apart or never stuck. These kits were MPC, Hobbycraft, Monogram, Lindberg, Revell, Matchbox and my forever unfavourite: Airfix.
Oh God… did I just write that about one of the most beloved and (at times) the most irrationally defended model brands of all time? Now before I get cancelled, let me explain. It isn’t that I wish Airfix any particular harm. I have seen the documentaries and I am pretty sure there are passionate people behind these products. However, passionate or not, they are just not for me.
The new ownership, the “red box” and the cool new CGI box art have not convinced me. I remain skeptical of their quality. This stems from past experience. Maybe, like those other mass market-oriented kits back in the day, these kits were not meant to be anything more than a few hours of solace for my parents while I mashed them together. Some model builders look back at those simpler times with happiness and warm memories of Airfix. I remember disappointment, fuselages that would never line up, intakes with steps and landing gear that was wonky on the best of days.
Now there is Model Buddy Ian who has no fear slaying dragons. He’s had kits where he had to scratch build an entire replacement chassis or spend hours cleaning up endless mis-molded components. But MBI will never buy an Academy kit. Reason? He built a few 20 years ago and the build experience was awful. It will always be a “fool me once” sort of thing for MBI and Academy.
But I tell you: MBI is dead wrong! Oh, sure in the past there have been some real dogs and some releases of concerning model design provenance. Since then Academy has come such a long way and their latest stuff is top notch. Just look at this K2 I built back in 2018. What a perfect build – not a single issue with it. It fell together and it is one of my few tanks that I am proud to call my own:
Sure, Academy still re-releases decades old models in updated boxes. Sure,they sell a -4B Corsair that has some weird shape issues. However, they have also released some excellent kits in the form of their latest K2 tank, and their F-4s, B-1Bs, AH-1Zs and the like. They even have re-boxed Accurate Miniatures marvels as well. Yup, Academy is far better than it was back in the day and because of his unbending bias, MBI is really losing out on some excellent models.
Ok, I know what you are thinking: Its the same thing with Airfix! They have a new tool Sea Fury! A huge Hellcat too! There is a world beating new-mold Vulcan due any minute. They too have come such a long way:
Bias can lead to hilarity
It doesn’t take long on the internet to discover I’m not the only one with bias. When looked at objectively, biases can often lead to hilarious paradoxes:
- How often have we seen rants that a given HobbyBoss or Trumpeter kit as a fatal flaw rendering it ‘unbuildable’ when those very same ranters are quick to defend identical flaws on their preferred brand kits? Things like “Simple fix!” or “basic modeling skills required” (and variations thereof) fly about during those discussions.
- How about brand loyalty despite obvious shortcomings? Tamiya does make the best kits but their decals? Well, these have issues. Same with Hasegawa. MBI swears by Dragon kits despite the instructions being an exercise in frustration.
- When its our brand, its not a problem: its a challenge! Yes, even the best kit makers out there can’t make a perfect kit. When we run into one of those problems, we stick to it and apply our considerable modeling skills. Run into a similar problem with a ‘lesser’ brand kit and best case it would be bias confirmation and validation that the entire kit lineup is crap. Worst case is the model is chucked without any benefit of the doubt.
The mass market was one key aspect to the model kit market back in the 70s and 80s – maybe even earlier. But there were also hobby shops catering to those interested in bigger and better models. My guess is this is why Monogram, Hobby Craft and some other ‘mass market’ makers also developed ‘premium kits’ with some photo etch and/or resin bits thrown in the box. Maybe this covered both the casual and serious builders and these advanced kits were probably not seen in Kmart? I am not sure.
So,what, if anything, do we do about bias? I fully stand by the adage that life is too short for crappy kits. I get it. One only has so much time on this beautiful blue planet. If someone had a negative experience while trying to enjoy this hobby, it makes sense to move on and avoid it in the future.
But our age old bias might prevent us from having a good build experience too. I acknowledge my Airfix bias is silly considering this new age of model kits. Maybe instead of ignoring boxes with that logo, I should give them another chance.
How about you? Do you have a manufacturer that you steer clear of no matter what? Why is that? As usual, I’d like to know your thoughts in the comments.