This week, I sent off my renewal for my subscription to Model Railway Journal – a UK publication focused on finescale modelling.

It’s never easy to renew, since MRJ does not have an online presence and does not take credit cards. This means a trip to the bank, to acquire a bank draft / money order to mail off. But I’m always impressed at how well this works.

I’ve been a subscriber for a number of years. I’ve also purchased several books directly from the publisher, Wild Swan Publications. And every transaction has involved a process that seems ancient by today’s standards.

I have an image of leather-bound ledgers and a massive card catalogue in which all subscriber details are kept…
 photo CardCatalogue_zps314f2bc7.jpg

That said, every transaction has also been faultless – which is more than I can say for many digitally-enabled publishers with which I’ve had dealings. Wild Swan has obviously decided its business is to publish some of the best reading in the railway hobby – and that this does not include spending time managing web sites and forums, or figuring out why its computer is not talking to its printer, or the many other time sucks that our alway-on lives present to us.

Other publishers could learn from this. Others could more clearly define their focus, then stick to it.

I recently read a digital publication – it doesn’t matter which one, or even whether it serves the railroad hobby – in which I quickly identified several factual errors. I also witnessed sloppy graphic design and – more worryingly – a major error in editorial judgement.

The publishers could certainly benefit from rethinking their raison d’être. If it’s to run a forum, that’s what they should do. If it’s to publish a magazine, the focus should be there. Doing both, plus the many other things they do, means the quality of each is diluted.

That said, if the company is successful then I certainly can’t – and won’t – tell them how to run their business. But as a professional writer, I’ve seen many examples of this attempt to be too many things to too many people, and it’s never turned out well for the publishers in question.

It also occurred to me that a stronger focus would benefit many hobbyists. Decide what you’re trying to model, and then figure out how you’re going to do it – and ignore the distractions. A layout that tries to be too many things will end up satisfying nobody.

It’s only taken me 40-something years to figure this out, but with Port Rowan I appear to have found that focus. That’s not to say I’m immune to the distractions. I’m not: There’s a whole display cabinet of them in my home office.

But my primary focus is narrow enough, and modest enough, that the distractions don’t derail my objective of building a realistic model of a railway that looks good and operates well…

7 thoughts on “Focus

  1. Trevor,
    I’ve just begun to peruse MRJ at my local Barnes & Noble, it IS a fine publication in spite of “foreign” subject matter; fine modeling is afterall fine modeling. I’m an avowed Formula One junkie and consider anything other than Nigel Roebucks monthly report on the sport in Britain’s Motorsport magazine mere fluff in comparison. The English have a level of magazine writing and publishing fast disappearing on our side of the pond.

  2. A focused layout such as yours is an example of what can be accomplished with a clear vision and restraint. The history of our craft is full of unfocused, got-to have-one-of-everything designs that attempt to fulfill every wish imaginable. Given that background, being focused is counter-intuitive for many whose fear of missing out on something good often overwhelms common sense.

    As the quote goes: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”


  3. ALAS! Wild Swan does live in the Dark Ages. Here in the USA, it isn’t easy to buy a Sterling cheque without paying a horrendous fee to the likes of MoneyGram. Wish the USA would catch up with the rest of the world as of 10 years ago!

  4. I’ve subscribed to MRJ for years through the Newstand web site –

    I might have paid a surcharge but it if I did it wasn’t much and the magazine always arrived on time.
    I found MRJ interesting – I subscribed for 10 years or so and actually let it lapse the year before last. I put it in the same category (for me) as Narrow Gauge Gazette – interesting reading, but I don’t recall a single specific modeling tip I’ve gotten from either that I’ve actually used on a model. Storage space is getting tight around here, so I have a copier box full of old issues I’m going to toss in the recycle bin this week.

    • Hi Marty:
      I think it’s a case of everybody getting something different out of a publication. I don’t model UK-outline prototypes, but I get a lot out of MRJ – and more than just inspiration, too (although that’s important). For example, I first encountered Gordon Gravett and his tree-making techniques in MRJ, and have embraced those for my own layout. I’ve also learned a lot about weathering from MRJ articles by Martyn Welch (website here), and about general scenery from contributors like Barry Norman.

      • Trevor,
        I have all three books you mentioned – in fact I think I have a complete library of Wild Swan modeling books. While I always found Barry’s book excellent – it did strike me as somewhat odd that a book on scenery was all in black in white….but I have gotten great tips from the books.
        As I said, MRJ is an excellent magazine – I just don’t find much of specific use to me.

  5. Bought this magazine in the UK when it first came out – many, many moons ago. Although it is all things British, finescale modelling techniques are relevant whichever side of the pond we live on. The mag also captures the atmosphere of railways long past: the dying puffs of steam that I have to admit, I remember.

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