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.
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…