Monday, July 25, 2016

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

Over the last couple of months my modelling has been featured, one way or another, in three different magazines. First up was the June issue of British Railway Modelling, then the July issue of Railway Modeller, and then the most recent issue, number 107, of Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling REVIEW. The mentions have all been very different but they've allowed me to reflect on whether or not the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity is really true or not.

Let's work backwards through time starting with the article in the REVIEW. As you can see from the cover this was a locomotive builders special issue and the editor, Roy C. Link, asked if I could write an article about the Hudson-Hunslet model I built that became the Narrow Planet kit. In a slight departure from other articles I've written this one is essentially a set of photos with extended captions and runs over six pages. It's been beautifully laid out by Roy and I think gives a nice overview of the whole process from initial idea through to the release of the kit. The whole magazine is stuffed full of wonderful modelling (as it always is) and hopefully readers won't think I bring down the tone with my modern 3D printing approach.

Next we have the July issue of Railway Modeller, which included a short item, about a third of a page, on the Lynton and Barnstaple detailing pieces available from Narrow Planet, which includes the chimneys and finials I designed. We had sent the magazine some samples, and while the item was short it was very positive, and probably explains the sudden surge in orders for chimneys I've had to deal with recently.

Which brings us finally to the article in the June issue of British Railway Modelling. The story behind this article goes all the way back to ExpoNG last year when the Hudson-Hunslet kit first went on sale. One of the kits sold on the day (rather than as part of the pre-order) was bough by Ben Jones the editor of British Railway Modelling. I had a really nice chat with Ben and he took a number of photographs of my prototype model (the red one). No promises on an article were made but I made it clear that if he wanted any more information or needed any help with the kit he only had to ask. So when I heard that there was an article on the kit in the June issue I was full of hope. Unfortunately, as I alluded to in a previous post, hope turned to disappointment very very quickly.

Even before I'd managed to get my hands on a copy of the magazine I'd heard rumours that the article was problematic. Unfortunately this proved to be true, but the situation was a lot worse than I feared. In the magazine the article ran over three pages; one page of build photos and captions and then a double page spread mostly taken up with a single large photo and a column of text. Taking a model that is so small and printing a photo across a double page is always going to be rather cruel, but it helps if the model has at least been put together properly. Unfortunately the body and chassis clearly hadn't been fitted together correctly as the axle boxes and axles didn't line up; probably only a mm both vertically and horizontally but when blown up it was glaringly obvious. Plus the locking handles on the bonnet panels hadn't been fitted (even though they were mentioned in the text of the article) leaving odd holes in the model.

The article itself is fairly positive and the build sequence is nice and clear. Unfortunately, Ben admits to having "hit a brick wall" assembling the chassis and having to ask Phil Parker for help, and then states that the supplied figure is "too large for the seat". Yes the driver is a little large but exactly how to make him fit is covered in the instructions, which Ben suggests "reading thoroughly before you start". The issues with the chassis are then covered in a 3 minute video on the accompanying DVD. Essentially once Phil had got it working rather than writing an e-mail he filmed a quick video for Ben never expecting it to be published. Unfortunately it comes across as Phil simply listing things wrong with the kit:
  • Mounting pins in the wrong place: no they aren't I'm guessing when Ben added weight to the body he got it in the wrong place so the two halves won't mate properly. An issue highlighted in the instructions and which would explain why the axle boxes and axles don't line up in the photo.
  • Replacing the phosphor bronze wire as we only supply a tiny amount: we actually supply three or four times more than necessary so I'm not sure where the extra went.
  • That the etched brakes can't be fitted as they would interfere with the pickups: it's clear in the video Phil is trying to fit them to the mounting pins between the wheels not the ones on the corners of the chassis. Again covered clearly in the instructions.
  • A general lack of weight: getting weight into such a small model is hard which is why we supply a whitemetal driver figure so it's a shame it wasn't used.
Now I wasn't expecting a glowing review but as you can imagine, when you add all those things up, I was rather disappointed with the article. Of course the magazine is free to run the article as they see fit. After all it wasn't an advert as Ben had paid full price for the kit (he didn't even ask for a discount), and I'm not trying to denigrate either Ben or Phil's modelling; I read Phil's blog on a daily basis as I enjoy his modelling output. Mainly I'm disappointed as pretty much all of the issues come from not having read the instructions carefully, and I could have helped solve them with a single e-mail had I been asked.

The article raises a wider issue though. Having seen how misleading the article is (in my eyes at least) how can I, or anyone else for that matter, trust any other kit reviews in the magazine? If I'd read the article with no prior knowledge of the kit I'd probably have thought it was badly designed and wouldn't have bought one. Is every other bad kit review I've read similarly misleading? What about good reviews how accurate are they? Of course I'm not talking just about British Railway Modelling here but magazines in general.

I understand from talking this through with some other people that the REVIEW avoids mistakes like this by often running a copy of the article past the kit manufacturer before publication. This probably explains why it's such a well respected magazine. Maybe the main high street magazines should follow suit?


  1. Mark, I would be pleased. There is always room for improvement with any project and you as the creator are more aware of this than anyone else. I have had similar experiences from the days when I built and raced a Westfield Seven. The fact that I had to modify the kit so as to enable my six foot and three foot legs to fit was lost on the vertically challenged individual that tested the car.
    I am proud you are getting positive recognition as I haven't met many famous people. Keep up the good and entertaining work.

    1. Don't get me wrong, in general I'm happy with the publicity, it's just that one article was seriously disappointing. I know the model can be tricky to put together and had they said that I wouldn't have had an issue. It's the complaining about things they are having problems with because they didn't read the instructions that really grates.

  2. Really sorry to read this. At least you got a positive response from the "RM" and Roy's exquisite magazine. BRM used to be such an inspiring publication, I don't know what has happened to it. Sounds like people are too busy and their workloads too big to check things properly.Obviously a kit like yours is going to be tricky to put together and will need a certain level of commitment- that goes with the territory. Seems strange they didn't contact you.

    1. Iain, the mainstream model railway press seems to be more and more hit and miss, especially when compared to what is on offer for other hobbies and in the best of the model railway press like MRJ and NG&IR. I'm happy to pay a sub for NG&IR because I know what I'm buying will be consistently good, but the rest of the press I make a decision after looking at what is in each issue, and more often than not I walk away.

      Mark, on the plus side the article might have dissuaded some people without the requisite skills from attempting it and writing angry green ink letters....

      I thought the NG&IR article was particularly good because of the insight it gave into the design process.

    2. Thanks Iain. As you say it's kind of odd (and frustrating) that given all the problems they seemed to have they didn't think it worth dropping us an e-mail. If they had I could easily have solved all their problems, but hey ho.

    3. Thanks James, glad you enjoyed the article in the REVIEW. I can't take credit for the style as that was Roy's suggestion, but it seems to have gone over well with everyone who has read it so I'll take as much of the praise as I can :)

  3. Back in the day I was taking part in a a discussion with several OO9 kit manufactorers about a certain individual who attempted to build their kits, then gave up and sent them back saying that the kits were unbuildable. At least one manufactoerer refused to sell the gentleman anything in the end.
    Of course that little reminiscance doesn't help on jot!
    I wouldn't be too downhearted, I doubt that BRMs readership would have taken any notice of the article, after all it was about a kit (and a narrow gauge one at that) rather than a review of the latest HornBach offering.

    1. I have to say I've talked privately with a few people about this now, and I get the impression that most of the high street magazines won't be getting kits from small manufacturers to review anymore as no one seems to trust them. Of course it's difficult to stop them just buying a kit and then reviewing it. As you say though I doubt BRM's readership were exactly my target market anyway.

  4. I can imagine your disappointment with a certain magazine Mark, but at least Roy Link has done you proud. Sadly BRM lost the plot years ago, along with a lot of its readership, so I wouldn't let their review, if you can call it that worry you.

  5. I stopped reading BRM as I was getting tired of negative nitpicking about how things could be done better rather than concentrating on what was done well. Not contacting you is a bit of a farce from two established modellers. I'd have thought anyone who struggled with a kit would ask the manufacturer first as you would do if you bought anything else (IKEA Hotline for example) especially as you'd expressly said so. I've now taken NG&IMR and it is a fantastic magazine. Should have done the swap ages ago.