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Riding the Long Tail

July 5, 2010

Back when I was building models as a kid, there was no internet. Which, when you think about it, probably explains why I had all that free time to build models in the first place.

But seriously…there was no internet. Around the time I started drifting away from modeling, AOL was the cutting edge thing. This was way back when they were still charging by the minute. The browser wars hadn’t really heated up. I don’t even know if Internet Explorer had come out. Amazon didn’t exist, and neither did Google.

Once upon a time, this was the bleeding edge.

All of this meant that there were basically three ways to get kits, paints, and other supplies. The first – and best – option was the local hobby shop, which is I think by law some little hole-in-the-wall place in a dodgy area of town. The local hobby shop usually had the deepest selection of kits, full racks of paint, actually knowledgable staff, and various parts and accessories you just didn’t see anywhere else, like aftermarket decal sets.

The second option was the chain hobby stores, ranging from Hobbytown (decent) to the Michaels and Hobby Lobbies of the world (mediocre to downright awful). Kit selection was usually anemic at best, but you could always buy paint and extra x-acto blades and such there.

As a quick aside, I ducked into a Michaels the other day just to see what their paint selection was like and…holy crap…I am never setting foot inside that place ever again. The modeling section is so worthless they may as well not even bother, and nobody needs that many fake flowers.

The third option was mail order, which was pretty great in terms of selection, but kind of sucked for things like decals or resin detail bits, since you were basically ordering off of a part number and, if you were lucky, a tiny little thumbnail image.

Of course, once upon a time it was like this for every hobby or interest. And then the internet happened.

Only…I never saw it happen with modeling.

Coming back now,  years later, is fascinating. On the one hand, things have evolved kind of how I expected. I mean, let’s face it, in terms of the internet, is one long-tail niche hobby really that different from any other? They’ve all got their blogs, message boards and various storefronts.

On the other hand, though, I wasn’t prepared for the level of information out there, from ridiculously in-depth kit reviews to YouTube videos and really solid how-to articles. From a content perspective, this is revolutionary. I don’t think I’d be stretching at all to say I’ve learned more about various techniques in the past few weeks of reading the internet than I did in years of reading Fine Scale Modeler.

And of course, there’s the long-tail effect, too, which was expected but is still cool.

For example, here’s a company that makes just about every major piston engine of World War II. And here’s another that makes various filing and other construction equipment. Or just a really solid general retailer:


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