Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The challenge of pricing pre-owned models

They say that money is the root of all evil, and I'd add: insanity.

There's a vibrant market within the hobby for selling and buying pre-owned models, on eBay, on the discussion forums, at contests, and now on Facebook. I'm sure most of you have bought models from other modelers, but it's not always easy, is it?

I'm often dumbfounded by the prices that some modelers think they can command for their models. Here are a few examples.

  • At Mosquitocon earlier this year a vendor was selling an Academy 1/72 A-37 Dragonfly for $28. It can be found from Sprue Brothers and eBay for less than $12.
  • Last week an eBay seller was offering a Monogram 1/48 F-4J Phantom II for a Buy It Now of $35. Damn thing was, the bags were opened, but he assured us the kit "seems to be complete." Um...yeah, right. It can be found new and unopened from other sellers for $20-25.
  • A modeler recently tried to sell a Revell 1/48 F-86D on one of the popular forums for $45 when it can easily be found for around $20.

If you're pricing your models without regard to the marketplace or the condition of the models, you're probably wasting your time. Assuming you want to sell your kits and not sit on them indefinitely, here are my suggestions as someone who buys and sells.

Price significantly less than retail

If your model is still in production, look at its price at Squadron and Sprue Brothers and do a quick search for it on eBay. Find the lowest price and then price your kit at least 20 percent less.

Why? Generally speaking, consumers prefer to do business with established businesses where they're confident they'll be supported if there's a problem with an order. You may be a saint, but we don't know that.

Also, keep today's high postage costs in mind. If a buyer has to pay an additional $6-12 for your model, which increases his overall acquisition costs for the model, he's going to look for a bargain.

Discount kits with open parts

If your model has been opened -- if the inner bags have been opened -- discount another 10-20 percent.

Why? You can assure me that all the parts are there, but I assume a degree of risk that you may have overlooked a missing part and won't realize it until I sit down to build the model five years from now.

Discount kits that are "outdated"

This may be a bit controversial, but I'll say it. If you're selling a model for which a better one exists, price it as low as you can possibly go. For example, the Trumpeter 1/35 BMP-1 is much better than the nearly 25 year-old Dragon kit, so if you're selling the latter I'd price it around $10.

Why? Generally speaking, older kits are less desirable than new ones. A friend who works in a hobby store sees people come in to sell their late father’s collection thinking that old Revell, Monogram, and Lindberg kits are worth a fortune because they're old, but they're are disappointed when the store owner offers just pennies on the dollar. If you think something is valuable, check it out on Old Plastic Model Kits. They know the market and will likely pay only 50-60 percent of what they will ultimately price the models.

Significantly discount kits that are missing parts

If your model is missing parts, you need to discount it significantly.

Do I need to explain why? I'll have to spend my time trying to replace the missing part(s). Given the size and helpfulness of the modeling community, that might be easy. But it might be a challenge, too. I won't know until I put out the request.

Significantly discount kits that are started

If you started your model, if any work has been done on it at all, you need to discount it big time.

Why? Unless you're John Vojtech, I have no idea how good a modeler you are. Your work might be excellent, but I won't know that until after I've paid for your model and have it in my hands. I take on a great deal of risk buying what you started.

Price it as if you are the buyer

As you think about the price for a given model, ask yourself what you'd be willing to pay in order to re-acquire it next week. If we're willing to pay retail for a kit, we'd already have it. You have to entice someone to spend his hard-earned money on something he really don't need.

In defense of the sellers reading this (and I include myself here), I understand that many of you are not in a hurry to part with the kits you offer for sale and you're willing to sit on your stash until someone comes around and finds your prices acceptable. That's perfectly acceptable, which I suppose is why I see the same kits listed over and over again on the forums week after week. But we all need to realize that selling pre-owned kits usually requires us to sell at a loss relative to our initial investment. That's what I'm doing myself. I prefer to have $10 in my pocket rather than have that Dragon BMP-1 taking up space that will be better allocated to the upcoming Tiger Model AMX-10.

What do you think? What motivates (or demotivates) you from buying from other modelers?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More thoughts about 3D printing

There’s yet another discussion on one of the forums about the “breakthrough” of 3D printing technology and the impact it’s expected to have on scale modeling. I know how exciting it is to imagine the possibilities, but I remain as skeptical today as I was two years ago when I first wrote about the hype around 3D printers.

One modeler wrote, "When the cost of this reaches a certain point, we could theoretically all own our own printer, and simply buy the 3D file from a 'model' company (or create our own if we're so inclined).”

Even if 3D printers become relatively inexpensive allowing anyone to print their own models, only a few modelers will be able to actually design their own models. The design process is the most complex piece of the 3D revolution. I’ve never used CAD software, but I have to believe that creating a complex shape such as a fuselage or a small tow hook requires a great deal of knowledge and experience. Hell, the professionals at Trumpeter and Hobby Boss often fall short, so it’s unlikely that any of us novices — even the rivet counters — are going to get it right.

I’m not alone in this belief. An article in an industry publication Inside 3DP suggests that you’d need 2000 hours of CAD experience to design complex shapes. I casually reviewed a number of online job postings for 3D designers, and the job requirements are intimidating:

  • Experience of working in 3D CAD; particularly CATIA and preferably Magics or other AM software.
  • Experience with 3D CAD (Creo/ProE, Solidworks) and building prototypes.
  • Experience with 2D drawings, design of experiments, and programming.
  • Proficiency in Solidworks, Adobe CS, Keyshot, Sketchbook Pro, and PowerPoint / Keynote.
  • Advanced surfacing with Alias, Rhino, or Solidworks.
  • Experience MakerBot is a significant plus.
  • Bachelors in Polymer Science, or Polymer Physics, Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science, or Materials Engineering, or a related discipline.
  • Familiarity with FEA modeling (techniques and boundary conditions) in materials and with polymers, continuous fibers, and reinforced (soft) composites.

If you’re still not convinced, the Inside 3DP article goes on to list 32 additional reasons to resist the 3D printing hype.

Looking ahead a few years, I don’t think we’ll see anyone design a full kit so that someone else can then print and sell kits without restriction. Why would someone invest hundreds or thousands of hours designing an accurate MiG-25, for example, when anyone can take that CAD file and print hundreds of kits? And why would we expect that particular MiG-25 design to be any more accurate than the Kitty Hawk kit?

We’re more likely to see a number of cottage industry businesses that hire professionals to design replacement parts and maybe full kits and then “sell" the CAD file for one-time use for the hobbyist to print at home. Or following Shapeway’s business model where you design an item and they print it, sharing the profit with you. 

Even if we won’t be printing anything at home there’s still reason to be excited about 3D printing technology. A number of entrepreneurial designers have created some really interesting products that are available via Shapeways and the guys at Click2detail have produced some amazing items that are worth a look. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

If you've read one you've read them all

Never in the history of scale modeling have we enjoyed so many magazines. I haven’t counted, but there must be at least a dozen on the market right now, maybe more. Despite the plethora of articles and works-in-progress via internet forums and blogs, modelers still seem to enjoy hardcopy publications, even if their content can be somewhat repetitious.

I recently bought several back issues each of Air Modeller, Scale Model Addict, Sky Model Magazine, and Tamiya Model Magazine. They’re all very good, featuring excellent models written by some of the best modelers in the hobby, but after reading through them in something akin to binge watching a season of Breaking Bad, I realized there’s a sameness in the techniques, and consequently in the articles. Once you’ve read three or four articles, you’ve pretty much read them all.

Don’t get me wrong. The articles are incredibly interesting and informative, particularly if you’re new to the hobby, but once you’ve learned the latest techniques (pre-shading, the salt technique, masking) and used the newest modeling media (filters, pigments, Alclad) and adapted them to your own style, the magazines largely serve as inspiration.

There’s an interest in these techniques and media otherwise the content would be different. And to be fair, this is not unique to scale modeling. I fancy myself something of an amateur chef, a passion second only to modeling. When I stopped at Barnes & Noble over the weekend to kill an hour I browsed the new releases in the cooking section and found the recipes in them to be familiar. How many cookbooks do you need with recipes for meatloaf or chicken parmesan? There may be variations on a theme, but when you’ve learned the basics and become comfortable experimenting on your own, you don’t need someone — even an expert — telling you what to do.

Isn’t that the goal of a hobby, to reach a point of confidence where you follow your own path rather than copy the recipes of others? I think it is.