Why publish in Classic Toy Trains?

On one of the few remaining train forums where I do anything but lurk, the magazine Classic Toy Trains came up in discussion. Someone said, “It ought to call itself Classic Lionel Toys and be done with it,” and the discussion progressed from there.

Being that my next published work will be in that particular magazine, I thought I’d address some of the concerns/comments that came up.

First of all, I don’t speak for the magazine. I speak only for me. And who am I? I’m a sometime subscriber (when my budget permits), a hobbyist, someone who’s contributed an article, someone who’s written for about a half dozen magazines, and someone who happens to have a bachelor’s degree from the highly regarded University of Missouri School of Journalism. All of this is just my opinion, but one based on experience and education.

So let’s take on some concerns.

There’s too much Lionel in it. In total, Lionel trains have been made for more than 100 years, making it the longest-running brand of toy train in the United States. To some people, the name “Lionel” is synonymous with O gauge trains, or any model train. Any U.S. magazine covering toy trains is going to spend a lot of time talking about that brand. And they are the magazine’s largest potential advertiser, so of course it has to cover that brand.

There’s not enough old stuff in it. It’s supposed to be “classic.” Well, I dug out what I remember from Journalism 363 and did an exercise. I tried to figure out what a magazine that only covered toy trains made from the 19th century to the end of the “classic” period might look like. Whether that era ends in 1969, 1974, or even 1985 doesn’t matter for these purposes. You’ll see in a minute why I didn’t draw the line at 1941.

At best, I was able to come up with 28 pages worth of advertising, which could support a magazine 52, 56, or 60 pages long. Nobody takes a 60-page magazine seriously. So the magazine has to cover whatever new trains that are compatible or otherwise comparable to the old ones in order to get enough advertising to stay in business.

But nobody takes Classic Toy Trains seriously now. The people who matter most do take Classic Toy Trains seriously. Seriously enough to put their money where their mouths are. I don’t have current circulation figures in front of me, but the magazine does have tens of thousands of subscribers. It has a couple hundred advertisers. The buyers for the two major national book store chains, Barnes & Noble and Borders, take it seriously enough to keep it on their newsstands. The owners of hundreds of hobby shops take it seriously enough to buy it and put it on their newsstands. The buyers of many libraries take it seriously enough to buy it and keep it available for their patrons.

There’s a vocal segment of the hobby that’s dissatisfied with the magazine, but there’s a vocal segment of just about every magazine’s potential audience that doesn’t like it. Not only does a magazine have to consider all of its readers, it also has to consider advertisers and the people who put the magazine on newsstands. The newsstands are a break-even proposition at best, but they’re also the most effective way there is to gain new subscribers. And just about the best way to keep them satisfied is to keep the page count a reasonable size.

If truly nobody took the magazine seriously, it wouldn’t be published anymore.

So is publishing in a magazine just an ego thing, or what? I’m perfectly happy with forums. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that CTT has 50,000 subscribers. The actual number is probably higher than that. None of the forums have 5,000 readers. So CTT has more than 10 times as many readers as any forum. Every writer’s greatest fear isn’t censorship–it’s obscurity. The best way to avoid obscurity is to get the biggest audience possible. And that’s CTT.

And to me, it’s a good career move. I won’t make enough money as a professional author to support a family, but the money’s good enough for a side gig, and it’s enjoyable enough that it doesn’t usually seem like work. And my employer looks favorably on publications in respectable publications. Kalmbach, CTT’s owner, is a long-established publisher with a good number of publications in its portfolio. And it would be nice to write about more than just technology. I’m primarily a technology writer now, but I didn’t start out that way and never really wanted to stay that way either.

But besides all that, the single most effective way to influence what a magazine publishes is to write for it. Hopefully, writing the kind of articles that I like to read and getting a magazine to publish them will eventually encourage other people to write the kind of articles that I like to read.

4 thoughts on “Why publish in Classic Toy Trains?

  • February 14, 2011 at 10:50 am
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    Hi Dave,

    I would like to see a monthly column by you in CTT. You are rather insightful, an excellent writer, and need to be gathering information on the people who make a difference in this hobby. Shame that so many of the movers and shakers in the hobby are dead and their stories were never recorded. I would love to see you interview Lionel CEO Jerry Calabrese and do a series in CTT on him and his vision for the future of this hobby and the company.

    Keep up the good work!

    Take care, Joe.

    • February 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm
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      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Joe. But that would have to be the toughest job in the industry. If they offered it to me, I’d be stupid not to consider it, but it’ll be years before that would happen, if ever. I’ve been both a columnist and a feature writer before. The security of the former is nice, but it also means you have to write, even when you have no ideas. A feature writer has more flexibility, plus the ability to take a month or two off if the well is dry.

      Right now I’m just trying to come up with more material to submit, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

  • February 14, 2011 at 11:30 am
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    Dave, you just about pegged the circulation of CTT. Echo Media (a print media agency) lists their unduplicated circulation as just north of 47K. I’d imagine those are ABC numbers, too.

    • February 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm
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      Thanks for the confirmation, Steve. For some reason I thought it was closer to 60K, but maybe that was a few years ago.

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