Sunday, March 29, 2015

Free stuff = work

free stuff now

The news that Hornby had decided to stop sending out review sample models provoked a somewhat heated debate on RMweb.

Among the people trotting out their favourite hobby horses - all mags are in collusion with the manufacturers, no review is vicious enough, everything in print is rubbish etc. etc. I felt that there was another undercurrent driving the bad tempers.


Many commentators, both there and on the far more civilised (IMHO), were surprised that review models weren't sent straight back to the manufacturer. This seemed to excise them an awful lot as though Hornby were going to be in trouble for the lack of 6 locos that had been sent out, poked around and dismantled, photographed and written up.

The feeling among a tiny number is that we evil magazine types are living it up on the items sent in for review. Attempts to explain that may of these are re-cycled into competition prizes or raw material for "how to" projects fell largely on deaf ears.

Behind me, there is a pile of stuff. Some of it is model railway items that have been sent to me. For free.

Except they aren't. Every single one comes with an implied requirement that I take extremely seriously for me to do something with it and put the results in a magazine. That way the sender gets some publicity and hopefully, some orders.

This, you see, is my job. Well, one of them anyway.

No manufacturer sends items out for fun. They do it as a simple business transaction. An item reviewed will garner more page space than the cost of that item, even at full RRP, would get anyone in advertising. Arguably, less reviews would mean manufacturers would have no choice to take more paid for advertising space. That might be true, but it wouldn't make for as much interesting editorial content, which is what we hope magazines are bought for.

I don't get much choice over the stuff that us sent to me. If I find myself with a laser cut bridge, I'm expected to built it, write it up and sometimes even film it. What do I do with it after that? For the forum fan, the assumption is that I use it on some mahoosive layout. Truth is, I stick it in storage (that I have to pay for) and wonder what to do with it next.

Sometimes projects get two appearances. This is to my mind, excellent, especially for cottage industries. Mind you, for them, we might well have bought and paid for the product anyway. Not everything is free, far from it.

I know I'm is some ways, very lucky. I do something for work that others do as a hobby. But, that's no different from Wayne Rooney. He plays football and gets paid a lot of money to do so (there IS a difference actually). Lots of people play football for fun and are also happy to pay good money to watch Wayne do their hobby.

If we adopt the model railway approach, people would be moaning he gets free boots.

I know that in many ways I'm lucky. But then I worked to get lucky. For years I contributed to magazines while working in a "proper" job. I wrote this blog and not just with the occasional post. Eventually, and without any planning, I ended up doing what I now do.

It's not well paid but there are other benefits. Generally, it's very interesting. I meet nice people. Sometimes these people tell me that I persuaded them to have a go at some modelling, they did and enjoyed it. That's my favourite moment.

I also get to work irregular hours. As long as deliver the projects I'm down to do then no one cares if I take the morning off and work until midnight. I quite like that. And it's generally a creative job. I don't have any qualifications to allow me to do a creative job but that doesn't seem to matter.

So the free stuff isn't free at all. It's just raw material for my work. In the same way that if you work in an office, you get a free computer and telephone and desk and chair - which is more than I do. Sometimes I find myself looking at  project that doesn't interest me at all, but it's still my job to do it and been happy. I've endured entire jobs like that, so I know how lucky I am. No sympathy required by me I assure you.

And as you know, I don't have a mahoosive layout but then I don't get sent any trains. All the "free" stuff arrives in pieces and needs assembly.

But that's how I like it.


neil whitehead said...

Well said Phil. My creative skills i.e. drawing and colouring in gave me a 40 year career in advertising and design.

Christopher said...

Good points, Phil! I've had access to "free" Internet and high-end computing for nearly 28 years, but I am required to provide a service -- not read and post messages to the likes of RMweb. I've never paid to watch Wayne Rooney -- nor would I want to -- but I used to pay to play village football. A bit like belonging to a model railway club really. It sounds as though the RMweb whingers live a blinkered existence!

Jackofallhobbies said...

You made some good points. I guess, like a lot of people, I want to get free stuff, but don't take the time to understand why I should be the recipient of this. If my blog were hugely popular and had a good amount of traffic, I am sure I could probably entice some free swag. However, if I am only going to (maybe) influence a small number of people, it really isn't in the best interests of the manufacturer.
Thanks for your post and your responsibility in doing something with the stuff you get.

Anonymous said...

One thing to bear in mind as well when relating to doing a review for something is that the 'sender' is often looking for something to be written about it in a reasonably short timeframe. That means the reviewer may readjust their schedule to fit the product in for the sender. All of this takes time, and its time that isn't 'paid'. For example a review of a £10.00 4mm OO wagon kit, the build including painting say three hours, writing and photographing the product to a publishable standard another two hours, with possibly an hours research. Assuming NMW of £7.00, that's £42 of labour given 'free' to the sender. The sender gets a good deal out of that including the subsequent publicity generated by the published review. Clearly that bottom line will vary with the value of the sent product, but I think the senders as a rule get a good deal out of it in commercial terms, if its costed to include labour. Also people like Phil get chosen as they have previous form of delivering objective reviews in a timely manner. A manufacturer is unlikely to take a punt on someone on a forum/blog/fb etc because they talk a good model, with no evidence to back it up. And yes I think were definitely green eyes of jealousy appearing on that subject.