With another IPMS (International Plastic Modeling Society) National show in the rearview mirror I got to thinking.  Why IPMS?  What is it about IPMS that draws some and repulses others?  Let’s take a little look, shall we?
Let’s start with what draws people to IPMS.  Let’s rewind 25 years to the pre-internet (or PI as it will be referred to throughout this article) days.  In that time IPMS Journal was a valuable resource.  The articles, the kit reviews and the new product reviews were a lifeline to those living in the hinterlands.  This was especially true to those who lacked a club meeting to attend and other modelers to communicate with.   You had a place to sell your old stuff or to join a SIG.
IPMS was also a conduit to the modeling industry.  They spoke for the modeler to the industry.  They expressed what we as modelers wanted from the industry in new kits, aftermarket and in publications. 
IPMS was also the hub of model contests.  Standardized rules, insurance and site selection all fell upon the National Club.  It was a gathering of the best and brightest of modelers throughout the country. 
Ok, let’s now fast forward to 2002.  What has changed?   For many of us, the Internet being readily available and the volumes of information that this provides.  You no longer have to wait two months to see what’s new from manufacturers.  You also can communicate with many of them directly, not through old fashion mail, but instantly through e-mail.
Vendors are online.  One of the biggest disappointments in going to Chicago for Nationals last year was the vendor rooms.  Not that I didn’t get to meet a number of very nice people, but there were no surprises.  Basically everything that was for sale there could easily be gotten from Roll Models, Great Models or Hannants.  These could be ordered from the comfort of my own home and delivered to my house.
Manufacturers are online.  Another thing about what has changed is that large and small manufacturers are online.  Everyone from MPM to Hasegawa are readily available through a website with their latest and greatest.  They are also available for comments and suggestions from regular folks. 
The Internet has severely kicked magazines in the groin also.  Places like Hyperscale, Modeling Madness and Aircraft Resource Center all publish with greater frequency than a conventional magazine, they generally have a wider band of readers and above all, they are free.  Now granted, some of photos may not be crystal clear and some of the text may be rough, but you get 10-15 new reviews every day between these three sites.
So in 2002, where is IPMS in this mix?  That depends on who you listen too.  If you listen to the common folk, they are a non-factor.  With a membership of around 5000 people, they aren’t even a blip on the radar that Hyperscale (that has at least 8000 visitors a day), ARC or Modeling Madness are.  
If you listen to IPMS (which I had the opportunity to in Chicago during the business meeting), they ARE the industry.  The kit-producing portion of the hobby industry should just kiss our butts because we are so important and such a huge part of their sales.  Yeah right.
So where did things go so wrong?  In my mind it’s pretty simple.  We have a bunch of folks at the top that still think the world is rewound to 25 years ago.  Let’s start with our motto “help your society grow”, which is printed on the back of each an every cover of the magazine.  It is pounded to us in e-mail messages from our Regional Coordinator (which is an un-elected position for some reason and apparently you are appointed for life if you get the job), here’s the quote:  “Your help and support is needed to increase the membership of IPMS/USA. Please stress this at your upcoming functions and perhaps throw a membership in the raffle for a nonmember. Help the list GROW!!!”
My question is very simple. Why?  What is it that the society offers any of us who are not contest modelers?    Well, we could get an IPMS clock or other tidbit with the IPMS logo on it.  Cool!    I can get a magazine that is printed late and has three month old information in it.  Wow, can I?   I can get the same group of officers that simply trade positions each election (it’s your turn to be President this year Chuck, I’ll be vice-president).  I’ll get to vote on a ballot that has some way of only voting for the current group of guys that are in office because they are willing to “work together”.    Lastly I’ll get to vote for constitutional amendments that are “not recommended” by the committee that puts together the amendments. 
So enough bitching.  What’s the solution?  There are a couple that come to mind. 
First, get off your high horse and accept your lot in life.  IPMS is a club that sponsors contests.  It provides insurance to clubs so they can host local contests and is a central listing agent (point of contact) for all clubs. 
Second, make the elections more honest.  Put in term limits of three years for each officer and make it mandatory that they step down for at least a year between positions.  At least there would be some fresh blood in there with some new ideas occasionally.  Also eliminate voting for a group of people and let each run on their own merit.
Third, make the regional coordinator positions an elected position.  Let the same person run each an every year, but at least open it up to anyone that wants to try to run for it.  Lets face it, the job ain’t brain surgery.
Fourth, open the pocketbooks a bit.  At Chicago, there were thousands and thousands of dollars sitting in the kitty, but when it came time to spend money to support the “make and take” program, which they deem so necessary, it was decided to raise the club dues to the national club to support it.  If the program is so important cough up the cash. 
Finally, bounce the editorial staff (I think it’s only one guy) from the Journal.  I’m not sure about all of you, but the snide comments at the end of letters to the editor really are uncalled for and the general look of the magazine needs some freshening up. 
What do I mean by freshening up?  Simple, get rid of all the kit reviews and in the box reviews, it’s stale by the time it hits the mailbox anyway.  Dedicate the magazine to contests and contest modelers.  Each contest should have 2-4 pages of photos with a brief write-up about the venue, winning entries and thank you’s for the sponsors and judges.  The photos should be color (oh my, not color!) and should note the modelers name etc.  Local clubs would happily submit this type of thing to promote both the hobby and their contests.  Next, the articles contained in the newsletter should be more geared to contest modeling and tips to bring folks to the next level.  Approach folks at the various contests to write about their winners and how they got built them.   Stuff that doesn’t make it into print could easily be put on the IPMS website in a supplement.  Folks could then get a taste for what they are missing by not being a member and subscribing to the magazine.
Also with regards to the newsletter.  Put in meeting notes and the action at IPMS.  The drivel from the club President is just that, put something meaningful in.  We have an annual meeting at each national, does anyone actually take notes?  Publish them so the membership can see what’s going on.  We have a treasurer, where is there report on the current state of finances?   I think you see where all this is going, right?
Does any of this get us any closer to building models?  Nope.  Maybe the bottom line here is, that is the bottom line.  
If this hobby is going to grow, it’s going to do it at the local levels.  Our local club has a great number of very good modelers, all of whom are willing to help.  We publish a newsletter with up-to-date content (nothing fancy mind you) and some pretty good articles.  All this is on our website (www.aerohistorians.org) and they are free.  Are we giving away the farm by offering this for free?  Nope, were helping “the hobby grow”.
The greatest asset that our local club has is people.  It has lots of people that have become very good friends and that’s something that will keep me coming back to modeling for a long long time.
So to IPMS headquarters I say, keep your club and your bizarre way of doing things.  To my local club, I say thank you for the great times and the great friends that you’ve provided me.