This isn’t a blog about New Year’s resolutions. I’d be a few weeks’ late if it was.
But January is an interesting time for another reason – it’s when those curious partwork publications kick off their new runs.
You know the sort: often advertised heavily on TV, with cheap first issues (although much more steeply priced in subsequent weeks) and although there’s a magazine to collect, it’s more about the “thing” attached. They tend not to spend too much time telling you how many parts it’s going to take before your “thing” is complete, although the answer is often between 90 and 100 if they’ve even determined it at the start.
So here is a not-comprehensive list of things I won’t be embarking on:
- Building a 3D Printer – Taking nearly two years to build? That’d drive me mad.
- Building the Millennium Falcom – See above. When I built Airfix models as a kit, it was rare that I didn’t complete them in a single sitting!
- Learning to knit – What are you going to be giving me aside from balls of wool or needles anyway?
- Collecting gemstones – the less expensive types one would imagine…
- Collecting Judge Dredd comics – can’t you buy Titan compilations already?
- Learning to bake – there’s only so many silicon baking trays that anyone needs
- Build a different 3D Printer – to be fair, this one ships in monthly parts and builds over a single year. And at £70 a part, you won’t find issue 1 for £1.99 in WH Smiths!
The whole partwork business is something that fascinates me. WH Smith and other independent retailers give away lots of rack space to the launch editions of the publications that people will necessarily need to subscribe to. Readers are heavily incentivised to subscribe direct, meaning that there’s little reason for repeat weekly trips to Smiths to complete the collection. And yet seemingly half of the sector’s revenues come via those independent retailers. Perhaps it has to do with the demographic of those who subscribe?
The magazines are very profitable – companies like Deagostini, Eaglemoss and Hachette gently sipping from your bank account via Direct Debit as you slowly build a somewhat-more-expensive-than-you-realised U-Boat over two years (I mean – where do you even put it when you’re finished?).
And why are they all launched at the same time of year? Well I suppose some people make New Year’s resolutions to learn a new hobby. But post-Christmas advertising is usually a bit cheaper, and TV ads seem to work.
Once upon a time, it really was about the magazines, and the printed material. For a while, there were plenty of partworks that dripfed longer running TV series on DVD. But these days box sets and Netflix has put paid to them. So like kids’ comics, these days it’s all about the “things” that come attached – be they balls of wool or pieces of the Mallard.
There’s a healthy online community to discuss them. The major companies behind them develop them in some markets (including the UK) and then roll them out globally, seriously backing them with TV advertising (this piece goes into it a bit more).
When I was younger, I was caught up by it a couple of times. Once I subscribed to a Jazz partwork that once started I never really got around to stopping. I ended up with over 100 CDs (many of which I suspect were out of copyright), and binders full of magazines I never read. Then there was the Robot-Wars style remote controlled vehicle that kept coming long after I’d lost interest. I think it stopped eventually.
(And although I’m ever intrigued by 3D printers, I still can’t find a rational reason to buy one.)