The Magazines Prove It; Drones Are a Really Big Deal Now

Every once in a while I pop into my local Barnes & Noble store to see if they're stocking any of my books. (They do, but the Science section tends to be by the bathrooms -- are they trying to say something here?)

It was all the drone/roto magazines that caught my attention. I counted no fewer than six separate publications, about half out of the UK, and many specializing on the photo/videographic aspects. Good news if you're into quadcopters.

Alas, on the electronics side they had only SERVO, Nuts & Volts, and Practical Electronics. Worse, MAKE Magazine was hardly recognizable, and had so few paid (i.e. not internal) ads I'm not sure how they're surviving. Maybe it manages as a way to sell the Faires and other MAKE-brand merchandise.

I can appreciate that winds change direction, and interest in general electronics, microcontroollers, and even maker movement DIY can't last forever. Or that B&N is hardly the citadel of these interests. But not being a drone flyer, I had nothing to buoy my enthusiasm. What a lousy day I had.

Comments

  • 23 Comments sorted by Date Added Votes
  • It sure has been awhile since I bought a magazine. Though I don't have access to printed publications like Nuts & Volts or Servo other than a subscription. And that is buying something sight unseen. Where maybe one or two articles interest me, if I'm lucky.

    The internet may put them all out of business someday. Stacks of old magazines get to be pretty heavy baggage, especially when you may never look at them a second time.

    It's like the library, a place that's quiet, has WiFi and computers to use. Why would I want to take books home, just to have to drag them back in two weeks.

    Sorry about the lousy day Gordon.
  • Print magazines are a pretty hard sell of late. Despite the advertising, it seems that the publishers are trying to recoup their costs entirely from the newsstand price. I can't remember the last time I bought a magazine from a newsstand. Who wants to pay $5.95 -- or more -- for a less-than-100-page magazine that used to cost less than a dollar?

    I suspect that magazine stands in grocery stores and other venues will gradually start to disappear. That leaves only the checkout displays of National Enquirer and others of that ilk.

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 19,711
    edited June 5 Vote Up0Vote Down
    I picked up a Nuts & Volts issue at the Maker Faire. First time I held an electronics related print magazine in my hands for about a decade. There was an article or two in there by esteemed forum members. What a find. Sadly it got left on the back seat of the rental car when we returned it.

    One of my worst mistakes was to throw about twenty years worth of Wireless World magazine into the trash (Girl friend needed the space). My dad had been buying them ever since I could remember and I continued the tradition until Wireless World went down the tubes.

    The whole history of electronics was contained in Wireless World, which started publication in 1913 or so.

    I mean, check this out, the Wireless World computer project from 1967, built from reject transistors (All PNP!) http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Wireless-World/60s/Wireless-World-1967-08.pdf
  • B&N and other sellers still do pretty well with magazines, or they wouldn't spend the valuable retail space they occupy -- right at the front of the store, in the case of most any Barnes & Noble.

    Almost half the cover price goes to the retailer, and what's left goes to the distributor and freight costs, leaving maybe a buck for the publisher to cover printing and editorial. Ain't much, particularly when you consider that, on average, half of the magazines are returned and destroyed/recycled. The publisher absorbs that.

    Obviously, they "lose" money to make it in subscriptions, with more and more all-digital. Twelve issues of SERVO for $27 is a pretty good deal. It's some 700 pages of timely content, in color, for less than the price of many books these days. If the editorial content is what you're looking for -- and with Erco writing a monthly column, why wouldn't it be! -- it's a steal.

    That said, it's not so much that they sell magazines, but that this notion of the "DIY maker phenomenon" looks like its winding down. Magazines tend to be a good indicator of consumer interest. Guitar magazines: still got plenty of those. Gun magazines? Yep, lots. Even art magazines are still in abundance. But not so much projects involving electronics.
  • I think the electronics DIY audience just goes straight to the internet - to order parts, find tutorials, get help coding, etc. Guitar players, probably not so much.
    San Mateo, CA
  • GordonMcCombGordonMcComb Posts: 3,119
    edited June 5 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Print or online magazines are created because there's an advertiser base to exploit. Or put another way, magazines are created because there are advertisers willing to spend their money to attract new users and build brand. Advertisers are just following their customer base, and trying to create/maintain/solidify that base.

    I can't think of a more Web-centric group than young parents, with plenty of self-help sites, forums, and social media, yet parenting magazines are still going strong, all things considered. The leader enjoys over 2 million readers -- or 4 times that if you include re-reading (which all magazine publishers do). That's because advertisers are still reaching their demographic.

    So it calls into question: are advertisers able to reach the DIY maker demographic? If not, has the potential audience shrunk, or is it something else? Again, it does not matter if people are turning to Web sites for their help. If the demographic is there, so will the advertisers, ans where there are advertisers, there will be magazines of one form or another. One follows the other, like mice and cheese.
  • And here, an Australian take of the "The Decline of Hobby Electronics?"



  • Is't the hobbyists the only reason for through hole components and .100" spacing, I can see if a newbie see's a circuit board for the first time, and it had nothing but surface mount devices, that would be intimidating enough not to care how it works. They start to look all the same after awhile, no character like a through hole component has. The hobbyists have to start in a time bubble, in order to get a good foundation electronics. It wasn't always that the magic chip does it all. And it's not all about plugging someone else's boards together and you invented something. The modern hobbyists want to start at the top, and rather not get dirty.
  • I don't know. Traditionally beginners and hobbyists did not make their own resistors, capacitors, tubes, transistors, LEDs, TTL chips, micro-processors etc. These were just components one put together to make something. The actual operation and method of construction of those components was something most people did not know a great deal about. Looked at that way having SMT devices is not that much different.

    Except SMT stuff is harder to work with physically. A problem tackled very well by people like Adafruit, Sparkfun and others providing chips on break out boards.

    And modern devices are a whole lot more complex. For example an ATMEGA Tiny is a lot more to have to understand than a 555 timer.

    Mostly I think said decline in hobby electronics comes down to economics. Back in the early days of radio people had the incentive to built their own radios because they were hard to get hold of and expensive. There was a similar drive to build TVs when TV was young. Later came the desire to build digital circuits and the first micro-processor based computers because they were not readily available and expensive.

    Heck. As a kid I built a calculator from a kit because there was no way I could afford an HP. I built a digital clock using TTL and Nixie tubes because such things were not available in the stores. Then came the micro-processor.

    Today we are swimming in an ocean of cheap electronics. There is no incentive to get making anything.


  • It's a good video, but it defines electronics to fit their notion of what electronics is, rather than allowing a broader definition that is more inclusive to current interests. There are many who'd say "electronics" now rightfully includes module-level breakout boards like the kind Parallax, Sparkfun, and Adafruit sells. There are no components, and some don't even need soldering: they just plug into a broadboard, or come with a cable that plugs in.

    Heater makes a good point that before the advent of cheap commercially-available radios, you could make one for less, and it would work very well. That spawned a big market in radio kits, and parts to build a radio from scratch.

    The need to build a radio just doesn't exist any more, but the shine also seems to be wearing off in the module-level builds. I think much of it comes down to "seen that, done that." How many light saber projects can you have where you connect an accelerometer to a sound module? For that matter, how many 2-wheeled robots can a single world absorb? I'm as guilty as anyone in not coming up with better project examples that inspire this new generation of potential builders.
  • Yes, my initial impression was the same. Those old guys like Dick Smith were talking about the electronics scene that they grew up in, built business in etc. Mostly long gone as discussed in this thread. But towards the end there was some talk of the "new scene" and the possibilities opened up by newer technology.

    An important point they made was that we are growing a generation of people who use electronic devices all day everyday but have not even the faintest hint of an idea how they work. Neither do they have the curiosity to find out. Neither do they have the chance to find out if they did.

    We are becoming a "cargo cult", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult worshiping the likes of Apple, Samsung and so on to provide us with what we want, with no idea what is behind it.

    Speaking of "what is electronics", I like to keep that fairly simple. Electronics is all about getting electrons to do what you want. As such it involves concepts of charge, amps, volts, power, electric/magnetic fields, currents, circuits, Kirchoff's Law, ohms law, resistors, capacitors, inductors, tubes, transistors etc. You know, all that stuff in The Art Of Electronics.

    By the time you get to bolting SBC and modules together you can be far away from any actual electronics.

    Which is not to say people can't learn a lot, have a lot of fun and be creative at that systems and software level. There is a lot to learn there as well.
  • I had not heard of cargo cults though I had come across the term 'millenarian movement' a time or two. Learn something new every day.

    Which brings us to people learning something new every day: I think they do, it's just not about electronics! Sometimes it's about catching a Pokemon, or going to the next level in Final Fantasy, or getting Siri to actually answer the question they want answered.

    And sometimes it's about doing something truly special, like excelling in a geometry class that forms the groundwork of a successful career in research, or in high school volunteering to work with special needs kids and discovering the joys of helping others. Or...

    If the trend is now toward drones and taking pictures into other people backyards, so be it. Interest in electronics tends to be cyclical. It'll come back around, and maybe there will be a resurgence in interest, thanks to some technology, gizmo, or even movie. It doesn't take much to rekindle the flame.
  • If the trend is now toward drones and taking pictures into other people backyards, so be it. Interest in electronics tends to be cyclical. It'll come back around, and maybe there will be a resurgence in interest, thanks to some technology, gizmo, or even movie. It doesn't take much to rekindle the flame.

    You summed it up in a paragraph.
  • jmgjmg Posts: 10,463
    It's a good video, but it defines electronics to fit their notion of what electronics is, rather than allowing a broader definition that is more inclusive to current interests. There are many who'd say "electronics" now rightfully includes module-level breakout boards like the kind Parallax, Sparkfun, and Adafruit sells. There are no components, and some don't even need soldering: they just plug into a broadboard, or come with a cable that plugs in.
    Yes, and on top of that move to modules, is the related move to more and more being a 'software problem' rather than a 'hardware problem'.
    Kit-assembly is much rarer now, but you do see Chinese suppliers serving that 'bag of bits' kit market.

    I would also say the emergence of more modules, has seen fewer end-point PCB designs done.

  • I'm amazed how many kits are coming out of China. And the fact that the one an only robot I ever constructed, a few months ago, was a cheap kit from Thailand.

    It's a shame, kids today have all the tools they need to get on with things. Open source IDE's and software tools, free and open PCB design tools, free and open digital logic design (HDL) tools. PCB's can be obtained dirt cheap from places like OSHPArk and Seed. Dirt cheap chips. 3d printers. They have everything available, and more and all the time, to achieve things we could only dream of.
  • GordonMcCombGordonMcComb Posts: 3,119
    edited June 7 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Heater. wrote: »
    It's a shame, kids today have all the tools they need to get on with things.

    Well, not just electronics.

    In the early 70s I was interested in a film making career. So I did the usual thing of making a bunch of movies with my Super 8 camera. Adding synchronized sound was a pain, and with tons to the cost. My vision never matched the result. The expense of raw stock and various lab charges was a major obstacle.

    Today, you can make a movie that can equal anything on TV with just a fairly plain HD camera and a decent editing program. If I had this 45 years ago I'd be all over it. Kids are very lucky to have this technology, and platforms like YouTube to broadcast their work to the world. I never had anyone to show my films to, except some friends and family.

    Curiously, while there's been something of an uptick in amateur film making, it tends to be in the older generations, particularly fan-fiction. This is an era where anyone can be the next Orson Welles (or pick your favorite auteur), yet among millennials and younger you'd hardly realize the world has moved beyond Super 8.

    There's a quote often attributed to George Bernard Shaw and/or Oscar Wilde: "Youth is wasted on the young." Whoever said it, I think he was talking about electronics and robotics! (And maybe movie making, too.)

  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 21,231
    edited June 7 Vote Up0Vote Down
    With any technology, no matter how approachable and easy to use, there's still room for teaching how to do it right. I remember when page layout software was new and cheap. You'd see newsletters and flyers everywhere with a half dozen different fonts on one page -- just because the user could, with no real skill for design or eye for aesthetics.

    The same applies to movie-making. You see videos with a plethora of dissolves, fades, spinning titles, and whatnot, with no regard for form-following-function -- just because the software makes it easy.

    I'm not saying that products with good production values can't be produced with tools that are easy to use. They obviously can. It's just that such products that are harder to produce often manifest better quality due to the perseverance of more skilled producers.

    In short, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it -- and since it is easy, everyone is doing it, with results ranging in quality from zero to ten.

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • I've definitely seen some well done DJI drone footage taken in China. A former coworker form China has some friends that make a living flying drones for video/movie makers - but those were much larger rigs. But he got to do custom design work, and the flying.
  • Phil, I was making the exact opposite observation: despite how easy it is now (video making, electronics, robotics, whatever) these subjects are seeing LESS interest than they did before.

    It's never been easier, or cheaper, to build a robot. So where are all the robot builders? Ten and 20 years ago when robots were much harder and more expensive to build, there was a vibrant ecosystem of local robotics user groups across the country. There are some exceptions, but many of these groups are either now defunct, or have smaller membership rolls. It seems to me it should be the opposite.
  • MikeDYurMikeDYur Posts: 2,175
    edited June 8 Vote Up0Vote Down
    It's never been easier, or cheaper, to build a robot. So where are all the robot builders? Ten and 20 years ago when robots were much harder and more expensive to build, there was a vibrant ecosystem of local robotics user groups across the country. There are some exceptions, but many of these groups are either now defunct, or have smaller membership rolls. It seems to me it should be the opposite.


    Maybe people are just bored with electronics in general, like someone said, you can get it from China in a final design, cheap. People may only use electronics as tools, and have too much else in life to deal with.

    What's next in the hobby robot scene? An Atlas type robot living next door? I hope the GP can see how that..

    I take that back I could see government licensing of autonomous bipedal robots of a certain height and weight restrictions. Anything for the all mighty buck.
  • Perhaps it's part of the chasm that Geoffrey Moore talked about in Crossing the Chasm. In that book, he details how early adopters of a new product drive a frenzied market that creates excitement. That initial interest eventually settles down to a doldrum when the product becomes "mainstream." The newness of the product has worn off, and while it may still sell, it's no longer exciting. Prices and availability stabilize, and the product may even be in the hands of millions of people, but it's no longer news-worthy.

    I suppose it could take a different type of robot to rekindle interest, but there are technological and price barriers in the way. A bipedal robot that actually does something could do the trick, but it would have to meet a substantially low pricepoint (say, $500) to catch a market. If you ascribe to the notion that a drone is a flying robot, quadcopters would fit the bill. And they seem to, especially as they have a secondary useful purpose in aerial photography, wholly apart from providing fun and education to the builder.
  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 21,231
    edited June 8 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Gordon, I think that's the case and that conflating ink with popularity can be misleading. We experienced that in this forum when the Propeller was new. There was much foment with new techniques and apps appearing almost daily. Now the foment is gone, but that does not mean the Prop is any less popular than it ever was. And I suspect the same is true of robots.

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • K2K2 Posts: 518
    I think...that conflating ink with popularity can be misleading.
    Truer words were never clickety-clacked!

    I feel a little sorry for those who get their marching orders from the popular media. Similarly, I pity those who equate silence with non-existence.

    Nowadays, if it's in the news, it's because someone is trying to eek out an advantage - monetarily or otherwise. Individuals as well as nations are misjudged and misunderstood when all one does is read the headlines or listen to the loudest voices.

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