Despite my callsign, I am a relatively new ham....and I am very, very new to the birds. I'm also new to the reflector, so please forgive any naïvete I exhibit.
I wonder if what you're seeing is a generational shift, or at least a shift in the direction by which new hams are finding their way into the hobby (and the skills and interests they bring to the table), because there are plenty of new hams out there.
Many of the new hams I've run into have either gotten involved in the hobby for emcomm purposes, or at least found emcomm early on their path (the latter is true for me). Some of them expand on from emcomm as they are introduced to other aspects of the hobby. I fell into satellite work by starting out playing with APRS and Winlink-over-packet. Then I learned about the ISS digipeater...and I realized that the challenge of trying to complete a contact during an 8-minute pass is kind of fun, and didn't require any equipment that I didn't already have. Then at Field Day, I got to see a demonstration of working AO-27. That looked like fun, so I got an Elk, plugged it into my spare HT, and a few minutes later heard an XE station calling as SO-50 rose above the horizon. That was cool, even if the neighbors think I looked nuts standing in the driveway, juggling an antenna, mic, and voice recorder, with an HT over-filling a shirt pocket.
I suspect that a sizeable proportion of the new ham population would be considered "appliance operators", or at least they assemble and operate their stations with more of a hacker's mentality, rather than following the classic homebrew path. Personally, my fabrication skills suck, but I love finding new ways to use/abuse computers and equipment that I find. Building a tape-measure beam is certainly within my skillset, but building a complete setup of satellite antennas, with az/el rotor...it wouldn't be impossible for me, but I'd need a really strong incentive to do so (and even then, I'd probably keep an eye out, looking to see if I could buy, rather than build). When I look through what I'd need to do to be able to move beyond AO-27, SO-50, and the ISS...it seems like a lot of work (or expense), without too many opportunities to enjoy the effort. I'll probably do it someday, assuming the satellites are still operational, but there are plenty of items that are on my "to try" list that have a better ratio of (probable fun):(erg of effort or dollar of expense).
Also, I trust you're aware of what transceivers are on the market. While shack-in-the-boxes are not uncommon, there are only a couple of rigs being sold new that look really good for non-FM satellite work, neither of which really mesh well into the other-interests/budget decision-making process. I dislike the TS-2000 for various reasons, and the IC-9100 is a lot of money for the limited additional utility I'd get out of it. My starter rig was an IC-7000, which does have VHF and UHF sideband, but it's full-duplex machine, and working uplink-and-downlink doppler adjustments on it is a pain. I think other entry-level VHF/UHF sideband capable rigs are similarly challenged. I occasionally look around to see what's available used....but here too the "how much will I have to spend, and what additional fun will I get out of it" factor comes into play. I'm sure the major manufacturers (or even some not-so-major manufacturers) would put new gear on the market if there were demand...but where's the demand?
Add in the other complications at my location (an inconveniently-placed hill, lots of trees, an XYL who has opinions about aesthetics), and I percieve a big hurdle to move beyond the FM birds.
So; why do I mention all this?
First, count me among the "they" in "build it and they will come". None of my station challenges are insurmountable; I just haven't had enough motivation to tackle those challenges. Get a few more satellites up and have activity on them, or put up something in a molniya orbit, and my motivation level will increase significantly. I suspect other potentially interested folks have similar views.
Second, consider the learning curve some of us new guys face, especially those of us who (for better or worse) don't have the homebrew skills that were more common in the past. There's plenty of simple, accessible information available for getting initiated into working the FM birds, but from the outside graduating to other satellite work seems daunting. Or, when building "it", consider what equipment is commonly available these days for "them" to come with. Perhaps this, in addition to the economics, is influencing the direction being set for future birds.
Third, has someone considered putting together (as an example) a "VO-52 for dummies" set of videos for online consumption; something that would show the assembly of a minimally-suitable station, and working the satellite? I'd love to be proven wrong about how much I'd need to do to be able to work the linear birds. I plan on continuing to dabble even without such hand-holding, but I wouldn't object to having that wonderful "A-ha! I can do this!" moment accelerated.