Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Runner's World, The Shoes Are All Above Average

In case it doesn't ring a bell with you, the title of this post is an allusion to Garrison Keillor's description of the fictional town of Lake Wobegon as a place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Apparently, Runner's World has adopted a similar attitude towards running shoes. In its pages, there seem to be only varying degrees of good when it comes to shoes. I mentioned as much in a recent Twitter post:

Wondering on Twitter about Runner's World reviews

I was pleased to get a reply from Runner's World but, frankly, a little taken aback by its message:
If we think they're that bad, we don't run a review. We just print the ones we recommend.
Really? Am I the only one who finds this approach a little problematic? If I'm understanding the writer here properly (and I'm not sure how else one might interpret the reply), when Runner's World finds a shoe that is substandard it withholds that information from its readers. Given that shoe reviews are ostensibly published as editorial — not advertorial — content, shouldn't readers have access to information about bad shoes as well as good ones? (There's nothing wrong with advertorial content, by the way — I've written plenty of it in my career — as long as it's presented to the reader clearly and appropriately.) What possible justification is there for not letting readers know about bad shoes? In what way does that support their readers' interest?

Also, as someone who's been an on-again, off-again Runner's World reader since the days when Dr. George Sheehan was a columnist, I've got to say that this standard for reviews is news to me. For example, here's the introduction to the Shoe Guide that appears in the magazine's current issue:
No shoe is perfect for every runner. That's why we mechanically pound and flex each new model at the RW Shoe Lab and solicit feedback from 350 real runners; the results are below and on the pages that follow...
Well, now we know that not all the results are published, only the positive ones. I think most readers would find this approach to be surprising. And I'm guessing that it might diminish the perceived value of the results noticeably in the eyes of some readers.

I admire their candor but question their judgment
Runner's World is a definitive resource for many, especially readers who are new to the sport. While I might disagree with the magazine on how to approach the whole business of publishing reviews (personally, I think that readers would benefit from being able to avoid crappy products out in the marketplace, but maybe that's just me), it has a right to make its own judgments about what constitutes value for its readers. It's fair to say, though, that the magazine could be a little clearer with its readers about what it is that they're getting — and not getting — in a Runner's World Shoe Guide.


  1. I'm disappointed to find this out, but I can't say I'm very surprised. I've heard similar stories about Runner's World for many years. I just never new if what I was hearing was rumor or fact.

  2. That is a very astute observation sir. I never picked up on that, even though its so obvious.