Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It Slices!! It Dices!!

Let's talk about text books for a moment.

Remember those days, when you would hoof it over to the campus book store in September or January, hold your nose, & hand over your credit card in exchange for the privilege of hauling home 50 pounds and $500 worth of paper and cardboard? Or, alternatively, scouring the internet/campus paper for used but serviceable versions of the same in hopes of saving yourself $100 or so?

You may have also had the unfortunate experience of arranging to buy used off a friend the five-and-a-half-pound Calc book going for $160 new, only to find at the beginning of the semester that a new edition has been released and you will now have the privilege of paying nearly $200 for that book alone.

This particular situation used to piss me off to no end. Just what, you may rightly ask, makes edition 712 so much better than edition 711?








You know what this is textbook publishing industry code for? "Hey peeps! The market is completely glutted with the thousands of perfectly serviceable calculus textbooks we sold two years ago, so no one is buying new ones. Brooks Cole gotta get paid, son! So here's essentially the same book covering the exact same content with seven new pictures and a new cover slapped onto it. Enjoy!"

When it comes to some fields of study, I get why new versions need to be released every couple of years. Technology, for instance. Some of the sciences. Modern history. But guys, basic calculus hasn't changed significantly in half a millennium. That's kind of how basic math works. I can see updating a book's look every ten years or so, maybe (I mean, I don't want a math book with that weird seventies font all over it) and using that opportunity to say "You know, I bet we can streamline this chapter a little" or "People are teaching this content more in this order lately" or whatever. But dudes. Releasing a new version every two years in a field where the content does not change is just a little too blatant in the "squeeze every nickel" department.

Here's the other hard thing about textbooks in subjects like calculus. Because the material has been exactly the same for hundreds and hundreds of years, and hundreds and hundreds of books on the subject have been written by hundreds and hundreds of people, textbook companies are left with precious little ground upon which to compete with each other. I mean, it's not like you can be all, "ooooOOOOoooh, we added this extra-special topic that no other book has!" Because if it's part of calculus, it's in all the other books already.

And that's what leads them to advertising the rockin' CD-ROM, the super-essential section on study skills, and all the OMG AWESOME NEW COLORS & PICTURES!!1!

So what does all that have to do with running? Mainly because that's the way I feel every time I see an ad for a new model of running shoe. Take a couple of weeks ago, for example, when I spotted a post from Brooks inviting me to "get a sneak peak at the Adrenaline 13!"

Um, what? Didn't the Adrenaline 12 just come out? I haven't even worn my pair long enough to review it. I still have 11's in the rotation, for gods' sakes!

It's shoe model whiplash, people.

Still, I read on. So what's new and exciting for the Adrenaline 13?


Also something called "Flextra." And don't forget the OMG AWESOME NEW COLORS!!

It sounds like all of this (except the new colors) is supposed to help make the shoe more flexible. Which...I don't know. If you are someone who is concerned with how flexible your running shoes are, I don't see you looking to Adrenalines to fit that bill. (It is a stability shoe, after all.) I'm currently trying to work my way out of stability shoes & into more flexible ones, so in order to keep from wrecking my feet, I'm mostly alternating between the solid, stable Adrenalines & my more flexible Saucony Mirages & Newton Motions. And as far as I understand, the heel drop is going to remain pretty significant, and given that, frankly I don't much see the point of making the shoe more flexible.

I mean, I could be wrong. I'm willing to give it a try. But I cringe a little bit every time I hear some new high-tech-sounding buzz word come out of a shoe company.

Back when Brooks announced plans to scrap the Launch, Becki at The Middle Miles wrote this paragraph:

Don't get me wrong, I understand that the industry has to progress. I'm really glad that our choices today are a little more modern than the Onitsuka Tiger, Nike Daybreak, and Brooks Chariot. But I've also worked as an engineer, and I've seen the effects of overengineering a product. The beauty of the Launch is its simplicity. Not every shoe needs a laundry list of just needs to work.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject of running shoes (and Calculus textbooks, for that matter). It's hard for me to really believe that changes on this level really make all that much of a difference. Instead, what it actually does is cause those of us who adored the shoe just the way it was to gnash our teeth and rent our garments when we find out we can't get it anymore and are back at square one. Like Becki, I agree that our favorite models should be updated when there have been significant improvements in our understanding of running mechanics or in the quality of available materials. But do we really need a new Brooks Adrenaline every year or two? Is the nascent 12, which I've barely had a chance to break in properly, already that woefully outdated? Is it too much to ask that you give me the opportunity to really fall in love with a shoe and build a long-term relationship with it before you yank it out of my hands and say, "Here, this one is mostly the same, except for how it's not. Have that!"

I wish I were less cynical about these types of things, but as with the Calculus books, yanking a perfectly comfortable, perfectly functional shoe in order to replace it with a mostly-the-same-but-flashier-and-pricier version with a bunch of new high-tech-sounding pseudo-jargon attached to it kind of smells like a company prioritizing making a buck over meeting the needs of its customers. Sigh.


  1. I can't keep up with all of new models that they keep coming out with. I honestly don't think they change much but the colors and fuel you to want to buy the latest version.

  2. I agree completely! I usually find the perfect shoe when they are being replaced by the next mode which sucks even more than finding it and having a year or so until the next one comes out. I've also found that most of the time the newer model is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT in both style and fit. Why use the same name if the shoe is a completely different shoe?!?! With some products the name represents a style or fit or niche. With shoes it seems like they use the same names because they tend to sell well. When I do find a shoe I like I buy 2 pairs and then I constantly hunt the internet for sales on them as they go out of production and maybe snatch up a 3rd pair if the price is right.

    Good post; sorry for the rant...

    1. Rants are always welcome! When it's a shoe you really like, buying multiple pairs is definitely the way to go. I think it just usually takes me too long to figure out whether I like a given pair enough to commit to another.