Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Non-Fiction » A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

30 August 2014

From Android Police:

Let’s be honest, busy people don’t have time to trudge through long books made of mostly filler. Unfortunately, publishers know they can’t put a high price on a 40-page book. In the end, authors are stuck building a lavish sea of meaningless words around the simple concepts they want to convey. That’s where Blinkist comes in. It’s a service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points. Think of it like Cliffs Notes, but even shorter and not funded entirely by high school students.

. . . .

Blinkist suggests you can fly through Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start in 18 minutes and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect in just 13. Each book has a brief description and hints about who might want to read it, and all of the content is laid out in simple sections with just enough text to get the point without a bunch of repetition or unnecessary examples. There are currently over 400 books in the catalog, with about 40 new books added each month.

Link to the rest at Android Police

To answer an obvious question, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

17 U.S. Code s102 (b) states:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea may not always be clear but, for example, the idea of a young man going off to a boarding school where magic is taught and magical creatures are kept is not protected by copyright law while Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts and the particular world created by Rowling is protected..

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Non-Fiction

16 Comments to “A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points”

  1. So… Cliff Notes for current SpecFic.
    Like “30 Secomd Bunny Theatre”-amusing but of limited value.

  2. I kind of get this, but it would leave me feeling vulnerable to someone else’s interpretation both of the work, and what’s important about the work. Who’s to say what the most salient part of a work?

    That said, there’s only so much time, and people might not have the time or ability to read the works themselves. But on the other other hand, if someone is like that, and doesn’t have to read it for class or something, why would they read the glorified Cliff Notes? Doesn’t Wikipedia exist?

    • I’m certain you’re right about the vulnerability in the system, and that as time goes by, some books WILL be sold short. Most especially the ones offering more complex and sophisticated analyses.

      At the same time, I know we’ve all seen plenty of non-fiction works that were endlessly padded out to justify their purchase price: many that could’ve been summarized on a single A4 sheet of paper if the author had really wanted to.

      It just comes down to cost-benefit. It does sound like this is a potentially useful service, and similarly so for 250words.com that Margaret Y talks about (below).

      Yet another case of “let the reader beware… ”

      But then, hasn’t that always been the case with everything we read?


  3. Condensing Kawasaki’s book into an 18-minute read doesn’t say much for the value of his book.

    • Consider though the paper in which Watson and Crick identified the structure of the DNA molecule – famously just 4 pages long. Length does not always equate to value.

  4. It’s always been legal to make study guides. “Executive summaries” are pretty common too; and honestly, that’s why a lot of people read that NY Times Sunday book magazine, so they’ll know what books people are talking about without having read the books. (Although I’m sure the reviews also help with discoverability, people would skim it more if they were just using it for that.)

    More to the point, there used to be volumes and volumes of books that were just about the plots of famous classic novels. [pause for search engine nudging my memory] Oh, yes, the Masterplots series.

    A lot of big city libraries have them in the reference section, and at one point in the late 1980’s, K-Mart was selling cheap reprints of some of the earlier volumes. My parents bought some because they looked useful. I’ve got some around here somewhere, but they’re in a box.

  5. It wouldn’t work for some books but there are others that I suspect had their origins in a magazine article and were stretched and expanded to book length.

  6. Thanks for the link. It frustrates me no end when I see how a ‘book’ is padded with extraneous material. I skim such non-fiction frantically looking for the meat – and remember only that part.

    The other stuff – some of it – may be interesting background, but much of it is not – including Kawasaki’s book.

    This is why Seth Godin’s blog posts are so tiny – once the idea is stated, if you are reasonably well-read and educated, you can fill a lot of things in quickly.

    There is only so much time in everyone’s day.

    I also greatly dislike PAYING for the padding.

    • Update: I followed the link, got the free account, browsed their offerings, picked maybe 20 books I’ve been meaning to read, read seven of them, and reinforced or picked up a few good ideas.

      I was primed – these books were ones I had heard about, sounded interesting, but 1) I didn’t want to buy, and 2) I didn’t want to dig through to find the little bit of wheat I expected to find. Mostly business books – self-publishing is a business – but I’m not planning on hundreds of products and tens of employees, so the full business treatment is too time consuming for the return I expect.

      I am quite content. I don’t know if I will continue beyond my 3 month free trial (get one quickly if interested). I read:
      Living in your Top 1%
      The Story Factor
      Making a Killing on Kindle
      Your First 1000 Copies
      The 4-Hour Workweek
      The Tipping Point

      I spent maybe 5 minutes on each – you can skim the beautifully condensed blinks quickly if you have an idea already of the basics. No typos. Fewer than 15 pages per book. Very clean presentation (what they’re selling). And, for The Tipping Point, which I’ve already read, a quite good job of summarizing.

      You lose the anecdotes that pad most of these books – and which may help the contents stick.

      All these books feed on each other – there were few ideas I hadn’t seen briefly somewhere else – but I found the entire experience enjoyable and informative (which is why I’m writing this).

      I found a single page of things I hadn’t really seen in that format – and absorbed that information.

      I’m setting up a website for my soon-to-be-published novel, and a lot of these ideas will be used there (not necessarily new for me, but reinforcing).

      It will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Would I pay for it? Dunno – ask me in 3 months. It would depend greatly on their continuing new content – I’m certainly not the prime audience.

  7. There’s already a service like that called 250words.com. It is free.

    I subscribe and get a daily post of 250 words that is the main idea behind a popular non-fiction book. Sometimes I read and go, “meh.” Sometimes I read and want to buy the whole book. It’s a neat service and I enjoy the 250 word daily snippets.

  8. I agree with many books being padded. It doesn’t help that many non fiction books are $20-40. Which is why I usually just read the Wikipedia summaries of many non-fiction books.

    Nice to see I’m not the only one frustrated.

  9. Sounds like The Origin of Species” in 50 tweets.

  10. B*****, I say. Many non-fiction books are as much art as fiction. Imagine trying to condense a brilliant writer like David Halberstam. Any non-fiction book worth reading is worth reading in its entirety.

    Of course, on the other hand, adding even one extra unnecessary word to an already complete work is literary sin.

  11. Haven’t things like this existed in print for some time — those “top 100 business books – condensed!” type products they sell in the SkyMall catalog, etc?

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