Blinkest Review: Book Summaries

Blinkist Review: Why Book Summaries Aren’t Perfect

Paid book summaries have been around for decades.

There have been book companies and websites whose entire job is to make books or articles to summarize the most popular books. In school, I remember services like Cliffnotes and Sparknotes, which used to be huge for people in English class who wanted summaries of assigned books so they didn’t have to actually read them.

Nowadays, we have a few new entrants into the field. They’re still pretty small, but the market for this is fairly small (compared to something like Make-up or Beauty). There are Youtube channels like Fight Mediocrity that summarize books with drawn and animated videos, and paid apps like Blinkist that do this with a library of text and audiobook content.

The Truth About Book Summaries

Here’s a quick background on my experience with this: I read every day through print books and audiobooks. I have read over 100+ books in the self-help, nonfiction, business, wealth-creation, and fitness/peak performance in the last year.

My opinion on book summaries is probably something you can relate to.

Some books turn out to suck and are big disappointments. They look good from the cover, but it turns out that the big points can be summarized quickly in a few sentences or paragraphs at most.

There’s a lot of possible reasons for this. Some authors simply want to add fluff content to make their book look thicker. There’s an incentive for people to have the title of “published author” nowadays and the barrier to entry of writing a book has lowered. That has lead to a flood of books being published every year. This sometimes leads to people wasting time reading fluffy, useless content written by the authors who waste time writing fluff content.

Other books are literally gold. There’s so much incredible advice in there that you can’t put it down. In fact, it’s difficult to summarize because it’s already really concise. Good to Great is a great business book that’s an example. You’d be a fool to think that you can summarize that book in 2 pages and get all the juice you get from reading the whole thing multiple times through.

Book summary companies are often in the game of making money. They’re incentivized to tell you that book summaries are the holy grail. If I had to choose between the guy who’s read 1000+ book summaries and the guy who has deeply studied a solid selection of 100 books, I’d choose the latter.

Summaries have their place. It’s great for the books that have gold nuggets of value but spend way too long repeating the same information in multiple forms. However, I usually can’t determine if a book is a winner or a fluff book until reading at least 20% of it. I’m always on the cautious side. I’d rather be the guy who reads more fluff in case I find that one valuable nugget of information that can change my life versus the guy who accidentally skipped it because he assumed the rest of the book was bad.

I would use a book summary if:

  • the book is on a mid or low level priority.
  • I heard from many other people and/or online reviews that there’s a lot of fluff or it’s not that good.
  • I’ve gone through at least 20% of it and it’s pretty 100% clear that it’s fluff (if I’m still not 100% sure, I’ll read a bit more)
  • if it’s lower priority but there are some critical points that I’ve heard of great value in the book that I need immediately or very soon.

The point is that great books should be read, studied, reviewed, read again, and notes should be taken. There are rarities to find such books, but they do exist and a book summary will never do it justice.

A great technique for finding out what type of book this is quicker is to look at the table of contents and structure of the book. It doesn’t always work but sometimes it helps you skip the “read at least 20% of the book” rule.

For example, let’s take the books The Power of Broke or Getting There. Both, upon examining the table of contents and skimming through the structure, are coffee-table type books. Each section details a specific person and how he or she achieved the financial and lifestyle success they have now. From there, I would learn that I wouldn’t need to read the whole book, just the sections on people I’d be interested in. These would most likely be people who have achieved a lifestyle I want to achieve or success in an industry that I’m interested in myself. It will cut down my reading time. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is a book summary. In this case, it would simply mean reading the entire section on the people I like, which is probably better (to get more of the juice) than a book summary.

An Honest, Nothing-Held-Back Blinkist Review

I have tried Blinkist free trial on my phone and went through at least 100 book summaries in that time. There’s text summaries (average of 5 to 10 pages) and audiobook summaries (of similar length) on some of the titles.

I have not been paid or endorsed in any way to write this. Also, you will not find a Blinkist affiliate ad anywhere on this website. For any other place you will see a review online, be sure to check the links at the bottom of the page. There’s usually an affiliate link.

This means that they are getting paid each time someone buys through their link. They are incentivized to say that they like it (even if they don’t).

Let’s get started…

I repeat what I said in the last section. Book summaries have their proper place. I would only use it for specific purposes, as mentioned in the bullet points earlier. I just don’t think you can get even close to the full juice for many incredible books with a summary.

Having said that, there’s plenty of books that might fall into a book summary-type situation.  These books are usually mediocre in certain ways but good enough to at least peek into. These aren’t high priority books but I heard enough to look into them.

For example, Seth Godin books like Lynchpin. I literally hear about him all the time from everyone in the self-help, business, self-development, and self-improvement niches online. However, is this book really worth reading? From what I’ve heard about the book from everyone, it seems like the whole book can be summarized by the title: “In the modern world, it’s important to be indispensable and irreplaceable at your job.”

Perhaps peeking into a 10 page book summary would be a good way to get more of the juice of the book and see if it’s worth reading. It works because it’s definitely not my #1 priority book to read right now (I’m currently more into career progression and lifestyle business books as those are more immediate in urgency and value).

They have their place but to use ONLY Blinkist or a similar service to read would be a huge issue. I would use it as an optional reading supplement to actually reading print books and/or listening to audiobooks only if you can afford it.

There are some books like I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi that walks through techniques for investing, credit cards, reducing debt, and buying a car on that just cannot be summarized without butchering the point because of the data and numbers. Having said that, it can work decently well for a Seth Godin book.

Blinkist and other book summary services have an incentive to keep expanding its library of books that it summarizes. Each one has the ability to decide whether to value quality of book summaries versus quantity. Many book summary services end up pursuing the latter because they realize that there are thousands of different book genres and more book summaries means more people who might want to buy. Unfortunately, that often means the quality and accuracy of the summaries start to decline as they generate more content.

I checked out the Blinkist hiring page and they seemed to be looking for a bunch of people to come in to narrate books and/or read books to summarize. Hopefully, they don’t become a content farm and sacrifice quality of summaries too much. I did note that they seemed to make a point on the app and website that they were moving at a very fast-pace to expand its library of books and grow, grow, grow.

It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to go through an entire audio book summary on Blinkist and even faster if you use the 2x or 3x speed. That means that you can get through 50+ books in a day if not more. I’ve done this myself and it can leave you dazed and overwhelmed. That’s one of the possible problems with a very fast overload of information, especially summaries.

Conclusion

For now, I won’t be using Blinkist. It has a monthly cost. Instead, I prefer checking out the books from the library and using the table of contents to jump to my favorite passages.

Plus, there’s plenty of comprehensive book summaries online, including animated video summaries.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below: Why do you consider it? How have your thoughts changed after reading this?

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If you’re a book lover and you don’t have the time to spend weeks taking speed reading courses, I’ve created a video and supporting resource summarizing the top speed reading points for you. You can get it free by clicking the button below:

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7 Comments

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  • JRS

    December 14, 2016

    Is it not mildly ironic that this article is quite long?

    Reply
    • Will

      December 14, 2016

      I don’t think so because I am not trying to summarize anything.

      Reply
  • Martin

    October 16, 2016

    I have an eye disorder which makes it difficult to read books, up to the point where it’s now almost impossible (due to the time it takes). I still have books at home I would love to read. A service like blinkist sounds like a great idea, but would you say its summaries are generally not a valid representation of the full books? Is there a better service?

    Reply
    • Will

      October 18, 2016

      Why not audiobooks? What makes you think you have to read summaries? My whole philosophy is to say no to shortcuts or fake “magic pills.”

      Reply
  • Trang

    August 13, 2016

    Hi, I can relate to a lot of your points.

    In general I need a service that helps me:

    – Summarize the books that are average in quality but have something worthy to look at. Blinkist does it well. (but we need to be careful with the overload of information you mentioned above).

    – Identify good books and encourage me to read them. This is where Blinkist falls short. I think summary service tend to make good books become so-so because there’s not enough place in a summary to fully present an innovative idea and develop it until the reader sees its value. Even when examples and further explanations are included, we do not know if it is the *right* example we need. What makes me tick may not be as important to the guy who created the summary and vice versa. Unless an idea is very applicable or direct to the point that we are already contemplating about, we tend to skim like this: “This is point 1, this is point 2… ok, done, next!” and hardly remember anything useful afterwards.

    Another disadvantage of summary services is that they don’t work well with detailed guide books. You know, the type of books that don’t talk much about general principles but tell us very specifically how to do this or that, for example, how to live like a minimalist and tidying up our house. Summaries simply cannot present necessary steps, tips and instructions and therefore lose their values. In addition, summaries help people see the structure of a book, not how detailed it is. And for guide books, details are key. Two books can have the same general principles but it is the detailed instructions inside them that determine which one is more suitable for us. If we only read summaries instead of looking at excerpts, we don’t know if they are worth buying.

    Reply
    • Will

      August 14, 2016

      Thanks Trang for commenting. I think you hit on some great points. It’s true that some books simply cannot be summarized no matter how much these services try to convince you. I also think that summary services try to make all books look good rather than identify the good ones for you (or don’t do it well enough for you to see it’s good). I try to provide value in my blog summary/review posts in the ways that you have mentioned Blinkest fails at but who knows if it’s the best solution

      Reply

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