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.
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.
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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