[App Fridays] Inside Blinkist’s attempt to let you read bestselling nonfiction books in 15 minutes

15th Apr 2017
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What do Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have in common? Apart from the fact that each of them is a self-made billionaire, one personality trait that binds them all is their reading habit. More than just a passive habit, most of them have credited their real world success to their well-cultivated reading habits. On being asked how he learnt so much about rockets, Musk has always given the same answer, matter of factly, “I read books.”

In 2015, Zuckerberg had noted on Facebook that his challenge for the year was to read a new book every other week, “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”.

Gates and Buffett, now close friends, also credit their success to their voracious reading habits. Gates regularly updates his reading list and reviews books on his platform, Gatesnotes. On being asked the secret to his success, Buffett had pointed to a stack of books and said,

Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

In this new age of distractions, reading books is a challenge for many. But many technological innovations are out there for people who still wish to keep up their reading habit. In this week’s App Friday, let us take a closer look at Blinkist, which ‘distills key insights’ from non-fiction books and lets readers either read or listen to them.

How Blinkist works

Blinkist Core team. Image credit: Blinkist Press resources

Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, Blinkist was founded in 2013 by a group of friends who liked to read but couldn’t find the time anymore after taking up jobs. So, they decided to work together to solve the problem. Over the course of four years, the venture has amassed over 2,000 non-fiction books in its catalogue, and it is learnt to have closed a $9 million Series B round in January 2017.

Blinkist aims to help users boost their knowledge, gain new perspectives, and achieve life-long learning skills. Some of the goals they have for their users, as listed in their Google Play description, include:

• Sharpening your professional skills with the best business books in your field.

• Discovering new perspectives on the world with bestsellers on economics, science, history, and culture.

• Staying on top of the latest trends and ideas in your professional field.

Blinkist works on an annual subscription model and currently includes two options priced at $50 and $80 dollars per year.

Blinkist subscription fee for individuals and teams

The $80 subscription lets users listen to and also read all of Blinkist’s content, apart from an Evernote integration. The $50 subscription excludes the listen feature, but lets users still access the entire catalogue of books.

To keep users constantly engaged, Blinkist notes that based on pre-selected interest and reading history, the app recommends lists and books. To ensure quick understanding and retention, Blinkist relies on the human touch. All insight summaries are written by field experts and Blinkist’s editorial team.

The Blinkist experience

On signing up on Blinkist for the first time, users are taken through a quick overview of the app, and then have the option of signing up via email or linking their Facebook account to the app. The last step of this process requires users to select a few ‘Interest’ categories to personalise the experience.

Setup process

After that, users can access the entire catalogue of books. Currently, Blinkist has four main subsections:

  1. Discover lets users look up book recommendations and also access the Daily Pick.
  2. Library automatically keeps a tab on a user’s books and their reading progress. Users with a lot of books in their collection can also rely on custom filters or tags to access them quickly.
  3. Activity gives users a bird's eye view of all the books that Blinkist keeps publishing in real-time.
  4. Profile finishes the final aspect of the reading experience by letting users access their favourite books and any passages that they have highlighted.
Discover tab

The Discover section offers one free book every day under Daily Picks. This is a great way to create a reading habit among non-paying users and get them to open the app on a regular basis. After a point, these users may convert to paying customers.

On completing a book on Blinkist, the platform gives users three options: favourite the book, buy it on Amazon, or share it. The second feature–buy–conveys an important message. While Blinkist believes that their insight summaries paint an overall picture of the book, they still seem to believe that there is value in reading the actual book. While it may sound counter-intuitive, it makes both logical and business sense (as an affiliate revenue stream).

Blinkist provides a great overall experience, and has something for both casual and voracious readers. While casual readers can slowly build up their habit of reading on a regular basis, voracious readers may use it as a platform to get a taste of the book before actually purchasing it. I had already read Ben Horowitz’ book, The Hard Things About Hard Things, but found that Blinkist’s summary did a great job of curating all the insights and presenting them in an easily digestible fashion. Some of the other features I liked include:

1. Ability to sync across devices: Users can access Blinkist across smartphones and PCs through the same account. But the PC version doesn’t seem to support the listen feature currently.

2. Reading speed: While listening to a book, users can tweak reading playback up to 2x the speed to help them get through books faster.

Speed controls on bottom right corner

One area for possible improvement could be to include a social network feeling in the notifications section. A user will likely be interested in seeing what kind of books his friends have been reading and which ones they have completed.

Sector overview

While ebooks and ebook readers like Kindle, Nook and others have now made it possible to access books within seconds of their launch, the physical book market is still around and strong. Compared to India, the US likely has a higher user base of ebook consumers. A recent report from Pew Research Center notes that 65 percent of Americans have read a print book in the last year, which is more than double the number that has read an e-book (28 percent) and more than four times the number that has consumed content via an audio book (14 percent).

Image credit- PEW research

So, physical books are still the preferred choice among avid readers. Among those trying to change the reading habits of people in this digital age are players like Audible, which provides readers with audio versions of books. Closer home in India, while Kindle is a popular choice, we have players like Juggernaut Books and DailyHunt that are trying to get people to read online.

Website- Blinkist 

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