Blinkist Book Summaries: A review

There seems to be  a considerable amount of interest in book summary services lately. Recently, there were several articles in The Observer on the subject of fiction summaries, one written from the point of view of the merchant (here) and another from the consumer’s (here).

While the avid reader in me can’t quite wrap my head around fiction summaries (at least in a non-academic setting), summaries of non-fiction are another thing altogether. I have an extensive non-fiction to-be-read list, one that includes many titles on business and marketing as well as a long list of favorite hobby topics (archaelogy, anthropology, history, linguistics, etc.).

I discovered an  an interesting piece written by industry analyst Joe Wikert about Blinkist,  a service that offers non-fiction book summaries which are called blinks. The service sounded interesting, and thinking of my long TBR list of non-fiction books, I decided to give it a try, concentrating on looking at the service from the point of view of a reader.

The Blinkist website promotes a read everywhere experience. There are apps for iPad, iPhone and Android and you can also read on the web. The service offers a three day, free, full-featured trial that starts when you sign up. The available books are drawn from a wide variety of topics: time management, psychology, finance, management, marketing, history, biography and more. There is  mix of new and classic material and there were many titles published as recently as 2015.

The Blinkist service offers three tiers of membership:

  • Free – Labeled as “A nibble of knowledge,” the free tier lets users read one pre-selected book a day and browse the Discover category.
  • Plus – This tier has the tagline “Limitless learning” and costs$49.99 per year. According to the website, the price includes your choice of 500-1000+ books (40 new books added per month), with the ability to highlight and store “important snippets.” At this tier, you can read your entire library of blinks offline.
  • Premium – This tier is described as “The Swiss Army knife edition.”  For  $79.99 per year, this level includes everything from the Plus level, plus the ability to listen to books in audio.You can also sync and store notes in Evernote and send books to your Kindle.

Signing up was easy. A confirmation email and a quick download of the app and I was up and running on the service. In order to try a variety of titles, I downloaded 8 blinks into my library for my free trial. I actually only got through five of them. Because I was mainly concerned with evaluating the quality of the summaries, I really didn’t get to try any of the other features (highlighting, listening to audio, and sending to Kindle) during my short free trial.

The only summary that I thought was truly fantastic  was that of Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 classic, Leviathan. The blink was a cogent, concise synopsis of an important definitive work that can be extremely challenging to read in its entirely. You can have a look at the original at Project Gutenberg.

I was also quite happy with the summary of Jeff Jarvis’ Gutenberg the Geek.  Since the original is a Kindle Single that is only 20 pages long, this summary felt very complete. I didn’t feel that I was missing anything by reading the summary instead of the whole work.

My feelings were more mixed on Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. The summary was concise and I got some good helpful information from it. However, as a short rendering of a 216 page book, I felt that the there was a lot more that I could have learned if I had read the entire book instead of just key points.

I also read three other blinks during my free trial. For those three books, I really felt that the Blink format simply did not do the books justice.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari felt especially lacking. It was so painfully obvious how much of the 469 page original had (of necessity) been glossed over to make the material fit the format limits. While the blink was a totally inadequate substitute for the actual book, it did do a great job of convincing me that this was a book I definitely wanted to read.

Because I had previous knowledge of the topics,  I also found that the blinks for Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us
by Kabir Sehgal and Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) by William Poundstone  were not detailed enough. They might have been fine as an introductory article on the subject matter, but definitely would not be satisfying for anyone who has any familiarity with or deep interest in the subject.

After I read each of the titles listed above, I went to each book’s respective Amazon page and looked at the reviews and sample content. What I saw there confirmed my initial opinions on the blinks I read.

After my too-short free trial, I was only able to access the free tier’s features and only able to read one blink a day. The daily blink cannot be added to your library, nor can you highlight or copy quotes. Blinkist does send out a summary email once a week with a list of the upcoming books for the week. They also highlight one blink they feel is a must read.

So, my impressions after using the service for two weeks?

  • The free trial was too short for me. While I understand that these are very short pieces and they don’t want to give away a lot for free, I really needed more time to evaluate the quality of the material on the service.
  • If you like to tackle a subject in-depth, these summaries may be not be satisfying enough for you. Of the six have I have read so far, I found three of them insufficient for my tastes that admittedly lean toward deep-reading.  However, if you are looking for a basic familiarity with the contents of a work for a book club or cocktail party conversation, these abbreviated versions may be perfect for you.
  • In my opinion, both the Plus and Premium tiers are  too expensive. $49.99 a year is a lot for short summaries that are more like articles than books. The additional cost for Premium seems awfully high for only the added features of audio, syncing to Evernote and sending to Kindle.
  • There is no monthly payment option available.

Several of the blinks did spark my interest enough to cause me to seek out reviews  and more info about some of the titles, although that is not actually an argument for subscribing to the paid service. I normally don’t pay for book recommendations; there are too many free blogs and newsletters for that. The bottom line is, compared to the cost of a subscription to an all-you-can-read service like Scribd, Oyster or Kindle Unlimited that allow you to read and unlimited number of entire books, Blinkist seems to offer too little for too expensive a price tag.

So, what about you? Have you tried Blinkist or any of the other summary services? What do you think? Is it something you would want to use?  Let me know in the comments!

 

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Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times

Glinda Harrison:

As both a student of medieval studies and avid e-reader enthusiast, I found this one fascinating….

Originally posted on medievalbooks:

Do you leave your e-reader or iPad on the table in Starbucks when you are called to pick up your cup of Joe? You’re probably not inclined to do this, because the object in question might be stolen. The medieval reader would nod his head approvingly, because book theft happened in his day too. In medieval times, however, the loss was much greater, given that the average price of a book – when purchased by an individual or community – was much higher. In fact, a more appropriate question would be whether you would leave the keys in the ignition of your car with the engine running when you enter Starbucks to order a coffee. Fortunately, the medieval reader had various strategies to combat book theft. Some of these appear a bit over the top to our modern eyes, while others seem not effective at all.

Chains
The least subtle but most effective way to keep your books safe…

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Library Corner 7-21-2015

Library corner imageOverDrive launches the first two public library digital collections in Japan (Overdrive)

The Real Value of $100 in Each State (Tax Foundation)

Taking a page from the New York Public Library’s approach to Instagram (Tech Republix)

Cornell University’s planned Ho Fine Arts Library will feature a technology-driven design that hopes to balance digital databases with the printed word (Metropolis Mag)

OverDrive Expands into Japan, But Why No Kobo Tie-in Yet? (The Ebook Reader)

Where are the books? Libraries under fire as they shift from print to digital (Washington Post)

ALA 2015: On E-books, Libraries Pushing For Options (Publishers Weekly)

Fifty Challenges Filed Against LGBTQ Children’s Books in Rural Texas County (CBLDF)

Rare Kafka manuscripts to go to Israel’s national library, court rules (Guardian)

The Open Library of Humanities Awarded Three-Year $774,000 Mellon Grant (Infodocket)

DHS Launches eFOIA App (DHS)

How To Guide: “Google Stores Your Voice Search History—Here’s How to Delete & Prevent It for Good” (Infodocket)

Digital Collections:

Reference: New Updates Available at the Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Infodocket)

NLM Digitizes Unique Early English Books, Allowing Free Online Access (NLM)

New From Boston Public Library: Rare Chronique Anonyme Universelle Manuscript Now Viewable Online (Infodocket)

National Library of Ireland Releases Digitized Collection of Catholic Parish Registers Dating Back to 1740 (Infodocket)

Bodleian Libraries invite scholars, teachers and the public to explore its digital collections on new online portal, Digital.Bodleian (University of Oxford)

Ransom Center Initiative Provides Free Access to More Than 22,000 Images of Collection Materials (Harry Ransom Center)

Reference: CDC Releases 2016 Edition of the Yellow Book (Health Information for International Travel) (Infodocket)

About once a week, I post links to digital-related library news articles and information about digital collections available online.  I also post other links of interest about the digital life on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

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Library Corner: 7-16-2015

Library corner imageCFPB Publishes Over 7,700 Consumer Complaint Narratives About Financial Companies (CFPD)

New Data From Pew: Internet Adoption in US Among Lower-Access Groups Hits Record Levels, But Digital Gaps Persist (Infodocket)

Los Angeles Public Library And Read Conmigo Team Up To Give 10,000 Free Bilingual Books To Kids During Summer Vacation (PRnewswire)

Digital Public Library of America makes push to serve all 50 states by 2017 with $3.4 million in grants (DPLA)

In Warren Buffet’s own backyard: Underfunded Omaha libraries. National digital library endowment, anyone?

US authorities return stolen books to Sweden’s National Library (Radio Sweden)

EFF Report Charts Companies on Next Frontier of User Privacy (EFF)

Spanish Language E-Book Provider e-Libro Adds 10,000 New Titles and Releases Two New Collections (Infodocket)

Extending the Europeana Data Model for richer descriptions of sounds materials (Europeana Pro)

Digital Collections:

James A. Michener Art Museum & Indianapolis Museum of Art Launch Newly Digitized Collections Online (Infodocket)

OpenAIRE Portal Now Includes Over 11.5 Million Open Access Documents From Over 600 Data Providers (Infodocket)

Scottish explorer David Livingstone’s writings, drawings now available through online archive (Oregon State University)

Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2012 (NCES)

AIDSVu Annual Launch: Interactive online maps with the latest available data for HIV prevalence and new HIV diagnoses in the U.S (AIDSVu,org)

Reference: U.S. State Dept. Releases 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Infodocket)

NOW AVAILABLE: The Papers of Andrew Jackson – Digital Edition (University of Virginia Press

What’s New in the National Archives Catalog: British Photographs of World War I (AOTUS)

About once a week, I post links to digital-related library news articles and information about digital collections available online.  I also post other links of interest about the digital life on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

 

 

 

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July 15th is Amazon Prime Day

Amazon has just announced that in honor of its 20th birthday, it will be celebrating Prime Day on Wednesday, July 15th.  According to Amazon, the day is described as

a global shopping event, offering more deals than Black Friday, exclusively for Prime members in the U.S., U.K., Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Austria.  On Wednesday, July 15, new and existing members in the U.S. will find deals starting at midnight, with new deals starting as often as every ten minutes. They can shop thousands of Lightning Deals, seven popular Deals of the Day and receive unlimited fast, free shipping.

Amazon is also featuring a #PrimeLiving Contest to highlight the Prime Photos cloud storage feature. Users of Amazon Prime are invited to contribute  photos for a contest with a chance to win a $10,000 Amazon Gift Card in each  country that is eligible for Prime Day. According to Amazon:

Amazon is providing members a forum to share how Prime helps enable some of their happy moments. Did you save enough time today to take the dog for a long walk? Did you finish your shopping while lounging at the beach? Did you create a family film festival at home? Did you find the perfect playlist to create a summer dance party? After a long week of work, did you still arrive in the perfect outfit with just the right gift? Take a snap, capture the moment. Members simply sign into Prime Photos between July 6 and July 15 to submit a photo on the contest page amazon.com/primeliving. Photos will be selected and featured daily on Amazon’s social channels leading up to Prime Day. One winner will be selected in each country based on the image that most creatively captures a happy moment of #PrimeLiving. Winners will also be invited to have their photos become screen savers on Amazon Fire TV.

Amazon Prime costs $99 per year in the United States and offers a variety of benefits, including free shipping,  video and music streaming as well as free and reduced priced ebooks and other benefits for its members.

For more information on Prime Day and a link to the photo contest, click here.

 

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Library Corner: 6-30-2015

Library corner imageHigh ebook prices ‘unsustainable,’ says city’s top librarian (Toronto Star)

Library Braille and Talking Book Program Releases App for Android Devices (LOC)

Trash to treasure: Retro computer, software collection helps National Library access digital pieces (ABC.net.au)

Bishop Museum unveils new online database of Hawaiian fishhooks (Hawai’i Magazine)

UNESCO Publishes New Study: “Countering Online Hate Speech” (Infodocket)

LGBT Collections moving to new call number area (Los Angeles Public Library)

Arizona: City of Nogales Closes Libraries Out of Frustration With County (Infodocket)

Rare Recordings of Music Greats Come to Southern Folklife Collection (UNC)

New York City Council Provides an Additional $39 Million in FY 2016 Budget For NYC Libraries (Infodocket)

Digital Collections:

Free the Data: FEMA’s New Data Visualization Tool (FEMA)

Primary Documents: U.S. State Department Releases Country Reports on Terrorism 2014 (Infodocket)

Smithsonian Releases More Than 4 Million Historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records Online, Crowdsourcing Project Begins (Infodocket)

James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection of pulps, fanzines, convention materials, and science fiction books spanning 1930s-2010s, now part of the University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives (Tumblr)

Consumer Safety: VINs of Affected Vehicles in Massive Airbag Recall Now Searchable Using NHTSA’s Lookup Tool (Infodocket)

History: “Seven Sisters Partners Launch New Archives Project: College Women” (Infodocket)

About once a week, I post links to digital-related library news articles and information about digital collections available online.  I also post other links of interest about the digital life on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

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Amazon Echo now available to all

echoThe Amazon Echo is now available to all customers. Previously, the voice-activated system was only available by invitation only. The always-on system features Alexa, Amazon’s answer to Siri and Cortana and allows hands-free access to music, including Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. The device also can retrieve information from Wikipedia or the web, tell you the weather, set timers and alarms, relay the latest news, and compile shopping/to-do lists.

Over the past few months, Amazon has added a number of new features to the system. It can now:

  • Work with connected home systems
  • Play Pandora radio
  • Read Audible books aloud
  • Access Google Calendar
  • Use IFTT
  • Re-order Prime items
  • Relay sports scores and schedules
  • Give you traffic reports, including routes and travel times
  • Allow you to customize news.

Amazon Echo retails for $179.99 and starts shipping on July 14, 2015. You can learn more about the device or order one here.

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