December 16, 2014

Blinkist app could take the reading out of books

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© wavebreakmedia

© wavebreakmedia

Do you suffer from the horrors of TL; DR syndrome? If you’re interested in nonfiction books but daunted by the prospect of actually reading all those pesky words, there’s an app for that. Claire Fallon writes for the Huffington Post that German tech startup Blinkist is going multimedia in its efforts to eliminate reading from the reading experience.

Blinkist first launched its app in the US last year, a handy tool that condenses nonfiction books into brief snippets called “blinks,” that (in that first iteration) could be read on the screen of your tablet or smartphone, and reduce reading time for a full book down to about fifteen minutes. And now the company is launching “an audio version for readers who want a hands-free, eyes-free source of factoids from popular publications.”

The audio blinks will also average out to around fifteen minutes per book, offering titles such as Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Asked about the benefits of consuming a book as a series of sound bites, Blinkist co-founder Holger Seim compares it to other media—specifically radio and podcasts—and says that Blinkist is better for “continuously consum[ing] key ideas of a particular book they might have heard about and want to know more about.”

Seim argues that the “central takeaways of the book” are more essential than “the act of reading or the digestion of the complex ideas throughout the text.” Fallon, however, points to studies that indicate that reading on-screen and listening to audiobooks leads to decreased comprehension and worse memory retention, and points out that removing “blinks” from useful context would have a similar effect: “Without the ability to mentally map facts onto the page where they appeared, or to easily scan ahead or circle back in the text, it appears to be more difficult for readers to process the knowledge being imparted and commit it solidly to memory.”

But Seim insists that the purpose of Blinkist is not to stop people from reading; in fact, he cites an internal survey of app users, which shows that about 50% use it as a discovery tool; 42% of them say that using Blinkist has led them to read more books, and only 9% say that it’s caused them to read fewer full books. Its effectiveness a learning tool is still unclear, but with Blinkist aiming to improve continuing education, that will be an important area of study going forward, and one to which Seim says the company will be committed in the coming year.

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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