Last week, e-book subscription service Scribd announced a new product in its subscription bundle called “Snapshots,” which are summaries of nonfiction books that can be read or listened to in 15 minutes or less.
Snapshots will deliver a book’s key points and arguments, but won’t necessarily serve as a replacement for reading. Rather, they are supposed to help Scribd users make better decisions about whether they want to read the whole thing.
There is a proven market for this experience: Blinkist, a Berlin-based company, offers essentially the same product as Snapshots (though Blinkist’s word for the short summaries is “blinks”). Blinkist has attracted 10 million users overall; premium users pay $100 a year for access to audio and text summaries of more than 3,000 books, and users of the free version get one pre-selected title a day.
Both Blinkist and Scribd produce the book summaries themselves and don’t pay fees to the book publishers to do so. Each publisher hires freelance writers to narrate and write the summaries.
The companies diverge in their approach in terms of whether their product is positioned as a complement or a substitution for reading full books. Scribd says Snapshots are sort of like movie trailers for books, emphasizing that they’re offering these Snapshots alongside full copies. By creating a more accessible version of many books, Scribd hopes to then funnel at least some of its 1 million paying users to other parts of their subscription and create a product that has higher engagement and is eventually a stickier experience.
On the other hand, Blinkist believes the summaries themselves are worth paying for and is marketing its product to those who wouldn’t find the time to read in the first place — its site prominently features the tagline “Fit reading into your life.”
Whether other nonfiction content creators adopt this approach of condensing long content into short summaries. Will journalism organizations begin summarizing long content as well? For some longform pieces, the The New York Times has begun publishing takeaways, such as this summary sharing “6 Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation Into Rupert Murdoch and His Family.”