Blinkist, a tech start-up that boils down key ideas from non-fiction books in short-form text and audio for users—without publishers’ permission—is planning a UK expansion.
With more than 400,000 users in the UK and Ireland, the start-up says its mission is to empower its audience to "discover new titles, encounter new authors, uncover compelling concepts and forge out space for reading", with the long-term aim of becoming "the leading destination for the lifelong learner". Already it provides summaries of more than 2,500 best-selling non-fiction books, harvesting them into bite-sized "blinks" to be read or listened to in minutes.
The Berlin-based start-up has been active since 2012, and is "growing every day". Initially it started in the German language, before switching to English a year later to help it to "scale globally". Five years on, its audience has surpassed five million users worldwide; its podcast "Simplify" has also recently passed a million downloads.
Blinkist’s biggest market is the US, but c.e.o. Holger Seim told The Bookseller he sees "huge potential in the UK", currently the company’s second-biggest market. The firm is looking to hire a UK country manager and has an ambition to top a million UK-based users within the next 12 months.
"Our plan for the next 12 months is to double in scale. The UK is one of our core markets and we will probably want to grow more than that. A good ambition would be break through the 1m user within the next 12 months. We are hiring a national manager to get really specific about these plans," said Seim.
"In the past year, we have grown Blinkist with a one-size-fits-all approach ... To make the move from a relevant but still fairly small brand into a mainstream brand—that is, for example, the size of Audible—we really need to speak the language. We can’t go into the UK with American messaging; we also need to feature more local authors and more local partners."
Each non-fiction book is selected by Blinkist’s publishing and selections manager, who scours bestseller lists, book reviews, topical titles and user requests. Blinkist’s team of writers and editors then creates original short-form interpretations of "notable ideas", in text and in audio. Centred on subjects in categories of personal growth, business, popular science, popular psychology and "accessible academia", a monthly Blinkist subscription is £13.49 per month; an annual Blinkist subscription is £59.99.
One week after flyposting Penguin’s HQ to launch Be More Pirate, author Sam Conniff Allende told The Bookseller he went rogue again by contributing to the "blinking" of his book against his publisher’s wishes. He formed a group on mesaging app Slack to co-author key insights for Blinkist, and provided its team with video content and social media assets, interview materials and an exclusive unpublished chapter. Blinkist is now asking its subscribers to submit a work-based rule they want rewritten in the interests of innovation, in the hope of "winning" support from the author to help realise that change; they are also being offered a 30% discount code via Be More Pirate’s “blinks”, in the hope of tracking how the collaboration has translated into book sales.
Taking a leaf out of Allende’s book, Blinkist does not ask for publishers’ permission before featuring their titles. "It’s a new model, and we simply can’t wait for everyone to ask their permission. We are doing this legally—we don’t infringe copyright, and we have got to move fast. If we don’t, someone else will," Seim reasoned.
Asked what publishers make of this, he commented: "They’re not opposed to it. The industry is quite conservative, particularly when it comes to digital. I see a lot of publishers who are skeptics at first but when we meet them to explain what we’re about—it’s not about cannibalising books, it is about making books more discoverable in an age where people have new consumption patterns—they get it. They really like the model. Some like it and are happy to partner with us, some are standing on the sidelines, watching and waiting."
Sarah Moriarty, Blinkist’s director of Brand Marketing, said she would argue that the app opens authors and publishers up to "an entirely new audience of tech-savvy, digital-native, audio-focused lifelong learners" and bolsters publishers’ backlist sales. Other channels for promotion include its newsletter, digital magazine, podcast, and smart speaker skills for Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
"This solves one of the most urgent problems publishers face: namely, how to maximise exposure of each of their titles and authors," she said. "We find that if a reader or listener has really loved a ‘blink’ [about a given book], they’ll want to buy the full book. We like to think of Blinkist as a bridge between ‘no book’ and ‘the book’," she said.
"Blinkist is a friendlier player in the market than Amazon," Seim added. "More and more [publishers] reach out to us, although there is no official partnership on a corporate level yet. We still have to do some convincing to show we can have an impact on book sales."