The success of TEDTalks has demonstrated that millions of people around the world are hungry to absorb new ideas. Many of the talks create a desire to go deeper — but not everyone has the time to read an entire book on a subject. TEDBooks fill that gap. While a traditional book is at least 60,000 words, TEDBooks, at less than 20,000, allow someone to see an idea fleshed out in a satisfying way — but without having to devote a week of reading time to it.
The mass adoption of new e-book technologies like Kindle and iPad has changed the rules of the game. We suspect the traditional length of books has been dictated as much by the constraints of the physical medium of print as by what a modern reader actually wants. (Publishing wisdom is that 20,000 words in print feel too small to sell, so authors may be encouraged to write much more expansively, even if the idea itself doesn’t require it.) But just as iTunes allowed people to build new listening habits around individual music tracks, instead of albums, so the new reading technologies allow instant distribution of books of any length — facilitating new, more focused reading habits.
With more demands than ever on people’s time, we think many will welcome the chance to absorb a TEDBook on a single short plane flight or on a day’s commute.
Does this mean the dumbing down of reading? Actually, we suspect people reading TEDBooks will be trading up rather than down. They’ll be reading a short, compelling book instead of browsing a magazine or doing crossword puzzles. Our goal is to make ideas accessible in a way that matches modern attention spans.
Where to buy / How to view
TEDBooks are available from Amazon.com as Kindle Singles. They can be purchased for $2.99 each, and can be read on any device equipped with the Kindle app: iPad, Mac, PC, Android, iPhone, Blackberry and Windows 7 smartphones.
Tell me why the world needs TEDBooks …
The main reading choices we have today are to browse a newspaper or magazine, or to try to dig into a full-length book. TED Books offer a new choice: a powerful idea that can be absorbed in a single read of an hour or so. We think this is going to appeal to large numbers of people who are curious, eager to learn, but also time-constrained. The success of TED Talks has shown there’s a huge global appetite for ideas delivered in succinct form. We think that applies to reading just as much as listening.
What inspired you to start this project?
For several years, we’ve been pondering whether TED should be doing books. Books have of course long been the prime way in which “ideas worth spreading” are circulated. But we couldn’t quite come up with a publishing concept that could be made available to large numbers of our speakers and to other potential idea generators. However, seeing the explosive growth of e-book platforms like Kindle and iPad got us thinking. And the question that wouldn’t go away was: why are books the length they are? Is it because it inherently takes 300 pages to explain an idea? Or is it more to do with the traditions of book publishing in print? Was it possible that in today’s fast-moving world with so many demands on people’s time that there was an opportunity for a shorter type of book? One that could be absorbed in a single reading session, one that could allow many brilliant people who would have no chance of taking off a year to write a traditional book to nonetheless become authors? We had seen from our experience of TED Talks that by constraining speakers to 18 minutes, it was often the case that “less is more.” And as we shared the idea with trusted advisers in the TED community, we saw real excitement, and the sense that this was an idea whose time has come.