Startups

Blinkist raises $18.8M for its condensed reading platform for non-fiction books

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We are living in the information age, but that doesn’t mean that we have all the time in the world to ingest everything that we want. A startup that is aiming to help with that has raised a round of funding to grow its business. Blinkist, a Berlin-based startup that presents condensed versions of non-fiction literature — each title can be read or listened to in about 15 minutes — has raised $18.8 million in funding led by Insight Venture Partners (a firm that is leading no less than three investments on this very day: see here and here).

The company is not disclosing its valuation, but others participating in this round include Greycroft, IBB Bet and e.ventures, all existing backers. Blinkist has raised $35 million to date.

Holger Seim, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that the funding will be used to continue to expand the product. That will include localising content into more languages beyond English and German; adding more titles — there are now 2,500 titles with a rate of about 40 being added each month ranging from new best sellers to slightly older popular titles (Sapiens and Homo Deus, two loooong books I respectively couldn’t get through very fast and never finished, are among the list); and perhaps moving into more delivery formats beyond text and audio, which are the two ways you can consume a “Blink” — as its content is called — today.

The company has around 6 million users today and notes that they are equally consuming written and audio formats, although audio is growing faster. From what we’ve heard, it has also spoken informally with potential buyers, including a certain Seattle-based e-commerce leviathan that made its name in books, so the interest in its platform ranges beyond that of consumers, which may have also been some of the motivation behind this round of funding, a substantial round by Berlin and European startup standards.

While Blinkist has plans for how it will grow and evolve, one area will be holding fast on in its expansion is a commitment to human-powered content. That is, there are no plans to use all of the advances in artificial intelligence to produce Blinks in place of humans doing the condensing, a la Summly or others that have tried this approach.

“We believe the human element is always important and it is here to stay,” Seim said. The company uses a network of editors today to summarize and narrate those summaries for its users. Seim added that the company is “digging into AI,” but mainly for the purpose of seeing how it could help with recommendations of titles to readers, and also making recommendations to Blinkist itself: one challenge is to figure out what content it should add to the platform and what might prove most popular.

Having popular content is key for Blinkist’s business model: the app is free for seven days but then costs $79.99/year or $12.99/month to use — meaning, it needs to have something that will lure people back again, and again. Currently, Blinkist doesn’t really make a lot of money from referrals, since on iOS as one example, it cannot link to Amazon purchasing (only iTunes), which cuts out one of the most popular platforms for buying books.

That will potentially be something Blinkist might try to figure out how to work around, since as Seim describes it, the purpose is not to replace reading the actual book or other work, but to get enough information about it to see whether you would like to buy it.

“Everyone likes to make the comparison to Cliffs Notes,” he said, referring to those yellow-covered books that many a student in the US used and uses to work around reading turgid texts, or at least to help understand them. Although Blinkist lacks substantial referral data — again because of platform limitations for its apps — “we do survey our users frequently and we are used by avid book readers, not by people who want to read books less.”

He said that almost 50 percent of its users say they read more books thanks to Blinkist and only nine percent say they read less.

Although there are obvious competitive threats to Blinkist, the most obvious of these — Amazon — is not a worry at this point, Seim noted. “W are not worried about Amazon,” he said. “It is a big player in the book space for reading, and listening also with Audible, so we are watching themn, but so far we are in a different business. We’re trying to inspire people and make it easier to take the first step and engaging in literature. We are a complementary business in that regard.”

That is how the investors see it, too. “As a concept and an investment opportunity, Blinkist offers something genuinely unique. The company presents an exciting model which is defining and spearheading a whole new category of self-development.” comments Harley Miller, Vice President at Insight Venture Partners. “We only want to work with the brightest and most ambitious teams, and we know that Blinkist and its founders share our vision for making a positive, global impact.”

You can read more about Blinkist in our interview with them here.

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