Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hyperink Changes the Study Guide Industry All Over Again

Study guides such as Cliff Notes and Spark Notes and No Fear and Grade Saver have been offering simplified summaries of classic literature and required reading for decades, and they have long been the standard in the genre.  However, their specialties have long been the classics of contemporary high school and college curricula, and most students turn to them for help deciphering Shakespeare's Hamlet or assistance in prepping for the ACT.  There were many books that these standard industry leaders didn't touch - and they were mainly the books that weren't in demand in the classroom.  Yet, there are many books that people would love to read - or say they have read - but they don't have the time.  Hyperink intends to fill that void.

I first happened across Hyperink while searching Amazon for books by Jonah Leher - the recently scandalized writer who published in Wired and the New Yorker before being exposed for academic dishonesty.  While searching his book Imagine, I discovered an offering for a "Quicklet" on Leher's books.  Upon investigation I learned that Hyperink is a company devoted to publishing quick book summaries of popular non-fiction works.  The entire business model is the brainchild of an entrepreneur named Kevin Gao, who first made a name for himself with his self-publishing book on consulting, The Consulting Bible.   Hyperink apparently caught the attention of one of the original venture capitalists behind the HuffPost, Kenneth Lerer, who has bankrolled the company.  The concept is not new, even to the internet, as freelance source such as Associated Content, Demand Media Studios, and eHow have been offering these summaries of popular content for a while now. Perhaps the most successful model on this idea was the inventors of the For Dummies handbooks.  Hyperink has simply repackaged it, again.

And Hyperink is also branching out into other fields of publishing, making it easier for "experts" and aspiring writers to publish books.  For example, Hyperink has a team of writers who will sift through a bloggers entire collection of posts and "craft a book" out of the entries.  They will also market it and sell it - for a 50% of the profits.  It is a reasonable offer, and Hyperink is able to do for many writers what they are unable to do for themselves - gather, organize, and market their content.  They will quickly assemble and publish brief summaries and explanations on unique subjects that people often search the internet for.  Thus, someone may want a quick read on "how to garden" or perhaps a short summary of Malcolm Gladwell's works.  Hyperink seeks to provide the content.

At this point, I am not entirely sure how I feel about the rise of Hyperink - as I have criticized the use of No Fear Shakespeare in the classroom.  At the same time, I can understand people simply wanting a little more information about a great book - more than they can get from Wikipedia or the Amazon reviews.  And, certainly, I can concede that books like The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman or The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell can be, well, a bit long winded.  Thus, this secondary avenue to access to information may not be a bad development.  That said, I am a bit concerned that it veers close to copyright infringement, but it's certainly not plagiarism.  And it's no difference than people asking me about a book that I have read.  As a teacher, I often give "A Teacher's View" of many popular works such as Friedman's books.

In many ways, I am disappointed I didn't think of it first.  It is, in fact, an industry based on the idea of blogs is good business.  Bloggers read a great many articles and then write short summaries of them, including links.  Hyperink has simply market-ized it.  From an educational standpoint, there is a similarity to what Sal Khan of the Khan Academy is doing.  He is simply shortening and simplifying the information people - or students - want to know about and putting it in a digestible form.  So, add Hyperink to the list of one more company that is pumping accessible information - even if it is recycled - into the marketplace, and making a lot of money doing it.

1 comment:

Kevin Gao said...

Michael, thanks for your post on Hyperink! If you'd ever like to discuss in more detail, don't hesitate to reach out to me directly (kevin@). Thank you! Kevin