I love reading books.
Yet I finish most of my days with the regret I was not able to carve out enough time for reading. Between blogs, podcasts, chatting with friends, nowadays I’m getting so many recommendations for nonfiction books that my Kindle library grows way faster than what I can read.
I have another problem. Business books usually fall into three categories:
- Great ones: full of interesting ideas and enjoyable to read (like The Unicorn Project or Lost and founder)
- Boring ones: a lot of good ideas written in an extremely boring way
- Bad ones: few ideas lost in a plethora of useless and boring pages
I love books in the first category and they are usually the ones I review here in my blog. Unluckily, I hate the others.
I usually take me forever to get to the end of boring nonfiction books.
I give up within the first couple of chapters when I read a bad one. And that sucks because sometimes they still have some interesting concepts I’d like to absorb.
That’s why other the weekend I came up with a new strategy: reading the entire book when it’s great. Fallback to book summaries for categories n. 2 and n. 3.
So I’ve spent the last couple of days testing out the 4 best book summary apps to see which one is worth subscribing to. And now I’ve decided to share my findings with you to save you some time should you be facing the same question.
The book summaries apps and websites I’ve tested are:
- Mentorist (2022 Addition)
But before I declare the best book summary app in 2022…
Is it worth reading a book summary?
Yes and no.
But before we dive deeper, a quick premise. I’m considering only nonfiction books. It would be crazy to read the summary of a novel in my opinion. This also seems to be a consolidated trend in the industry. All the book summary apps I’ve reviewed focus on nonfiction books.
Now back to your question.
If I had enough time I’d probably avoid reading book summaries… it feels a bit like cheating.
But I have to admit it’s an effective way to learn the key concepts of an entire book, usually in less than 30 minutes. The big question mark is… will they stick?
The value-added of reading a full book is that you usually get a lot of examples, and repetition of the key concepts. This is useful to make it stick and to convince yourself it’s a good idea you should put into practice.
Reading the summary you get to the core concepts immediately but you lose a lot of contexts. It feels like eating meal replacement powders: you likely get all the nutrients. But you lose all the taste.
This problem can be big or small depending on the kind of book you’re reading.
If it’s a book about “HR best practices”, it’s likely fine to read the key ideas in 30 minutes.
If you’re reading personal development books or self-improvement books … well, my personal take here is that the key ideas are almost the same on all of these books. And you probably already know them. You’re lacking the motivation to implement them.
In this scenario, reading the original book could be better. The way the author communicates the message. The motivation examples he uses to reinforce it are what really matter and they’re likely gonna be missing in the summaries.
So, if you are the kind of person that could benefit from nonfiction book summaries, let’s find out what’s the best app for you.
My criteria to pick the best book summary apps in 2022
Before I started the free trial of all these book summary apps, I’ve defined some personal criteria to pick which one I would subscribe to and which will be canceled.
I defined four main categories to rank the apps:
- Book catalog: How many book summaries do they have? Do they have the books I want to read? This is a big one and a deal-breaker for me.
- Summary quality: Another critical factor. Is the summary good? Did they capture the core ideas? Is the quality consistent across multiple books?
- Original content: Do they also have their own original content on top of book summaries? Are they any good?
- Features: do they have a mobile app? Is the website or app easy to use? Do they have any interesting unique features?
As you can see I’ve not added price as a relevant category. That’s because, no matter what’s the cost, if I’ll read summaries in a consistent way, I’ll save a lot of money compared to buying each individual book.
I actually added the last two categories after I started testing the various apps. Seems like all of them are moving beyond just book summaries and are starting to produce their own original content. Often curated summaries of multiple books on a specific topic.
On the features side, most of them nowadays also do audio summaries of most books (but machine-generated audio). I also find the usability of the app a very important factor given I’ll be using it every day.
Finally, if you’re curious to know how I tested the catalog section, here’s the list of 12 books I’ve been looking for:
- Why we sleep
- Atomic Habits
- No Rules Rule
- The subtle art of not giving a f**k
- AI Superpowers
- Lost and Founder
- The revenue marketing book
- The unicorn project
- How to lie with statistics
- Traffic secrets
- The making of a manager
Ok, time to start reading some book summaries and pick a winner!
Blinkist is probably the most known summary app in the market and the one that really started this industry. It’s reasonably priced, starting at $14.99 per month or $89.99 per year and it works like a charm.
They divide book summaries into what they call blinks. It’s usually a good mapping to the book chapters or main ideas. Each Blink usually takes no more than 5 minutes to read (or listen). At the end of the book summary, there is always a final part that recaps all the core ideas of the book.
Being the oldest book summary service the quality and catalog are usually very good.
Catalog – Vote 8
In Blinkist I was able to find 8 out of the 12 titles I used for the test. Good but not crazy good. I was actually expecting something better from their 4,500+ book summaries catalog.
Clearly, they’re focusing more and more on their original productions. If a title is a bestseller, it’s 99% sure you’ll find it in Blinkist. When you look for more niche books, there’s a 50-50 chance of not finding them.
Quality – Vote 7
The good thing about Blinkist is their consistency. You can expect all the book summaries to have quite good quality. They summarize a lot. Sometimes I would have preferred some more info on specific details.
The average summary takes 15 minutes to read. I would have preferred to go up to 30 minutes and get more details.
Still, they did a pretty good job in identifying all the core concepts of each book and expressing it in a very compelling way.
Original Content – Vote 7
Most of their original content is in form of Shortcasts. You can think of them as mini podcasts where every episode is usually 10 minutes long. There’s also a written summary for each episode.
They are of good quality and with a good selection of authors. However, I’m not a super fan of the audio format so I ended up not consuming them a lot.
Features – Vote 7
Blinkist has a very good offer. You can read on a desktop through a browser, on mobile, and on tablets.
The quality is very good with very high readability of the book summaries.
The thing I didn’t like was the inconsistency of the user experience across devices.
I LOVE the fact that you can highlight text and save it for later. Going back through my highlights of a book is something I do often. Yet I was not able to understand how to do it on my iPad. And the sync between browser and iPad is odd.
On the browser, the main dashboard is focused on the books you’re reading. On iPad on the discovery of new contents. Overall their book summary app is good but not yet great.
One very nice feature that is worth mentioning is the capability to sync your highlights with Evernote and book summaries with Kindle to read them other there and keep under the same umbrella summaries and full books.
Shortform is relatively new to the game, as far as I know, still they have a decent catalog. Pricing is surprisingly higher than Blinkist even if the catalog is way smaller.
They charge $24 per month or $197 for the annual subscription. They offer a 5 days free trial where you can explore all the catalog for free.
Overall they have the best book summaries of all the apps reviewed here and a year later since I originally wrote this post, I’m still subscribed to their service and it’s the app I use the most.
Catalog – Vote 7
The catalog is smaller than Blinkist as you can expect from a newcomer in the market. They claim 1000+ book summaries and, as you can guess, most of them are bestsellers.
I was able to find only 5 of the 12 books used for the tests. I was hoping for something more, to be honest. Most of the marketing books were missing and even in the bestsellers, there were some gaps.
The upside is that they seem to be adding new titles at a good pace.
(2022 Update) The catalog keeps growing slowly but consistently. They have recently launched a Video Summary series which is free on Youtube. They are also publishing super-short summaries on Instagram.
Quality – Vote 8.5
The quality of their summaries is the real strength of ShortForm. I love how they structure summaries and the level of depth.
Shortform has the only summaries that can really replace reading the whole book in my opinion.
All the other apps are only useful to understand if you might like a book before buying it or absorbing few quotes to sound smart with your friends.
They have a generous 1-page summary to get started with. It’s really high quality and for a quick read you could stop there.
But if you want to go more in-depth they also offer a more detailed summary chapter by chapter. When it makes sense they also have exercises at the end of some chapters.
Another incredible strength of ShortForm is how they make connections outside the specific book to really help you understand the topic. They often mention other books covering the same topic to add value to the summary and give you more context / different points of view.
ShortForm has the best book summaries of the apps reviewed here. period!
Original Content – Vote 6
They don’t offer original content, but they feature summaries of top articles from the US press. The selection is still fairly limited, with around 500 articles in the catalog. Nothing to go crazy for.
There’s an audio version for all the summaries but it’s not human narrated, it’s actually an AI voice which I would not listen to for 30 minutes.
Features – Vote 8
Good web and mobile versions, so avid readers will enjoy their summaries everywhere.
The experience is consistent across devices and there’s full support for highlighting text or adding notes which, unlike Blinkist, works very well also on mobile.
A nice touch is the support for dark mode in the reader to enjoy your summaries also at night.
The mobile app improved a lot over the last year and it’s now very fast and responsive. Overall it’s a very pleasing experience.
A big one for Shortform is the possibility to download a book summary as a PDF. Way more flexible than the Kindle integration found in Blinkist.
Another feature that I love is their support for ReadWise syncing. ReadWise is my app of choice to gather together all the highlights from books and articles I’ve read and check them daily to brainstorm. It’s great to have my ShortForm highlights imported there.
Update 8/8/2022: Shortform has just released another great feature that saves me money and makes my life easier. They now integrate and sync notes with Notion!
Overall it’s a great book summary app from a software standpoint and they keep improving it with a good pace.
GetAbstract has a very unique approach. They’ve been in the book summary apps space forever with a strong focus on enterprise offerings.
Looking at their website it’s clear that their main focus is selling to companies to give multiuser access to their employees. Still, they also have subscription plans for private users with a $29.90 per month price tag. It goes up to $290 for yearly subscriptions.
Oddly enough if you connect from Europe there’s also a cheaper plan which gives you access to a more limited catalog.
Their approach is different from all the other players. While everyone is playing in a grey area from a copyright standpoint, GetAbstract acquires the rights from the publisher before writing a book summary.
Catalog – Vote 4
Even tho’ they have the largest catalog with 20,000+ book summaries, they also have the worst catalog.
Since they try to acquire rights to summarize books, you’ll find a lot of niche books but very few best sellers. I found none of the 12 books I was looking for which is shocking.
For some of them, a review was available. For others, they said they had selected the book as interesting and were trying to secure rights. For many nothing could be found.
Clearly, the focus of this book summary service is different from the others. If you’re looking for random books to read or some very niche stuff it could be a fit. Otherwise, I’d stay away.
Quality – Vote 6
Given their unique approach, I was expecting really high-quality summaries. I was disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong they are good. But not mind-blowing. They are also quite short, in a way comparable to Blinkist. Audio summaries are available for most books and are usually 8-12 minutes long.
Unique Content – Vote 0
They don’t seem to have any unique content added to their offer. It’s not a big issue for me as I’m mainly looking for book summaries.
My take here is that other players recognize there’s a copyright threat to their core offer. So they started differentiating with more and more unique content. GetAbstract secure legal rights before writing a review so they didn’t feel the need to diversify their offer.
Features – Vote 6
Everything works smoothly both on the website and the mobile app.
They support highlighting and they have the concept of channels where you can create (or consume) curated collections of books.
I don’t like the reading experience on browsers. A lot of distracting elements in the interface and small fonts make them look more like regular blog posts than the interface of an ebook reader. On the iPad app the experience is way better.
On the bright side, you can download a PDF version of all their summaries. Overall it’s not among my favorite book summary apps.
Another consolidated player in the book summary apps space. Instaread‘s unique take on book summary apps is to produce a lot of high-quality unique content on top of summaries.
Pricing is relatively cheap, they start at $8.99 per month or $89 if you go yearly. They also have a nice lifetime deal where you can get unlimited access forever at $299. Not bad at all if you are planning to read book summaries as a life habit.
The free trial lasts 7 days.
Catalog – Vote 5.5
Instaread has 1,000+ book summaries like Shortform but in my selection of 12 books, I was able to find only 4 of them, the big hits. All the more niche books I was looking for, were not available.
This may also be due to the fact that within the 1,000 plus books, they also list a lot of fiction.
Quality – Vote 6
When it comes to the quality of the content… it’s ok but not my favorite one. It’s basically a collection of chapter summaries with the key takeaways of each chapter.
Everything is very condensed and schematic with a bullet-point approach. I don’t love it but that’s a matter of personal taste. I have to admit it’s well done.
I missed the one-pager introduction that ShortForm has.
An audio version is available for every book. Like the other apps, it’s not human read, but it’s a generated voice.
Unique Content – Vote 8
Instaread clearly bets heavily on original content.
First of all (even tho’ it’s not unique), they have a large collection of article summaries from top publishers they’ve partnered with. This includes articles from The New York Times, Harvard Business Reviews, and many others.
On top of this, they have a lot of Instaread Originals. Short-form books on almost any subject. A strong area of attention seems to be biographies. They cover anyone from Kamala Harris to Jack Dorsey. They are usually well done and insightful. Reading time for their originals averages on the 15 minutes mark.
Features – 6
They support both web and mobile with a pretty good app.
The reading experience is ok even tho’ moving from one chapter summary to the next could be better.
A unique feature of the mobile app is the Cards section, where you can read through cards, each containing a key takeaway from the book.
It’s not possible to save highlights from the summaries… this, for me, is a real deal-breaker.
Mentorist is a new entry I’ve discovered in January 2022.
It has a unique twist. Their focus is not only on summarizing books but more on helping you execute what you learn.
I can relate to the core value proposition of this app. Way too many people use the number of books they read in a year as their key metric rather than focusing on really understanding the book and taking action.
That’s what intrigued me the most about this app. Let’s see if it lived up to its promises.
Catalog – 5
The catalog here is very limited. Out of the 12 books in my basket, I was only able to find 3, the most popular ones, and focused on self-growth. Quite surprisingly they didn’t even have “No rules rule” which is very popular.
A back of the napkins calculation based on their books page as of March 2022, shows only 182 books in their catalog.
Somehow this was expected, Metorist launched later compared to its competitors in the book summary space and clearly, they still have to build their catalog.
The good note is that since I’ve signed up to the service, they’ve been adding 2 to 4 books every week and the browsing of the catalog is very pleasant with a lot of curated collections.
Quality – 6
What can I say… it’s acceptable but not great. The summaries are very short, divided into short pages. Most books range from 10 to 20 pages and there’s a bit of inconsistency among the length of the pages from one book to another.
What I did like about Mentorist is the audio summary. It’s usually in the 20 minutes range and finally, it’s not recorded by a robotic voice but read from a human being. Overall listening to the summaries has been a quite pleasant experience.
Personally, I think I’d use it to understand if I want to buy and read the full version of a book or to read something I’m not really interested in. For something that I care about, the summaries are too short.
Unique Content – 0
Right now Mentorist doesn’t have any unique content and they’re only focusing on summarizing popular books.
It’s a choice that somehow makes sense given they’ve chosen the app dynamics as a differentiator while other players in the space all have the same kind of app and are trying to diversify themselves more based on the catalog and their unique content catalog.
Features – 8
Feature-wise, Mentorist built a pretty good App to consume summarized books. As you can see it support dark mode and overall it’s always pretty fast and responsive.
The thing that I like the least is the reading experience. Instead of a full-page reader, it opens the summary in a relatively small window.
Highlights work very well with a dedicated page to check them and the capability to set reminders to read them again and set aside some time to brainstorm.
Finally, at the end of each book’s summary page, there’s an actionable takeaway that you can add to your list. It only takes one click and comes with some quick steps to execute it.
Once added you’ll be asked what’s the objective you want to achieve with that specific takeaway and you’ll receive reminders.
You can also log your progress and add notes.
Overall it’s a very good app with a strong idea behind it.
Good enough to forget about the small catalog and the mid-quality summaries? Not for me. I don’t think a “todo-list” tied to a book summary will make much of a difference for me. But if they improve the quality and the catalog they might be on the right path to have real differentiation in this market.
Other Book Summary Websites
There are a lot of other players in the space. I’ve tried a bunch of them, like 12min, Perlego, and ReadinGraphics for visual learners.
All of these websites offer their own take in the “app that summarizes books” space. I don’t think it’s worth mentioning them in this comparison because of their catalog size.
It’s gonna be interesting to revisit them in a year (yes, I promise I’ll keep this updated at least yearly) and see which one increased its catalog the most to become more appealing.
What’s gonna happen to the book summaries space?
My personal take is that this space is too crowded with very little differentiation between players.
Adding more books, of course, is the best way to get more customers. On the other side once all the best-sellers are covered, scaling up the number of summaries for niche books might be too expensive compared to the number of potential customers they could bring in.
This might also open opportunities for smaller players that focus on a specific niche. As an example, I’d be 100% happy to signup even at a premium price to a service specialized in marketing books.
The other question mark is legal. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if book summaries are legal or not. For sure, things are changing. A few years ago, all the services were using original covers of the books. Nowadays, no one does.
For sure, there’s a level of risk involved in this business, and should the space become big enough, publishers could partner with these apps or go hard against them and keep all the pie for themselves.
Finally, another potential disruption to this industry could be AI and, specifically GPT-3. This new system has already proven to be able to write books… it’s gonna be relatively simple to use it to write book summaries at scale and with good consistency.
The Best Book Summary App in 2022
Guess it’s time to declare a winner.
Let’s go by exclusion!
getAbstract… sorry not my cup of tea. I loved the fact that you were the only ones not forcing me to insert the credit card to join the trial… but your catalog is just not a good fit for my interests.
Mentorist… The idea behind it it’s nice, helping you put into practice what you learn. But the catalog and the summary length are not where they should be right now.
Instaread… well played with original contents and article summaries, but you didn’t excel in the catalog or the summary quality so I don’t see a reason to signup, I’m canceling my trial, but you could be a good fit for many.
Blinkist…size does matter. And when it comes to the books that I care about, they have the largest database. However, quality matters the most for me, that’s why in this 2022 update I’ve moved Blinkist to the second spot. Their summaries are just too short for me. They don’t have the best mobile App. Overall the quality is consistent and it’s reasonably priced.
ShortForm… It’s my winner for the 2022 edition of this post. The catalog is not yet where I’d love it to be but it keeps growing, the app is great. They let me download PDF versions of the summaries and the quality of the summaries is just great. By far the only ones that can really replace reading the full book and passing enough information to make it actionable. It’s more expensive but it’s a price I’m more than happy to pay for the value I’m getting.
Taking everything into account, ShortForm is the winner of my roundup of the best book summary websites in 2022.
That’s it for this year. It was a tight Blinkist vs Short Form battle but in the end, to call a winner, I just went with the one I keep using way more often. If you want to pick just one app go for ShortForm, you won’t regret it. If you can afford to spend a bit more, add Blinkist to the mix to get a quick overview on a broader number of books.
I hope I have helped you save some time and money by picking the best tool among all the book summary sites.
Now it’s up to you to decide if reading book summaries is good enough for you. I still have mixed feelings about it and wish I had more time to read the full-length books. Unluckily I don’t and I found these summaries to be useful when there’s something I know I would not love to read, but would still be valuable for my personal growth.
Did I forget some Apps in this roundup? If there’s any service worth testing that I didn’t mention just let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to add it.
Bonus Tip: Book Summary Apps coupon code
Nah, I’m just kidding. I don’t have any coupon code. BUT…
I have a couple of tips to save some money when subscribing to most of these apps.
First of all, wait for the full length of your trial. Some of them might send you a 10% discount if you upgrade to a paid plan earlier.
Second, signup through their websites, not the mobile app. This is for a couple of reasons:
- Some websites have popups that offer a 10% discount if you signup for a trial
- Some Apps actually have different pricing if you subscribe on browser or on mobile. Mobile is usually expensive (because of % they have to pay Apple and Google)
Finally, even if you should not do it, if you live in Europe with the current crazy EUR/USD exchange rate, you might want to use a VPN and signup in $ masking your connection as a US resident. I use TunnelBear for this usually.
July 26, 2022
Hey Massimo! First of all, congrats on the excellent post! Strict to the point, you reviewed what really matters. I want to ask you if you have ever heard/tried Accel5, from EBSCO? Their content seems niched for me, but I've found some engaging titles there and also liked the quality of the first summary I got. Have a nice week Best, Thiago
July 27, 2022
Thanks for pointing that out Thiago, I had never heard of them but the catalog looks interesting enough, I'll try to check them out in the near future!
August 13, 2022
I really love your breakdown here. For me Shortform is also the clear winner. One thing to keep in mind which is a bit unfortunate is that in recent months shortform decided to stick to publishing new summaries exclusively as 1-page summaries. In the past the 1-page summary was the brief introduction and you could read the whole deep dive afterwards. Now there is no deep dive anymore which unfortunately brings it down to the level of blinkist because I feel like I'm missing out on the detailed analysis...
September 5, 2022
Hey Timon, Yeah, that's an unfortunate choice even tho' I get the rationale behind it from an economic standpoint :( I'll reach out to them to get more insights and update the post. I'm also afraid the decision was based on monitoring users' behavior and realizing that most users were stopping at the 1 pager. Still, I find their one-pager way more in depth and well done than Blinkist. Ciao! Max
August 16, 2022
Why isn’t summary.com listed in this comparison?
September 5, 2022
Hey Ryan, Good catch, I had never heard of it, I'll check it out and update the post! Max
October 29, 2022
Nice! I'd like to publish a translation of this article in my site. I think my readers will enjoy what you have to say. Is it possible? :)
October 29, 2022
Yes as long as you give credit and link the original article on top of your translated one :)
October 29, 2022
I really really loves reading this blog post. Very insightful abd thank you for the time you took to put this together. I never wrote s feedback on a blog before but here you go, this one is just wow. Loved it. I'll sign up to one of these apps.
November 7, 2022
November 17, 2022
Would love to hear your thoughts on Headway - I'm about to end my trial and enjoyed the summary I read but obviously I want the best app possible.
December 5, 2022
I'll try to add Headway in my next review of this post for 2023 :)
January 24, 2023
Thanks for a very thorough write up. Is there anyway to find out if a specific book is covered PRIOR to signing up for Blink or Shortform.? Do they have a public index?
January 25, 2023
Hey Neil, It's a bit tricky but you can. For Shortform, here you'll find a list of books by genre. Those with the button "Read full summary" are in their library. For Blinkist just use their top navigation under Explore :)