Cliffnotes 2.0
August 24, 2010 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I was reading my Kindle last night and my entrepreneurial light went on. I am looking for feedback on the idea, but also techniques that I can use to gauge the feasibility, and legality, of this and future ideas. My idea was Cliffnotes 2.0. Book and article summaries for busy people in a world of ever increasing information.

Yes, just like the business book summaries for busy executives you see in SkyMall. Kind of like Sparknotes. Not just business and academic books and articles, but also health, history, politics, self-help, etc. The people writing the summaries could be anyone including writers, journalist, bloggers, aspiring authors, voracious readers, wanna-be experts, etc. Is anyone doing this? Could this be legal under Fair Use? My 'customers' are busy people who could download a summary of Freakonomics, The Four Pillars of Investing, What to Expect When Your Expecting, etc. onto their laptop, iPad, or Kindle. Maybe its free, or I charge a micropayment, or I push ads. Maybe I become an Amazon affiliate. Maybe this is idiotic because of copyright rules.

My thought was that the summaries would be user-generated. Read a book or long form article and write a summary. Get your name out there as a well read expert in Mutual Fund Investing, Autism, Marriage Counseling, etc. If legal, get paid by me based on a flat fee, revenue sharing or recognition. Your expertise and your summaries could be reviewed and rated just like any other book or iPhone application. True experts / writers bubble to the top.

That in a nutshell was my idea. Does this have legs? Is it remotely legal? Any creative ideas on how to tweak this into a reasonable and ethical model? How can I test the viability of this or any other idea when I work and have kids. If this is a horrible idea, and my best idea is right around the corner, how do I determine when to put energy into an idea? Help this cubicle jockey realize, or rationalize his dreams of a start-up.
posted by jasondigitized to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANYL It looks legal to me. But you forget one thing: how many people would be willing to deliver you content? How do you know that what they write is of the quality needed?

There are reasons Nupedia failed, and Wikipedia didn't.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2010

This sounds like content farm meets kindle. Aside from any legal issues, I wouldn't rely on a summary that was cranked out by someone being paid $.05 per page or whatever. Cliff's Notes books are already available on the kindle.
posted by sanko at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Legality/revenue aside: Who are the potential users? Why would they use it?

You should do some basic market/requirements research. Run up a simple one-pager of the idea, maybe some mock-up screens which demonstrate basic functionality. Devise some basic survey questions designed to get a little more info on people's responses to the one pager and and mock-ups. Push these around (in person wherever possible) to colleagues/friends/family. Ask them to spend 20-30 minutes going through it with you.

You will find your test subjects will say the most crazy things about your proposal, either for good or bad, and give you plenty of food for thought to develop this further.
posted by carter at 10:19 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: See also WikiSummaries and PhilosophersNotes, though I am not mentioning these to try to pour cold water on your idea. The PhilosophersNotes guy's business model is especially worth investigating.

[Personal opinion: I'd be more interested in paying real money for very trustworthy, well-written summaries than a small amount for content-farmed crap; but then again, once the price gets at all serious, it begins to rival the Kindle cost of a whole book...]
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:21 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

If the articles were close to book reviews, they would be legal without permission from the copyright owners of the books. If they were summaries, maybe not, depending on how much was taken from the summarized work. If they constituted a derivative work of the "summarized" work, you would need permission from the author of the book or would be guilty of copyright infringement. The problem is that this question would have to be answered on a case-by-case basis for every book "summarized" and you would either have to get someone knowledgeable about copyright law to pass judgment on each "summary" or really have faith in the person who created the "summary."

I don't think this business model has potential, for the reasons stated, among others. I am an intellectual property lawyer, but you are not my client and, in any event, you would have to get much more specific legal advice about your detailed business plan before you could make an informed decision. Which I urge you to do if you pursue this.

This is the rule: if you are talking ABOUT a book, talk away. As soon as you use more of a copyrighted book than the sort of short quotations found in book reviews, you may be straying into the dread territory of copyright infringement. Authors (and their publishers) understandably want to protect the authors' works. You don't want to step on their toes. It's not ethical and it can subject you to legal action and civil penalties.
posted by Jenna Brown at 10:31 AM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: If this is a horrible idea, and my best idea is right around the corner, how do I determine when to put energy into an idea? Help this cubicle jockey realize, or rationalize his dreams of a start-up.

This is just my opinion, but I think you really have to love working on a project like this for it to be worth it, because they always take a lot of work and they rarely pay off significantly. A lot of people overestimate the value of a unique business model, because even if your new model is very successful, a lot of other people with more money, time, and talent at their disposal can waltz in and do whatever you are doing better than you can. If you're going to start your own restaurant (for example), you should do it because you want to spend every day managing a restaurant and think you can do it well enough to turn a profit, rather than because you came up with an idea for a really unique restaurant that you think could theoretically be very popular.

So, my advice would be to only pursue one of these ideas if working on the project itself is really the appealing aspect, rather than making a ton of money or beating competitors to a new market.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:17 AM on August 24, 2010

I often have 'that's an amazing idea!' moments, and more often than not they're followed by the realisation that they aren't so amazing after all.

This comment on Reddit seems to be a good litmus test for whether or not an idea has the legs to become something profitable.
posted by twirlypen at 2:22 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would suggest a little more market research on what is already being done. You linked in your question -- it wasn't clear to me whether you were aware that they have a Kindle delivery model, too. There are a couple of others that deliver summaries to the Kindle. So I would say to your question, does this idea have legs, the existence of a couple of competitors means the answer is "yes." The challenge is finding a niche where you don't already have a competitor who is creating summaries for other channels and the cost to add the Kindle as a new channel is incremental for them.
posted by kovacs at 6:24 PM on August 24, 2010

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