Can the digital age help management books become a little less boring?

I’ve got through a couple of business books in my lifetime.  I’ve started a lot more.  The only way I’ve actually managed to get to the end is to listen to the audiobook version in my spare time.  I’ve listened to the Tipping Point (Gladwell) and Free (Chris Anderson) this way.  But I really struggle with the books.

I’ve tried – believe me.  I have the Long Tail, Wikinomics, umpteen books on Google, the Innovators Dilemma, White Man’s Burden and countless others sitting on my shelf and, as much as the blurb fascinates me, I just can’t get past chapter 2 or 3.  I don’t think I’m alone here.

Let’s face it, management books are just plain dull.  They’re long and boring. They’re repetitive and labour the point.  What should be a simple message becomes over-complicated with unnecessary case studies and poorly fitting frameworks.  Don’t the writers understand that their target reader, the average business-person, has little free time and an even shorter attention span?

Management books have traditionally been long enough to justify the 2 year study that the author has inevitably undergone or just simply to compete with novels and not appear bulimic on the shelf at the book store.  Maybe they need to beef up the pages to make the fixed costs of production worth it.  Whilst all of this is speculation, it’s undeniable that changes in digital distribution can actually mean big changes to the consumption of non-fiction literature.

Authors can now look to package their research and content in different ways.  The main thing I’m looking forward to is the 50 page version of their books.  Given the promise of brevity and clarity, I’d be willing to pay a higher marginal price per page than having to read 250 pages of management verbosity (I could use the term bullshit here instead but I’m aiming to be polite and objective, ahem).  Say £5 for the 50 page summary instead of £15 for the full thing.

Releasing works in a variety of different forms and lengths could be quite liberating for authors and selling different levels of depth could capture a lot of value or attention that’s currently being missed.  Perhaps they could release samples that get part of the message across but leave you wanting more – similar to buying tracks on iTunes.  Disaggregating the book in this way and selling different types of content is a much better model for ebooks than selling the chapters individually – unless it’s some trashy, page-turner like the Da Vinci code.

Other media can often be a better glimpse into the point of a management book than actually having to dive into the whole thing.  Take an 18 minute snapshot of the key messages courtesy of TED or perhaps follow the author on Twitter.  Both of these will return much more insight for far less of a time investment.  And there’s a nice return to the business theme – improve your ROI by not reading these books at all.  For now…

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