Sam Hinkie and the Future of Reading

Yesterday, former Sixers GM (and savior / saint in the eyes of many), current Stanford GSB Professor and investor Sam Hinkie launched his personal website with an encouraging welcome: “Hi. You’re in the right spot.”

The rest of the landing page was filled with ideas, or “side projects,” that he’s been mulling over and shared with the internet public. His entreaty was fairly simple: “Shoot me some thoughts — or even better a prototype or design — I’d love to hear from you.”

Many of the ideas surrounded books and reading, including an engine to personalize book recommendations (with the complementary quote: “Life is too short to not be reading the very best book you’re aware of at every given moment.”), “explainer” videos for books, and companion pieces to written works (e.g., “Build companion pieces for people to explore Robert Caro’s writing in different ways. Like this visualization of Hamilton lyrics. Or a wiki-style set of source materials.”)

As someone with a lifelong passion for reading who has devoted his career to books via the publishing industry, my curiosity was immediately piqued, and I began compiling an email that drew on ongoing ruminations on books, publishing, reading and learning in our modern age.

I’m publishing my email in full (with some annotations / added hyperlinks) prior any response (and with no expectation of receiving one) to hold myself accountable to continuing to iterate and build on the ideas below.

In Hinkie-esque fashion, if any of this resonates with you, please feel free to reach out.

Hi Sam (& Team):

Thanks for opening up this dialogue – I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

My passion for reading and books in general led me to working in the publishing industry, where I’ve worked in a variety of strategic and financial roles at Penguin Random House since 2015.

One of the major takeaways that I’ve gained during my time at PRH is the fundamental economics of the publishing industry and the emphasis on the “frontlist” (i.e., books published over the last 12 months), at the expense of the vast fount of already-licensed/under-contract works published over the last 50-2000+ -odd years.

As a result, books filled with relevant and important perspectives, are unknown, or at best under-marketed, -exposed, and -utilized, and mostly floundering out of print or in need of a refresh. One immediately apparent example came out of your discussion with Patrick O’Shaughnessy – the Durant’s Lessons of History.

In addition, as you allude to in both your recommendation engine and explainer video prompts, the way people consume content at scale has changed dramatically over the past few years. While reading is certainly not going anywhere, and podcasts like Hardcore History and the continued double-digit growth of audiobooks are encouraging, the “knowledge” medium is undoubtedly moving shorter and towards video.

An idea that I’ve been thinking through over the past few months is how to translate the longform reading experience in such a way that allows for absorption, retention, and meaning, without the necessary time commitment to read “Lessons” (let alone the entire Civilization series), and minute-by-minute distraction that has become a reality in the developed world.

Along these lines, the “business”/self-help/motivational book market, little of which represents genuine innovation and much of which draws liberally from existing thinkers and texts, continues to be a gigantic market, second in “runaway” success capability to thrillers. The most recent example of this is Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules, but Ryan Holiday and Robert Greene have sold hundreds of thousands of copies following this formula.

I am thinking about a platform that would combine the recommendation engine and explainer concepts that would provide introductions / “on-ramps” to great ideas, books, thinkers, and concepts in a digestible and discuss-able format (akin to the weekly BBC show In Our Time, though more accessible and less British).

Would love to discuss further. Thanks Sam.


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