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Why TED Books? A Q&A with TED’s curator, Chris Anderson

On today’s launch of the TED Books imprint, TED’s Chris Anderson talks with the TED Blog about the big idea behind it — publishing short, vital nonfiction books to the Kindle platform. Read more about TED Books and our first three titles …

Tell me why the world needs TEDBooks …

The main reading choices we have today are to browse a newspaper or magazine, or to try to dig into a full-length book. TED Books offer a new choice: a powerful idea that can be absorbed in a single read of an hour or so. We think this is going to appeal to large numbers of people who are curious, eager to learn, but also time-constrained. The success of TED Talks has shown there’s a huge global appetite for ideas delivered in succinct form. We think that applies to reading just as much as listening.

What inspired you to start this project?

For several years, we’ve been pondering whether TED should be doing books. Books have of course long been the prime way in which “ideas worth spreading” are circulated. But we couldn’t quite come up with a publishing concept that could be made available to large numbers of our speakers and to other potential idea generators. However, seeing the explosive growth of e-book platforms like Kindle and iPad got us thinking. And the question that wouldn’t go away was: why are books the length they are? Is it because it inherently takes 300 pages to explain an idea? Or is it more to do with the traditions of book publishing in print? Was it possible that in today’s fast-moving world with so many demands on people’s time that there was an opportunity for a shorter type of book? One that could be absorbed in a single reading session, one that could allow many brilliant people who would have no chance of taking off a year to write a traditional book to nonetheless become authors? We had seen from our experience of TED Talks that by constraining speakers to 18 minutes, it was often the case that “less is more.” And as we shared the idea with trusted advisers in the TED community, we saw real excitement, and the sense that this was an idea whose time has come.

What’s next?

We plan to continue regular releases of new TED Books. Many will come from existing TED speakers who will dig deeper into the topics initiated in their talks. Others will come from new authors with ideas the world needs to know about. We view this as a thrilling new part of our “ideas worth spreading” platform and look forward to letting it reach its full potential. We will be exploring plans under which people can subscribe to every new release as it comes along. And for ways of hosting conversations around each book. Watch this space!