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Cracking Open TED Books: Brilliant Ideas in Single Serving Size

TED Books

TED talks are popular for a number of reasons: They're smart, lively, and perhaps most importantly, concise. Most talks are capped at approximately 2,000 words—just long enough for audiences to stay enraptured. Now TED is taking its "Ideas Worth Spreading" a step further with TED Books, an imprint of short nonfiction e-books available for the Kindle and Kindle Reader through Amazon's new line of Kindle Singles books.

The concept of TED Books is similar to TED talks. Authors, many (but not all) of whom have given TED talks in the past, are asked to write about an idea that can be naturally expressed in 10,000 to 20,000 words. That's short enough for readers to finish a book in a single sitting. "It's our experience with TED talks that by giving people a limit, suddenly less is more. [Authors] end up saying something serious in a very vivid way," explains TED curator Chris Anderson.

According to Anderson, the TED nonprofit has been thinking about how to bring its talks into the book world for years. The recent rise of e-books "sparked a new thought, which is what is the right length for a book in 2011? Does it have to be 250 pages or is that a carryover from a particular production process?" And indeed, TED Books might look odd on bookstore shelves—they would be small enough to fit into your pocket. But aesthetics and production practicalities don't matter with e-books.

Another advantage is that the short book format could lure in writers who might not otherwise think of penning a book because of time constraints. A motivated author could finish a TED Books title in as little as three weeks.

The imprint is launching with three titles: The Happiness Manifesto: How Nations and People Can Nurture Well-Being by Nic Marks, Homo Evolutis: Please Meet the Next Human Species by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, and Beware Dangerism! Why We Worry About the Wrong Things, and What It’s Doing to Our Kids by Gever Tully. All three titles are currently available for $2.99 each.

The inaugural TED Books are some of the first titles available in Amazon's new line of Kindle Singles books, which are all longer than magazine articles but shorter than standard short books. Kindle Singles are part of a trend (triggered by the Atavist app) toward long-form journalism and short-form literature—the nebulous gray area of the publishing world.

Anderson hasn't decided how many books the new TED imprint will churn out each year, but he says that there has already been a lot of excitement from potential authors and interested former TED speakers. And TED Books may just be the beginning of TED-branded products. "Whether people are using voice, print, video, animation, or an intricate combination of the above, there's a lot of exciting stuff happening. We're potentially interested in any of it," Anderson says.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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