When a book should have just been an article: The Barticle

Have you ever purchased a business book and twenty pages into reading it, you realized that it should have been an article instead? I call these barticles (pronounced bart-ick-elz). You know, the authors took a 4000 word article and spread it out to 180 pages in large type and sold it to you for twenty clams. It’s a pretty typical formula; Long intro that basically reveals the premise, the facts, the advice and the benefits. Then the next several sections expand on the outline like a Senator at a filibuster. Same point, six different metaphors, blah blah blah. As you go through them, you find countless tables, sidebars and side ventures to pad the book. It is not a good reading experience.

There is no hard research for this, but in my experience if you buy a barticle and put it down within thirty minutes, it impacts your faith in buying business books. If it happens over and over, you may become a pure fast food media consumer. You stick to only reading blogs, magazines, newspapers and whatever is on TV. That is not good for you. You need to include a healthy dose of deep paper reading with your fast on-screen browsing. It creates balance in your self-education. Real books can offer depth and and real value towards understanding complex concepts.

It would be difficult to glean the knowledge of Good To Great, The Tipping Point or even The Innovator’s Dilemma with without reading the entire book (maybe even a few times). But many of you have read those three books and know that you have a competitive advantage in your business life because of it.

Blame it on publishers that want to make a hit out of a splash in a magazine. Blame it on consultants that use books as two pound business card/brochures. Blame it on yourself for just grabbing or clicking on any book with good endorsements and a compelling explanation. Whatever I say, the secret is to improve your selection process when it comes to buying business books.

“It should have just been article” is a terrible thing to have said about your book, and book reviewers are more than happy to say it. So do more research before you buy. Here are three ways to improve your business book buying acumen:

1. Go to page 100 of a candidate book and start reading. If it doesn’t feel alive with movement in a few pages, you might want to pass on this as a book. Here’s the idea; most authors can make the beginning of any book fun and filled with movement, often autobiographical. But when you are dog-paddling in the literary sense, halfway through it becomes obvious to the reader. Some of the greatest books I’ve read can easily pass this test. Just tried it with; In Search Of Excellence, The Art Of Possibility and The Experience Economy. All of them rocked at page 100.
2. Don’t just use Amazon or the airport book stores to find your books. Those are both numbers games. Pervasive presence at either location is no indication of quality. If the Hudson’s buyer liked the publisher’s sales pitch, that book goes in the airport shops. I’ve seen some real clunkers in airport book stores. If someone has all their colleagues buy their book to buoy their Amazon ranking, it becomes prominent on the Amazon site (accompanied with one hundred five star reviews by well wishers related to the author). That doesn’t mean the book is rich throughout. Go to 800CEOREAD, where active editors feature books and a great fan of good business books offers his recommendations (Jack Covert Selects). They even have a daily blog for business book readers. If you go to your local bookseller, find out who buys business and ask her.
3. Survey your friends before you buy. You can do it fast via email or your blog. You could create an “on-deck” section on your blog to represent books you are thinking about getting. Let their fingers do the talking.

For example, here are two books I’m thinking about buying. Both are based on articles. Tell me what you think in comments and help me make a good decision.

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Original article in Wired
The book page on Amazon

Free Agent Nation by Dan Pink (I loved A Whole New Mind, so maybe I’ll love this)
Original article in Fast Company
The book page on Amazon

Remember, readers are leaders and you have to believe in the power of great business books. They help you grasp change and be a pioneer and innovator; instead of the late majority or laggards. And nothing makes you less excited about reading, than a bad experience with a fluffed out barticle. You know, a book that should have just been an article.