Hide table of contents

What We Owe The Future, Will MacAskill's upcoming book on longtermism, is available for pre-order

Pre-orders are especially helpful for the book's eventual reach since (a) early pre-orders cause booksellers to order more copies of the book and market it more prominently, and (b) pre-orders combine with first-week sales, making the book more likely to reach bestsellers lists upon launch. In mid-June, 8 weeks before the launch of the book on August 16, we'll begin a pre-order campaign to the general public. 

I'd love to hear ideas on how to (a) encourage pre-orders within the EA community in the next couple of months, and (b) how to encourage pre-orders from the general public, especially to young people who might switch to high-impact careers. 

Note that once the book is launched, we'll have more leeway to do large book giveaways, akin to current giveaways of The Precipice. Right now, “organic” sales (orders of 20 or fewer copies coming from individual accounts rather than giveaways or reimbursement schemes) are critical.

I’m interested in all takes, but here are some specific questions that might be helpful: 

  • How should we promote the book at upcoming EAGs? (Beyond emails to attendees, we're considering giving away free bookmarks with QR codes to pre-order, and are open to creative marketing ideas that are not overbearing to attendees!)
  • Are there specific influential people that you wish EA was engaging more that we should share the book with?
  • Are there specific shows or websites that you watch regularly that you think we should advertise with or pitch content to?
  • Which endorsements would be most impactful for the book? (See our top endorsements so far here)




New Answer
New Comment

10 Answers sorted by

A few influential people who may be tractable and whose followers might be interested (sorry most of these are probably quite obvious or maybe overly ambitious):

  • Tyler Cowen
  • Russ Roberts
  • Yuval Noah Harari
  • Rob Wiblin!
  • Elon Musk
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Peter Singer
  • Steven Pinker
  • Bill Gates
  • Martha Nussbaum
  • Daniel Kahneman
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Joseph Stiglitz
  • Larry Summers
  • Jared Diamond
  • Paul Krugman
  • Martin Rees
  • Barack / Michelle Obama
  • Hilary / Bill Clinton
  • Jordan Peterson

To be honest at this point I'm just naming famous people but seriously go big or go home!

I'm surprised you didn't mention Sam Harris, he is hugely sympathetic to EA and has introduced quite a few people to the movement

I didn’t mention him because he’s already provided a review for the book. Would be good for Will to go on his podcast though

Which endorsements would be most impactful for the book?

respected environmentalist David Attenborough

famous actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who often talks about climate change and the importance of future generations

Economist Daniel Kahneman, whose book Thinking Fast and Slow remains on the NYT bestseller list years after publication

Could an excerpt / minor rewrite of a key intro section be published as a piece in New York Times magazine, the Atlantic, or a similar outlet, some time in the next 4-5 months, before the book comes out? (The draft chapter 2 on "you can shape the course of history", sections 1 & 2 would be perfect to slightly rewrite.)

Can there be some sort of discounts or subsidies? A lower price point will presumably increase sales volume

Here are a few things I've seen done successfully in other book launches: 

-I'd imagine there were things left on the cutting room floor in the writing process; giving pre-orderers a bonus chapter or additional notes could be a good incentive to order early.
-Offer signed copies of pages from the galleys or signed/personalized book copies to people who order a sufficiently large quantity or a lottery for all who preorder. 
-Will's already offering a few people a Zoom session, but what about a live Zoom Q&A (or a series of 2-3) for everyone who preorders one or more copies? 
-Anyone who buys over 25 copies (or some other high threshold) could be eligible for a two-day trip to visit the FTX campus and meet Will/SBF/Nick B for dinner? 

I love the first idea! I've already bought multiple copies but if I imagine a hypothetical much less engaged me this is exactly the sort of thing that would nudge me to pre-order when otherwise I wasn't going to.

Encouraging bulk orders seems bad though, especially of more than 20:

Right now, “organic” sales (orders of 20 or fewer copies coming from individual accounts rather than giveaways or reimbursement schemes) are critical.

Ah, right, yes! I think there's potentially a place for both. If I think about a promotion strategy, there's something to be said for ensuring the book has a big initial print run/has a shot at the NYT bestseller list or similar.  On a parallel path, we should also aim for this to be a sustained seller, growing to sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies. Endorsements and podcast appearances can help, but nothing achieves that kind of momentum without also having word of mouth.  To maximize our potential surface area for those critical person-to-person referrals, you probably want to figure out how to distribute as many copies as humanly possible. If the Gates Foundation wants to buy 500 copies, we shouldn't care too much that it won't be the correct type of sale for the NYT chart - that kind of distribution pays back in other ways.  I focus on both upfront 'pop' and long-term sales because most book launch efforts are very short-lived. If they don't sell well to start, they kind of flame out. If we have a plan for both short-term hype building and long-term sustainable and growing sales, we might be able to succeed at hitting big sales milestones even without a bestseller list appearance.

One problem with a giveaway for "over 25 copies" is that bulk orders don't help for bestseller rankings.

Are there specific shows or websites that you watch regularly that you think we should advertise with or pitch content to?

Hank and John Green's YouTube-based Nerdfighter community has some overlap with EA and would probably enjoy these kind of ideas

Thinking about your (b), encouraging pre-orders from young people who might switch to high-impact careers, I have a few preliminary thoughts:

  • A lot of young (and older) people are interested in climate change, with some (a lot?) of that being driven by concern for the future, and the lives of future generations.
  • Due to that, I think that climate-interested folks are a particularly good audience for this book, as they're already a) thinking altruistically, b) somewhat concerned about the future and c) generally young and able to pivot their career.
  • If we think this assumptions are true, the question is what forms of media do young/climate interested people engage with, and generally how do we reach them? Some ideas:
    • I would say a lot of people read the Guardian (and Open Phil sponsors some content there) so could be worth trying the Guardian environment section with sponsored advertisements. This could also be true for the Guardian more generally as I assume left-leaning people will be more interested in this relative to the average member of the publc.
      • You could also advertise via their podcasts, e.g Science Weekly
    • Our World in Data social media channels and website (although I'm sure you've already got this covered as Max Roser seems very supportive)
    • Loads of instagram advertising (I think this is more the young climate concerned demographic relative to Facebook)
    • Climate podcasts: TIL Climate, How to save a planet, For what it's earth, outrage + Optimism, the Climate Question
    • Extinction Rebellion UK has a mailing list of 200,000-300,000 people of reasonably engaged and passionate climate folks and there's a small (5-10%) chance I could get Will's book featured on it (message me if you're interested in this)
    • Very speculative: Go to some major festivals in the UK this summer (Glastonbury, Shambala, Green Gathering, etc.)

Should have mentioned this in my earlier comment as well, but 80,000 Hours has advertised on the Tim Ferriss Show, which is immensely popular. Trying to get Will on as a guest there would be huge. 

Failing in that (or in addition to it?), we might think about trying to get mentions in large online newsletters (e.g., Tim's Five Bullet Friday, James Clear's 3-2-1, Mark Manson's Motherf*ck Monthly, ensure Ryan Holiday gets a copy that he might be willing to mention on his monthly reading list, etc.)

I very much like the idea of targeting the "self-improvement" crowd, especially the more sensible authors such as Mark Manson or James Clear :) 

Possibly schools / school libraries to get these into the hands of young people?

A) Covid has tangibly demonstrated for many people how a disease can get out of hand and biorisk is one of the most severe x-risks. Maybe playing up that angle would be beneficial? Something along the lines of "the pandemic is not over, yet we need to think about how to safeguard ourselves - and future generations - against another pandemic and other x-risks". Such a message could open a lot of doors into podcasts/newsletters/newspapers etc. Of course, that message would have to be crafted carefully and sensibly in order to avoid the accusations of profiteering on the tragedy of Covid.

B) As for the websites to pitch the book towards:

technologyreview.com (having the book featured in their daily newsletter "The Download" would surely be something)


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

RE: Price and discounts

There have been some comments on price or discounts. 

People should be aware of mechanics around bestseller lists. 

So what?

  1. The environment around the bestseller list might affect the price of the book and the availability of discounts right now. Also, it seems possible that certain coordination should be avoided (but honestly, the risk is low).
  2. It seems reasonable that an altruistic writer/publisher/agent/promoter should be competent and sophisticated in the market and take appropriate actions to maximize the impact of a new EA book.

I am writing in support and I'm not sure that the OP should reply or engage with this comment. (Feel free to delete).

I think I'm writing because it's valuable to inform very conscientious or frugal people.



If you like reading books and want one to read, please message me.

It seems reasonable that an altruistic writer/publisher/agent/promoter should be competent and sophisticated in the market and take appropriate actions to maximize the impact of a new EA book.

It is important to be above board. It's not worth risking damaging the reputation of EA in order to try to achieve best-seller status.

You’re right, of course. Also, it's possible my comment might be badly worded and a distraction, or I am just wrong.

To try to explain my thinking:


It seems like one simple, obvious idea to get this book out is to have a website that reimburses people. So the website says“Unable to pay right now, or want to share the book with friends or family? Enter receipt(s) for reimbursement. (Limit 10 copies)".

This website, plus some marketing, could be hugely successful. 


It’s not clear what the difference is between this imaginary website, buying a lot of advertising, or anything else is. Many of these tactics seem like they could be principled. EAs already give out lots of books. 

There's a universe of tactics to sell books, maybe some break rules and some don't. It’s possible that knowing and working with these rules is hard, like law or brain surgery. 

I think one thing I intended was to suggest looking into experienced talent. Like, maybe top talent is useful here, but the EAs are shy to use it or push past their publisher. 

But everything above I wrote could be wrong. I know nothing about book selling, and nothing about the OP or their work, which seems pretty thoughtful and extensive.

The book will be released very soon on August 16 ( US), and September 1 (UK). Now seems like a good time to signal boost if you're thinking of doing this. 

More from abier
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities