This sounds like a great idea Marcus!
I’d love to put you in touch with Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of The Life You Can Save. In addition to being an avid tennis fan, Charlie has been very interested in working with athletes to promote effective giving for a long time. TLYCS has worked with a bunch of celebrities before (though unfortunately no athletes yet), most recently as audiobook narrators for the 10th anniversary edition of the book the organization is named after. If you PM me your email address I’ll connect the two of you.
Presumably most of that is sunk cost and what the publisher ought to care about is discounted expected cashflows from the book.
I think that’s conceptually right. But it brings up another important point: negotiating to buy the rights was time-consuming and frustrating. And part of the annoyance was due to the publisher not acting as economically rational as you’d expect. We actually spent years saying things like “surely there’s a figure for which you’d be happy to sell the rights, could you just let us know what that number is?” There really wasn’t any progress until we got a (pro bono) lawyer involved who has a lot of experience in IP negotiations. Once she took over working with the publisher, things started moving along (though still at a relatively slow pace).
The book rights cost $30,000 to acquire.
It’s important to note, however, that there would likely be a ton of variation for different books. This would likely depend on what the publisher paid the author in advance and how many books they’ve sold / how much money they’ve made back.
Good idea! Just set myself a reminder to look at this a year from now :)
Not sure, I’ll check with the team and get back to you.
I don’t think Singer has considered doing this for other books, but I’m not positive about that.
The EA Meta Fund gave $10,000 for this, which seems very worthwhile. Of course, this may not be the full cost, and this also covered some other things. I like that they included free audiobooks; we should probably do that too if we pursue this.
FYI, this $10,000 grant (while greatly appreciated) was a (small) fraction of the total cost of the new edition of TLYCS. However, that project was significantly more ambitious that simply buying the rights and publishing an ebook; it was closer to writing, editing, and publishing an entirely new book given the scope of the updates. The project also included a complete overhaul of TLYCS website, which was largely outsourced. Finding and working with the celebrity narrators for the audiobook was also labor (and therefore cost) intensive, though this wouldn’t be relevant for most books.
Re: a retrospective, there’ll likely be a more detailed one down the road, but TLYCS’s 2019 annual report includes a good deal of discussion about the early experience around the book project.
The key question here, is whether (and if so, to what degree) free download is a more effective means of distribution than regular book sales. So we should ask Peter Singer how the consumption of TLYCS changed with putting his book online.
Free distribution seems to have helped a lot. The original version sold ~45,000 copies in its first 10 years; in its first 6 months, we’ve distributed roughly the same number of copies of the 10th anniversary edition.
The original edition has presumably had more readers than the updated version so far: over 10 years you can rack up a lot of library checkouts and used book readings that aren’t captured in the sales numbers, and people are more likely to consume a book if they’ve paid for it than if they got it for free. But based on the first 6 months, I’d expect the new edition to be read many more times over the long term, and for that to be driven by it being freely available. (I’d also expect factors like promotion by the celebrity narrators of the audiobook to increase distribution.)
Terrific, thank you!
Thanks David, that all makes sense. For future iterations of this analysis, I’d be strongly in favor of adding a sentence about Peter like you had in last year’s summary.
Personal Contacts (14%), LessWrong (9.6%) and 80,000 Hours (9.6%) are still the main ways most people have heard of EA over time.
Shouldn’t Peter Singer be on this list? He showed up in 203 of the open ended responses (9.5% of 2137 total responses), and that doesn’t count any open ended comments that didn’t mention him by name or non-open ended responses that he’s associated with (e.g. the people who answered they heard about EA through TLYCS the organization, which I work for in the interest of disclosure).
Thank you for conducting and sharing this analysis!
I like the book distribution idea, but would suggest using the updated 10th Anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save. While its focus on global poverty makes it narrower than Doing Good Better, it has several advantages:
· The audiobook and ebook are available for free
· The celebrity narrators (e.g. Kristen Bell and Paul Simon) add credibility
· It’s more up to date
That said, I think it’d be really interesting to do an experiment comparing the efficacy of distributing each book.
Note: I work for TLYCS the organization
The “Worm Wars” could arguably be an example (though the contentious research was not just from the EA community)
Most of the people on The Life You Can Save’s team have significant experience in the for-profit sector, which I think is relatively rare in the EA community. Charlie Bresler, our Executive Director, used to be the President of the Men’s Wearhouse. And before I served as COO for an extended period, I spent ~10 years in the finance sector at Bridgewater Associates. So I think those experiences helped shape The Life You Can Save’s culture. For instance, I think due to the diversity of the backgrounds of our team members, we may engage with a significantly more diverse range of stakeholders on a day-to-day basis than many “typical” organizations in this field. The advantage of this is that it provides us with a variation and depth of expertise to draw upon when we are making strategic decisions about our organization’s mission and approach.
Additionally, our team is also, generally speaking, older than most of the EA community. I’m not sure I can point to specific things that causes us to know about, unless I go with a tongue-in-cheek answer like “what the 1980s were like”.
Here’s how our Oxfam information page describes why we recommend them. (FYI, on each charity’s information page we have an FAQ explaining our recommendation).
We recommend Oxfam for donors who want to support a large, multinational organization working to fight global poverty in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of places. Because Oxfam is so large, including them as a recommended charity also significantly expands the tax-deductible giving options and program locations we can offer our global audience.
Due to the breadth and scope of its work, Oxfam’s impact is inherently difficult to measure and attribute, but we believe that some hard-to-measure work, like advocacy, can be a powerful way to help people in extreme poverty. Full disclosure: Peter Singer is a member of Oxfam America’s Leadership Council, an unpaid advisory body of significant Oxfam donors. Peter’s wife, Renata Singer, was employed by Oxfam Australia in the 1990s as their publications officer.
The fact that we don’t recommend The End Fund definitely shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative assessment of their work. Rather, it relates to your other question about the “paradox of choice.” We recommend SCI and Evidence Action (which runs Deworm the World), and generally don’t want to recommend many charities performing similar interventions without a compelling reason, as we think this will be confusing to donors.
In some cases, we do think there’s a good reason to have multiple charities performing similar interventions. For instance, we added Malaria Consortium to our list (which already included AMF) when GiveWell rated the former’s marginal cost-effectiveness as higher than the latter’s. We also have multiple food fortification recommendations which were added at the same time, and which we didn’t feel like we had good reason to distinguish between, but once those were already on our list we declined to add the Food Fortification Initiative when GiveWell later added it as a standout charity.
As the previous examples show, there’s some path dependency to our list (i.e. the order in which we add charities matters). This reflects our belief that 1) all else equal, we want our list to be simple for donors with minimal overlap and 2) we think removing a charity from our list because we added a similar one that might be slightly better would send an inappropriately negative signal about the charity we removed.
We’ve worked with HNW donors to determine which of our recommended organizations are the best match for the donors’ specific values and causes of interest. So far we haven’t done any bespoke research for donors, though this is definitely an area we expect to expand into in the future.
We’ll sometimes get inquiries about causes outside our scope. Where possible, we refer them to EA resources, such as ACE for animal welfare and Founders Pledge’s research on climate change. (We also have links to those two organizations at the bottom of our charity selection methodology writeup in a “beyond global poverty” section).
We recommend a significantly broader set of charities than GiveWell, which is an intentional strategy to offer donors a wider range of options. That said, in the near-term any additions to our list are likely to come from GiveWell. We had been sourcing new recommendations from Impact Matters as well, but they’ve recently pivoted away from the in-depth “impact audits” we’d been relying on and toward much shallower reviews of many more charities. We’ve written up our selection process in more detail here.
Down the road, we’d like to add dedicated staff to work on charity assessment. The primary obstacle to this is lack of funding. We expect this staff would curate research from GiveWell and other sources more than doing primary research. We think dedicated staff would be helpful in expanding our list into cause areas where there’s donor demand (e.g. education and climate change), developing an overall fund and funds for specific cause areas, and offering more concierge services to high net worth donors.
This is something that’s definitely on our radar screen due to climate change’s outsized impact on people living in extreme poverty. We also think it’s a cause area that’s of interest to donors (both our existing donor base and others). However, it’s unlikely that we’ll move forward on this until we have the capacity to add dedicated staff for charity assessment.
These aren’t really surprises, but the experience reinforced a couple of things: celebrities are really busy, and they have a huge reach (e.g. 1 instagram post from Kristen Bell led to over 1000 people downloading the book and subscribing to our newsletter.)
At least a few of the celebrities seem interested beyond seeing us as a random good cause. As an example, Michael Schur really engaged with the intellectual substance of the book in the foreword he wrote for the new edition. And that probably shouldn’t be surprising, as his show The Good Place is essentially oriented around some similar themes.