Announcing What We Owe The Future

post by William_MacAskill · 2022-03-30T19:37:50.554Z · EA · GW · 33 comments


  Longer Summary
    US version
    UK version
  About the book 
  Why early pre-orders are important
    If you plan on ordering the book at some point, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could order it now. 



Longer Summary

I’ve written a book!!

It’s called What We Owe The Future. It makes the case for longtermism — the view that positively affecting the long-run future is a key moral priority of our time — and explores what follows from that view. As well as the familiar topics of AI and extinction risk, it also discusses value lock-in, civilisational collapse and recovery, technological stagnation, population ethics, and the expected value of the future. I see it as a sequel to Doing Good Better, and a complement to The Precipice

I think I’ve probably worked harder on this project than on any other in my life, and I’m excited that the launch date is finally now in sight: Aug 16th in the US and Sep 1st in the UK. I’m looking forward to being able to share it and discuss it with you all!

I’m now focused on trying to make the book launch go well. I’d really like to use the launch as a springboard for wider promotion of longtermism, trying to get journalists and other influencers talking about the idea. In order to achieve that, a huge win would be to hit The New York Times Bestseller list. And in order to achieve that, getting as many pre-orders as possible is crucial. 

In particular, there’s a risk that the book is perceived by booksellers (like Amazon and Barnes and Noble) as being “just another philosophy book”, which means they buy very few copies to sell to consumers. This means that the booksellers don’t put any effort into promoting the book, and they can even literally run out of copies (as happened with Superintelligence after the Elon tweet). Preorders are the clearest way for us to demonstrate that WWOTF (or, as I prefer, “WTF?”) is in a different reference class. 

For these reasons, I think that pre-ordering WWOTF is probably the highest value thing you can do to help with the book launch right now. The US link to pre-order is here, the UK link is here, and for all other countries you can use your country’s Amazon link.

                                                                      US version                                   

                                                                              UK version 


About the book 

My hope for WWOTF is that it will be like an Animal Liberation for future generations: impacting broadly how society thinks about the interests of future people, and inspiring people to take action to safeguard the long term. If the launch goes well, then significantly more people — including people who are deciding which careers to pursue, philanthropists, and political decision-makers and policy-makers — will be exposed to the core ideas.  

The book is aimed to be both readable for a general audience and informative for EA researchers or interested academics. (Though I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded at this!) So there’s a wide breadth of content: everything from stories of historical instances of long-run impact to discussion of impossibility theorems in population ethics. And, following Toby Ord’s lead, there is an ungodly number of endnotes.

The table of contents can give you the gist:  


In the course of writing the book, I’ve also changed my mind on a number of issues. I hope to share my updates before launch.


Why early pre-orders are important

If you plan on ordering the book at some point, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could order it now. 

Early pre-orders have many advantages in the world of publishing which will lead to greater promotion of the book once it’s released in August:

  1. Pre-orders count as first week sales in the eyes of the New York Times Bestseller list, so if we drive a lot of pre-orders now, What We Owe The Future will be much more likely to hit the bestseller list in the first week.
    1. This matters because (a) many people look to bestseller lists to guide which books they buy, and (b) being on the list also leads to more press opportunities. It’s hard to know the exact effect of this, but one 2004 study found that appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller list increased first-time authors’ sales by 57 percent, and on average, for a book’s first year on shelves, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.
  2. Early pre-orders also signal to major booksellers that the book is popular, which leads them (a) to order more of the book and (b) market the book more prominently on their websites and in their bookstores.
    1. This means booksellers are more likely to partner with us for discounts and promotions, since they will have a lot of the book in stock that they’ll want to sell.
    2. Lastly, when booksellers buy more of the book, it makes it less likely that they will run out of stock, as happened with Superintelligence, and sapped some of the momentum for sales.

I’m also excited to talk with potential readers, so as a thank-you for your support and interest, I’ll arrange to have Zoom chats about the book with eight randomly-chosen people who’ve preordered. If you’re interested in that, then submit a screenshot of your receipt to the form included here; we’ll send out invites on May 1st. 



Should I share the book on social media?

I want to purchase 20 or more copies of What We Owe The Future. What should I do?

I’m a group organiser. Should I tell my university/local group to purchase the book?

Should I purchase the hardcover or the Kindle version?

If you have any other questions about promotion for the book, you can email Abie at


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by mic (michaelchen) · 2022-03-31T00:18:11.737Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Any chance the price could be reduced to lower the barrier to pre-ordering? It costs $30 on Amazon US for a hard copy, which is a lot to ask for.

Replies from: Greg_Colbourn, abierohrig
comment by Greg_Colbourn · 2022-03-31T20:01:24.030Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

When I ordered on Amazon (UK), it said that I'd be charged the lowest price they offer between now and the launch date, so if there are any (further) discounts later on, I'll get them. I'm guessing this is the same for the US.

Replies from: Valerie Richmond
comment by Valerie (Valerie Richmond) · 2022-04-03T20:42:11.230Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I can confirm that's the case for Amazon US as well.

"If the price decreases between the time you place your order and the end of the day of the release date, you'll receive the lowest price, either through a price adjustment in your unshipped order, or through a refund within 24-72 hours following the release date."

comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-31T14:47:07.164Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The price is set by the publisher, so for now there's nothing we can do directly reduce the price of the book on Amazon, etc. (In the future, an EA publishing house could make sure EA books are priced more accessibly! See Fin Moorhouse's post here

In the coming months, we'll likely partner with bookstores to do pre-order discounts (eg. 25% off), and EA groups can use funding to purchase copies of the book for their members. So if pre-ordering now is price prohibitive, there will be other opportunities later on to pre-order. 

comment by Nicole_Ross · 2022-03-31T19:56:33.282Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm pre-ordering a copy! And I want to strong +1 that I think the case for pre-ordering the book could be quite high impact.

I was able to read a draft, and I wanted to share that I really liked the intro and first chapter. I really wish I had read those when I was a first year in university. 

comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2022-03-30T21:02:18.541Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Pre-ordered a hard copy. Very excited for this book - some incredible reviews from some big names!

comment by Garrison · 2022-03-30T20:01:19.814Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Pre-ordered a hardcover copy! 

Curious for more specifics on the hardcover vs. Kindle thing. Are Kindle pre-orders counted as some fraction of a hardcover order? If so, what is that fraction?

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-30T20:14:13.660Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, Garrison!

My understanding is that hardcover and e-book sales are counted for different categories of The New York Times Bestsellers List. (There are several categories for non-fiction: hardcover, paperback, e-book, and combined print and e-book.) 

Reaching the hardcover bestseller list tends to get more attention for new releases than the e-book bestseller list, so it's a more valuable list to be on. 

Replies from: Tyner
comment by Tyner · 2022-03-30T21:07:13.559Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This does not seem to be correct.  The list you linked for e-books is dated 2017, which partly explains why it has old books.  The current NYT list is combined:

Methodology here:

Correct me if I'm wrong

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-30T21:17:18.379Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah, thank you for pointing out the outdated e-book link! (Just edited to remove.) The bestseller list switched from having just e-books as a category to a combined print and e-books category, as you describe. It's still advantageous to order the hardcover since this list is given more attention for new books, and it is more difficult to hit the combined print  and e-book list, since it involves competing with more books. 

comment by Amy Labenz (AmyLabenz) · 2022-04-01T00:34:46.261Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Pre-ordered my hardcover! I'm excited :) 

comment by MaxRa · 2022-03-31T12:20:19.113Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Awesome, really looking forward to reading the book! :) 

Just in case, are the two book covers already set in stone?

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-31T14:39:26.797Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, the covers are final

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-03-31T22:01:10.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sad reacts only. 😭😭😭

comment by MathiasKB (MathiasKirkBonde) · 2022-03-31T08:20:30.319Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Looking forward to it! Will it be on Audible?

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-31T11:33:15.887Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it will once launched! (Will is doing the audiobook) 

Replies from: jackmalde
comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2022-03-31T15:26:29.837Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Did you consider getting a professional to do the audiobook?

EDIT: someone downvoted me. I'm not saying Will won't do a good job, but he clearly won't do as good a job as a professional. Picking someone with great rep could widen the appeal of the audiobook.

Replies from: William_MacAskill, Greg_Colbourn
comment by William_MacAskill · 2022-03-31T18:43:15.717Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I thought about this a lot, but I strongly prefer audiobooks to be read by the author, and anecdotally other people do, too. I didn't read DGB (to save time), and regretted that decision.

Replies from: jackmalde
comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2022-03-31T19:07:55.410Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough, and to be honest I suspect a lot of people will find it more authentic to hear the author read it. I don't really listen to audiobooks myself. I'm sure you'll do a great job!

comment by Greg_Colbourn · 2022-03-31T20:04:45.690Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Stephen Fry? (He did a very good job with Harry Potter)

comment by ren (renanaraujo) · 2022-03-30T20:52:33.118Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is there a difference between ordering from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or somewhere else?

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-31T09:43:12.503Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Not for now! It's valuable to have pre-orders a different booksellers, and we think the distribution of where people naturally end up ordering from is likely to be optimal. 

comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) · 2022-03-31T10:33:29.017Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Very excited to see this! Hoping to pre-order enough books to have Christmas and birthday presents for years to come...

comment by Rahela · 2022-03-31T07:37:51.613Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Pre-ordered. And really excited :)

comment by Charlie Dougherty · 2022-04-01T11:52:11.874Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Will, 

How do you feel this book fits into the fidelity model of communication advocated by CEA? 


comment by Siljamaeki · 2022-04-04T09:18:58.096Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do copies bought/pre-ordered outside the US count for The New York Times Bestseller list? 

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-04-05T10:03:03.875Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

They do not count for the NYT bestseller list, but they do count for your respective national bestseller list

comment by Marco_Annoni · 2022-04-04T07:30:40.942Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

William this is fantastic news!  Congratulations. I am pre-ordering it.

I would like to invite you to present and discuss this book at one of the most important sciences and philosophy festivals in Italy, next October, how can I contact you directly?

comment by Conor_Spence · 2022-08-11T08:32:59.911Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Looks like this will be released on August 16 ( US), and September 1 (UK). Seems like a good time to signal boost. 

comment by Eli Zarrindast · 2022-04-05T01:42:24.359Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is there a preview anywhere? One of the biggest factors for me in buying any book is writing style ; if it isn't compatible with how my brain parses things, or is unpleasant somehow, there's no point. Generally to evaluate whether I want to give a book a chance I just open to somewhere in the middle and read a couple paragraphs or even just a couple lines in the case of fiction (believe it or not, this has yielded fantastic results for me on a large sample size). Thirty bucks is too much for me sight unseen. 

Replies from: jpaddison
comment by JP Addison (jpaddison) · 2022-04-05T12:51:13.040Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You may be interested in the preview available for Will's last book.*

* Last non-academic book

comment by Tamas Simon (Sic) · 2022-03-30T23:02:43.560Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

do you know if Scribd will have this book in their library?

Replies from: abierohrig
comment by abierohrig · 2022-03-31T14:40:48.614Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it will!