Last fall, bestselling author and change agent Seth Godin mobilized 300 people from 41 countries to create a book, but also a podcast network, a LinkedIn course, a comprehensive resource collection, an educator guide, and a free children’s edition—for free. On July 12, Portfolio will publish The Carbon Almanac, seven months after acquisition.
The book is a collection of information and resources on the science of, impacts from, and solutions to climate change, compiled by a worldwide team of “writers, researchers, thinkers, and illustrators.”
Inspired by reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi Ministry of the Future last summer, Godin decided to use his background as a book packager of almanacs to create a book that would be both a useful resource and an example of collective action.
“I knew I could make a book that would solve part of the problem as I saw it, which is that a lot of people didn’t feel confident enough to talk about it,” he said. “But I realized, while I could do something like that myself…it wouldn’t be a metaphor the way I wanted to show an example. And so I assembled 300 people, most of them strangers to me, all volunteers including me, in 41 countries, and we built a 97,000 word book in 120 days. Illustrated, the whole thing.”
The book currently has seven international deals—ROI (Italy), Chaeksesang (Korea), Prah (Czech Republic), Nikkei (Japan), Business Weekly (China, complex characters), plus Holland, where Hackstack is slated to publish on June 21. Penguin Business will publish the book in the UK and Commonwealth on August 11. These deals were also a collaborative experience—members of the network reached out to publishers in their own countries to pursue foreign rights deals. Once the deputized volunteers found interested publishers, they brought them to PRH to finish the deals.
Broader than a single trade book, the project is a corpus of content aimed at furthering the climate conversation that will appear in many forms. There’s a 70-page illustrated children’s version provided for free on the website that’s already been downloaded more than 10,000 times. An educators’ guide is also available, with an invitation for teachers to share their lesson plans with the network.
There’s also a daily email, and four podcasts—one with volunteers discussing their work on the project, one for kids, one that highlights other podcast episodes dedicated to climate change, and one with crowdsourced contributions from the public. There are nearly 50 total episodes so far. “They don’t exist to be the most popular podcast in the world,” Godin said. “But instead, like our book, they’re there to make an impact on someone, not everyone.”
The network is also launching a course on LinkedIn Learning this month, which Godin expects to reach even more people than the Almanac. “I would not be surprised if 100,000 people took it in the first two weeks.” A team of 40, including Godin, contributed video clips that Godin edited together, making some of the information in the book digestible in a short period of time.
“Because we’re not trying to sell a book, we’re trying to sell an idea, we’re going to end up selling more books,” Godin said.
Godin used the open-source software Discourse to “build the environment” where contributors could create the project. To start, he invited three people he knew to be partners, then mentioned it briefly in a blog post. That note garnered about 700 responses in a Google form. From those, Godin picked people from “a diverse set of backgrounds, skills, and countries” to join.
“We built it around attrition and churn,” he said. “I’m one of the only people to have been in it from the beginning every single day, I’ve read 25,000 posts or something inside the discussion board, but some people show up, burn hot and make a huge difference for four weeks, and then go back to their lives.”
The speed with which the book came to fruition reflects the urgency of the topic, and the power of a group effort. On September 14, 2021, Godin said “go” and book creation began, with contributors using a shared database software called Notion to input and edit articles as a group, and create footnotes for each, which are all housed on the Carbon Almanac website. Godin reached out to Portfolio, his longtime publisher, and they acquired the title in November. After that, vp, editorial director Niki Papadopoulos was in touch with Godin throughout the process, discussing the book’s goals and giving feedback on an early draft. The network agreed that the book would be done by January 25, giving them six weeks to “polish it.” Godin delivered final files in February—one day ahead of deadline.
“Since we could do it faster, we wanted to do it faster,” Papadopoulos said. “There’s also a tremendous amount of momentum in this community of people who have been working on this and devoting a big chunk of their free time to it. And I think honoring that with quick movement, sort of going above and beyond on our end, was only the right thing to do.”
Even with persistent supply chain issues, the book will make it from initial idea to publication in about 10 months. After a delay due to paper sourcing, which pushed the pub date by three weeks, books were in the warehouse in late May.
Highlighting the collaborative aspect of the book was vital when communicating to consumers, buyers, and other professionals, even down to the author name. “It was very important for us to get the metadata right, so that it was clear that the author was the Carbon Almanac Network and not Seth Godin,” Papadopoulos said. “Seth Godin is not the author. He is the leader of the project and the founding editor, and he contributed a foreword for the book, but he did not write the book. This incredible community of volunteers wrote the book.”
Still, someone had to take the reins on communicating with the publisher.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Seth because the grasped very early in the process that someone had to be the decider on things like the cover and the copy,” Papadopoulos said. “He and I worked together on those questions, and we had a lot of weighing in from the community.…So I really applaud Seth in being able to hear feedback from the network and take it on board, and also constantly be pressing us forward on the timeline.”
Godin is adamant that the goal is not to sell books, but to spur conversation about climate change. Since the network is completely made up of volunteers, Godin included, the entirety of the advance—a significant deal—is being used for promotion. They bought 100,000 trees in Madagascar and are planting 10 trees for every one that’s cut to print the book. Godin says they spent tens of thousands of dollars on Amazon search ads. Through a partnership with bulk sales provider Porchlight, corporations including McCann, LinkedIn, and Eileen Fischer have agreed to purchase hundreds of books, and these deals have enabled the network to purchase copies to give to nonprofits. They are also giving books to public libraries and a book fair in Greece.
“From Penguin’s point of view, it really helps their business model because as Tim O’Reilly said, the real enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity,” Godin said. “If enough people talk about this then we’ll sell more copies.”
On July 16, those hundreds of contributors plan to launch the book by setting a world record for “the largest simultaneous author book signing in history,” Godin said, expecting signings in more than 300 locations and streaming the events to Facebook. Around the world, authors anywhere—at bookstores, community centers, “in the woods”—will participate in a “two-way book signing” where they will sign copies for readers, or sign their own copy. “Because we’re all in this together,” Godin said.