What Is Guinness World Records?

What is it about records and the people who break them that is so fascinating to people?
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So the new Guinness World Records 2012 book is about to launch. We are in fact three weeks away. But this is no proselytizing sermon about why people should or shouldn't buy the book; no canvassing of opinion as to the virtues of record-breaking in the 21st century (we'll get to that).

It's more about the feeling that accompanies reaching that into-the-void moment just before something is going to be launched en masse to the public. Like you're about to throw a party and hope in God's name people turn up. We do it every year. In fact we've been doing it every year for 50 years.

One book. In over 25 countries and 100 languages. It really is quite something. There's a slow burn within the business that literally grows from day one of the calendar -- hours and hours of editorial work, design options, focus groups, image reviews, word-smithing, paper weighting, print running, foil testing, meetings, meetings about the meetings, online digital platforming and so on.

Three-score-and-ten people working eight hours a day in six countries to produce a 300-page, 3.3 lb book read the world over by young and old looking for their annual dose of "-est." No wonder we hold our breath. That bungee cord feeling is always there.

OK, so this is what any product launch can feel like. But this is no ordinary product. These are dangerous times in publishing and this has been described as the last book standing. An anathema in the industry, millions sold every year, everywhere. Of about the 40,000 records on the database 10 percent make it into the book. So that's about 4,000 records covering over 300 categories accompanied by 900 immaculate full color images.

Open the book on one page and you come face to face with the most dangerous ant in the world, the bulldog ant (Myrmecia pyriformis), which can kill a person (if you let it) in 15 minutes flat. A few pages later and what's that? The largest warship in the world, the Truman, which is as tall as a 24-story building and even has its own newspaper. Are you kidding me?

A dozen or so further pages in and there's a story about Johnny Salo from Finland who won the longest running race ever in 1929 covering 3,635 miles from New York to Los Angeles in a time of 525 hours, 57 minutes and 20 seconds. That's the equivalent of 139 marathons, or 1.7 marathons a day for 79 days. What is that? Quite seriously. What is that? Why?

What is it about records and the people who break them that is so fascinating to people? To me, to you? What is the point I ask? So this is the beginning of my journey and what I hope to document here. For the next few months I will be writing to chronicle all the (mis)adventures that publishing the best-selling copyright book entails. The people, the moments, the things that go very wrong, the things that go very well and everything in between. In this way I hope to answer the question, what is Guinness World Records?

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