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As Book Sales Drop, Guinness World Records Ltd. Adapts Its Services


All right. When you want to know who holds the records for the longest, the highest, the fastest, you, of course, turn to the Guinness World Records. But there's a new brand of record breaker in town. From our Planet Money podcast, here's Stacey Vanek Smith.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: There is a man in Queens who holds the record for most Guinness records broken ever. His name is Ashrita Furman. He's broken 600 records, many of them in his backyard.

ASHRITA FURMAN: This is the compost pile. There's watermelons. I do a record where I have watermelons on my stomach my friend chops them in half with a machete. Actually, is that while I'm lying on a bed of nails? No. Bed of nails is where they chop those concrete blocks. And I have the bed of nails. There's some of the bed of nails.

VANEK SMITH: You have, like, several beds of nails.

FURMAN: Several beds of nails, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: Ashrita is about to attempt a new record - most balloons popped with chopsticks in one minute. His chopsticks have these sharp metal tips. The Guinness folks are here filming.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For the record - three, two, one, go.


VANEK SMITH: Ashrita is flinging chopsticks at the balloons. Some are popping, some aren't. The judge calls time. Ashrita needs to break 23 balloons.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. So, Ashrita, you achieved a total of 24 balloons.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A new Guinness World Records title achieved right before your eyes. Speaking of new records, I'm so excited to tell you guys that the 2018 edition is out now in the United States.

VANEK SMITH: Book promotion. But selling books is what they do. "The Guinness Book Of World Records" is one of the best-selling books in history. But book sales have been dropping for everyone. And about 10 years ago, Guinness realized it needed a new way to make money. Peter Harper is with Guinness World Records. He says the new business model actually came to them in the form of big companies and celebrities.

PETER HARPER: They've gotten onto the fact that if they achieve a record title, that they get a lot of press for it.

VANEK SMITH: Reebok, Audi, the Gates Foundation, Dwayne The Rock Johnson all hired Guinness to help them figure out a record to break and arrange a big media event around it.


DWAYNE JOHNSON: In honor of this weekend's big Super Bowl game, our highly ambitious Seven Bucks Digital squad sets a new Guinness World Record for the largest seven-layer dip in the world.

VANEK SMITH: The price tag for Guinness' services starts at $12,000 and goes up over half a million. So anyone can still attempt a record for free, but if you want all the bells and whistles and the consultation, you have to pay. Guinness's customers have gone from kids begging their parents for the book to record breakers hunting for a branding opportunity.

Does it feel at all like it kind of tainted the record breaking to charge?

HARPER: Well, it is a question we are mindful of because if we compromise our reputation for being an authority, the business goes down the tubes pretty quickly.

VANEK SMITH: Some people think it already has.

DAVID ADAMOVICH: My real name is the Reverend Dr. David Adamovich. My friends call me Throw.

VANEK SMITH: The Great Throwdini is a world-record-holding knife thrower. He says unless you're a paying customer, it's really hard to break a Guinness record. The rules are confusing. It takes months to hear back.

ADAMOVICH: It's all about money.

VANEK SMITH: Guinness says yes, its business model has changed but stresses that anyone anywhere can still get into "Guinness" for free.

Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS' "SHIRA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.