Barack Obama memoir off to record-setting start in sales

Barack Obama memoir off to record-setting start in sales

NEW YORK — Former President Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” sold nearly 890,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada in its first 24 hours, putting it on track to be the best selling presidential memoir in modern history.

The first-day sales, a record for Penguin Random House, includes pre-orders, e-books and audio.

“We are thrilled with the first day sales,” said David Drake, publisher of the Penguin Random House imprint Crown. “They reflect the widespread excitement that readers have for President Obama’s highly anticipated and extraordinarily written book.”

The only book by a former White House resident to come close to the early pace of “A Promised Land” is the memoir by Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, whose “Becoming” sold 725,000 copies in North America its first day and has topped 10 million worldwide since its release in 2018. “Becoming” is still so in demand that Crown, which publishes both Obamas and reportedly paid around $60 million for their books, has yet to release a paperback.

As of midday Wednesday, “A Promised Land” was No. 1 on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble, said that the superstore chain easily sold more than 50,000 copies its first day and hoped to reach half a million within 10 days.

“So far it has been neck and neck with Michelle Obama’s book,” he said.

By comparison, Bill Clinton’s “My Life” sold around 400,000 copies in North America its first day and George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” around 220,000, with sales for each memoir currently between 3.5 and 4 million copies. The fastest selling book in memory remains J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which came out in 2007 and sold more than 8 million copies within 24 hours.

Obama’s 768-page memoir, which came out Tuesday and has a list price of $45, had unusually risky timing for a book of such importance to the author, to readers and to the publishing industry. It came out just two weeks after Election Day and could have been overshadowed had the race still been in doubt or perhaps unwanted by distressed Obama fans if President Donald Trump had defeated Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But Biden won and his victory likely renews interest in an era when he was Obama’s trusted and popular vice-president.

Obama himself acknowledges that he didn’t intend for the book, the first of two planned volumes, to arrive so close to a presidential election or to take nearly four years after he left the White House — months longer than for “My Life” and two years longer than “Decision Points.” In the introduction to “A Promised Land,” dated August 2020, Obama writes that “the book kept growing in length and scope” as he found he needed more words than expected to capture a given moment — a bind many authors well understand. He was also working under conditions he “didn’t fully anticipate,” from the pandemic to the Black Lives Matters protests, to, “most troubling of all,” how the country’s “democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis.”

Because of the pandemic, Obama will not go on the all-star arena tour Michelle Obama had for “Becoming.” But he benefits from the attention of any memoir by a former president and by the special attention for Obama, who has the rare stature among politicians of writing his own books and for attracting as much or more attention for how he tells a story than for the story itself. Obama has already written two acclaimed, million-selling works, “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope, which came out in 2006. His new book covers some of the same time period as his previous ones, while continuing his story through the first 2 1/2 ears of his presidency and the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden by the Navy SEALS.

Publishers Weekly praised the book as “shot through with memorable turns of phrase,” while other reviews were more qualified, calling the book all too reflective of Obama’s thoughtful, even-handed style. The New York Times’ Jennifer Szalai wrote that the “most audacious thing” about “A Promised Land” is “the beaming portrait” of Obama on the cover. The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada noted that in “domestic policy and foreign affairs, in debates over culture and race, Obama splits differences, clings to the middle ground and trusts in process as much as principle.”

“It turns out he is not a ‘revolutionary soul’ but a reformist one, ‘conservative in temperament if not in vision.’ Behind those dreams, the audacity and all that promise is a stubborn streak of moderation,” Lozada wrote.

Obama’s book is the highlight of publishing’s holiday season and for some independent bookstores, the potential difference between remaining in business or closing. Publishing sales have been surprisingly stable during the pandemic, but much of the benefit has gone to Amazon.com as readers turned increasingly to online purchases. The American Booksellers Association, the independent sellers’ trade group, has warned that hundreds of stores could go out of business if holiday sales fall short.

Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, anticipates selling around 1,000 copies by the end of the year, a number which makes “a HUGE difference” for annual revenues, she wrote in an email. Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan, said she sold around 600 copies in the first 24 hours, a pace exceeded only by the final Harry Potter book.

“It’s not hard to be a bright spot this year, a year when we would have gone out of business without federal aid,” McNally said. “But Obama does feel like a saviour, as do our customers for buying this from us.”

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

Obama

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed starting Monday, Minister of Health Tyler Shandro announced Thursday. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Alberta gov’t aims to protect health-care sector from COVID-19 liability

The Alberta government has proposed a new legislation that will protect those… Continue reading

After considerable consultation with student representatives, Red Deer College has
made the difficult decision to increase tuition and fees for the 2021/2022 academic year. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer College to celebrate grads virtually in June

Graduates of Red Deer College won’t get an in-person graduation ceremony this… Continue reading

The Bowden Institution medium security facility is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Central Alberta Addiction centre faces COVID-19 outbreak

18 test positive at iRecover Treatment Centre in Tees

A cleaner goes into Red Deer’s Canada Post sorting facility near 67th Street and Taylor Drive on Thursday morning. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at Red Deer Canada Post mail sorting facility

Canada Post has confirmed an employee at the Red Deer mail processing… Continue reading

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

In this Nov. 5, 2004 file photo, the logo of Kansas City Southern is down on a restored 1954 Kansas City Southern passenger locomotive at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Norman Ng/The Kansas City Star via AP
War of words heats up in battle between Canadian railways for Kansas City’s KCS

War of words heats up in battle between Canadian railways for Kansas City’s KCS

A street sign along Bay Street in Toronto's financial district is shown on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
North American stock markets fall on report of near doubling of U.S. capital gains

North American stock markets fall on report of near doubling of U.S. capital gains

FILE - In this Friday, April 22, 2016 file photo, Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez poses for a portrait in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Books from Europe and Latin America that blur the boundaries of fiction, history and memoir are the final six contenders for the 50,000 pound ($69,000) International Booker Prize. On the shortlist is imaginative short-story collection “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed” by Argentina’s Mariana Enriquez. (AP Photo/Leandro Teysseire, File)
Inventive books make final 6 for International Booker Prize

Inventive books make final 6 for International Booker Prize

FILE - Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki, accepts her Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role in "Sayonara," as presenter Anthony Quinn looks, during the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 26, 1958. Umeki was the first person from Japan to win an Oscar. (AP Photo)
Oscar slate holds “firsts” for Asian actors, filmmakers

Oscar slate holds “firsts” for Asian actors, filmmakers

SickKids surgeons give baby another shot at life after removing nearly 3-pound tumour

SickKids surgeons give baby another shot at life after removing nearly 3-pound tumour

A COVID-19 patient wearing oxygen mask waits inside a vehicle to be attended and admitted in a dedicated COVID-19 government hospital in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, April 22, 2021. India reported a global record of more than 314,000 new infections Thursday as a grim coronavirus surge in the world's second-most populous country sends more and more sick people into a fragile health care system critically short of hospital beds and oxygen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Ajit Solanki
COVID-19 variant of interest vs. variant of concern: What does it mean?

COVID-19 variant of interest vs. variant of concern: What does it mean?

File photo
Expert says Saskatchewan should consider more targeted vaccine plan as variants surge

SASKATOON — Nazeem Muhajarine says he feels a sense of relief after… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising Canada will slash its… Continue reading

Most Read