Barack Obama memoir off to record-setting start in sales

PTI New York | Updated on November 19, 2020

A Promised Land sold nearly 8,90,000 times in 24 hours, surpassing Michelle Obama’s Becoming

Former US president Barack Obama’s A Promised Land sold nearly 8,90,000 copies in the US 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,” he added.

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 7,25,000 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 and Barnes & 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 2,20,000, with sales for each memoir currently between 3.5-4 million copies. The fastest selling book in memory remains JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which came out in 2007 and sold more than eight million copies within 24 hours.

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Risky timing

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’s 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.

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 2.5 years of his presidency and the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden by the Navy SEALS.

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Published on November 19, 2020

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