FILE - This Feb. 19, 2019, file photo shows former President Barack Obama speaking at the My Brother's Keeper Alliance Summit in Oakland, Calif.  Obama’s post-White House memoir isn’t expected to be released this year, setting up the likelihood that the highly anticipated book will drop in the midst of the 2020 campaign. Publisher Penguin Random House started alerting foreign partners and others about the status of Obama’s book on Tuesday, May 7,. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Barack Obama memoir off to record-setting start in sales

Obama has already written two acclaimed, million-selling works

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 years 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.

READ MORE: Trump seems to acknowledge Biden win, but he won’t concede

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


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BooksObama

Just Posted

The Nanaimo Timbermen and Victoria Shamrocks compete in Western Lacrosse Association action in Nanaimo during the 2019 season. (News Bulletin file photo)
WLA cancels another senior A lacrosse season due to COVID-19

Western Lacrosse Association, Major Series Lacrosse announce cancellation of Mann Cup

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo adopts this year’s tax rates, sends out property tax bills

City says tax increase will amount to $68 for a typical household

Nanaimo RCMP asked the public for help finding a 60-year-old who had been missing since May 9. He has since been found. (Photo submitted)
UPDATE: Nanaimo man located after he had been missing more than a week

Police had expressed concern, noting 60-year-old requires daily medication

A turn-control median at the intersection of Opal and Rock City Roads. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo council sticks with Opal Road decision despite residents’ call for reconsideration

Opal Road delegation claims ‘breakdown in the democratic process’

North Cedar Volunteer Fire Department crews at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Barnes Road near Holden Corso Road in Cedar. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Jeep rolls over on wet afternoon in Nanaimo, occupants OK

Incident happened Monday on Barnes Road in Cedar

North Cedar Volunteer Fire Department crews at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Barnes Road near Holden Corso Road in Cedar. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Jeep rolls over on wet afternoon in Nanaimo, occupants OK

Incident happened Monday on Barnes Road in Cedar

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

The new wing at the Victoria International Airport opened up on Thursday (File contributed/YYJ)
Pandemic takes ‘hundreds of millions’ out of Victoria Airport, Vancouver Island economy

Airport authority head says passenger volumes down as much as 98 per cent

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Reigning women’s World Champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who also took bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, will debut two brand new programs for the 2021 Stars On Ice tour, in Victoria May 15. (File photo)
Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko hit the ice when Stars On Ice returns to Vancouver Island

The star-studded lineup is makes a return after pandemic hiatus

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen, with the 100 Mile House RCMP. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)
14-year-old boy killed in serious ATV crash near 100 Mile House

Youth was travelling with a group of peers when the incident occurred last Friday

Relief is coming for B.C.’s struggling tourism sector. (NEWS file photo)
B.C. officials set to announce more support for tourism sector hit hard by pandemic

Non-essential travel is restricted between three regional zones in B.C. until at least May 24

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from “F9.” (Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
The blockbuster movie is making a comeback this summer

Excitement in the industry is growing again for a return to a big-screen normal

Most Read