Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” has sold more than 10 million units worldwide (a number that includes print, digital and audio formats), including 6.2 million copies in North America — in less than five months.
Those are astounding numbers that also happen to ensure she’s closing the gap with her husband, whose 1995 memoir “Dreams From My Father” and 2006 campaign book “The Audacity of Hope” have sold 7.5 million collectively in the U.S. and Canada. Not that it’s a competition or anything. (But if it was, Michelle’s victory would be all but assured.)
Interestingly, when the Obamas signed a two-book deal with Penguin Random House in 2017 — reportedly in the $60 million range, “the highest advance ever paid in the history of book publishing,” Bertelsmann SE’s chief executive Thomas Rabe told the Wall Street Journal last year — the success of the former first lady’s memoir seemed, to prognosticators, like a big question mark. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “gamble.”
“Many insiders said that, despite her popularity as first lady and the notoriety she achieved in the just-closed presidential election, it’s harder to make an educated guess about how well her book could sell,” the trade publication said shortly after the book deal was announced.
And yet the memoirs of first ladies tend to do well — many even outpace those written by their husbands. Still, to be fair, none have achieved Obama’s level of success. Laura Bush’s “Spoken From the Heart” sold a not insignificant 147,000 copies during the first week of its 2010 release, while Hillary Clinton’s 2003 “Living History” sold 600,000 copies during the same time period. (Clinton’s 2016 election rehash, “What Happened,” sold half that.)
But it appears that there’s no limit to interest in our most recent former first lady. Aside from blockbuster book sales — “Becoming” sold 1.4 million copies in its first week and quickly became the best-selling book of the year — Obama has gone on an epic book tour that’s taken her to arenas around the world, where attendees have paid up to thousands of dollars to see her in conversation with Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Jessica Parker, among other celebrities.
Of course, “Becoming” is only the first in the couple’s two-book deal with Penguin Random House. The other will be Barack Obama’s presidential memoir — a rite of passage for former commanders in chief. Few details have emerged about that project, other than the fact that he worked on it while vacationing in French Polynesia and may very well be in the final stages of writing it.
He better be ready to share some big revelations if he wants to keep up with his wife’s numbers.