Obamas sign book deal with Penguin

Former US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama have reportedly agreed to write two more books with publishers Penguin Random House for US$65 million (S$91.7 million), after a bidding war that blew away similar deals set by predecessors.
Mr Barack Obama and his wife Michelle plan to donate part of their advances to charity.
Mr Barack Obama and his wife Michelle plan to donate part of their advances to charity. PHOTO: REUTERS

The publishing house wins heated auction among multiple competitors in an agreement estimated to cost millions

NEW YORK • Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former United States president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced on Tuesday, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures. Robert B. Barnett and Deneen C. Howell of law firm Williams & Connolly represented the Obamas.

Penguin Random House acquired world rights to the books and worldwide sales could be substantial.

No decision has been made yet as to which of the company's major imprints - which include Random House, Doubleday, Alfred A. Knopf and Crown - will publish the books. Mr Obama's previous books were published by Crown, which also published Mrs Obama's book American Grown, about the White House garden.

A spokesman for Penguin Random House would not say whether the books would be memoirs and referred questions to representatives of the Obamas.

Speculation about the Obamas' books and how much they would sell for have been circulating in the industry in recent weeks, as executives at the top publishing houses met separately with Mr and Mrs Obama.

Some publishing executives who followed the bidding process said that the opening offers for Mr Obama's book alone were in the US$18 million (S$25 million) to US$20 million range.

The publisher plans to donate one million books in the Obama family's name to First Book, a nonprofit organisation that provides books to disadvantaged children, and Open eBooks, the Washingtonbased partner for the 2016 White House digital education initiative. The Obamas also plan to donate part of their advances to charity, including the Obama Foundation.

"We are absolutely thrilled to continue our publishing partnership with president and Mrs Obama," Mr Markus Dohle, chief executive of Penguin Random House, said in a statement.

"With their words and their leadership, they changed the world and, every day, with the books we publish at Penguin Random House, we strive to do the same.

"Now, we are very much looking forward to working together with president and Mrs Obama to make each of their books global publishing events of unprecedented scope and significance."

The Obamas' advance is likely to exceed even the stratospheric figures that other recent presidents and first ladies have received.

Former president Bill Clinton sold his memoir My Life for more than US$10 million and Hillary Clinton reportedly received an US$8 million advance from Simon & Schuster for her memoir, Living History. George W. Bush's memoir Decision Points became a hit, selling about two million copies and earning him an estimated US$10 million.

It is unusual, however, for a former president and first lady to make a collective deal for their memoirs.

Some publishing industry insiders said that early in the process, it appeared that the books were going to be auctioned separately.

Mr Obama has a proven track record in publishing as an author of multiple bestsellers.

His three books - Dreams From My Father, The Audacity Of Hope and Of Thee I Sing - have sold more than four million copies.

According to financial disclosures, he earned more than US$10 million from those titles.

Reviews have praised him as a gifted prose stylist.

But a post-presidential memoir has even greater potential to be a critical and commercial hit.

Mr Obama kept a journal during his time in office, which suggests his memoir could include behindthe-scenes moments that were captured as major events unfolded.

A frank discussion of his time in the White House and of issues such as race relations in America could reach an even wider audience, becoming a worldwide blockbuster.

Penguin Random House, a global publishing house with more than 250 imprints, has worldwide rights to the books, which means the company can make a good deal of money overseas and in translation.

For the Obamas, the books may be valuable beyond the multimillion-dollar advances.

The deal was announced, probably coincidentally but somewhat awkwardly, on the night that President Donald Trump gave his first address before Congress.

These books could provide a chance to reframe and highlight the former president's legacy at a moment when a new Republican administration is making an effort to dismantle some of his signature legislation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Obamas sign book deal with Penguin'. Print Edition | Subscribe