The sad news of Muhammad Ali's death, which became public late on the Friday evening of June 3, has resulted in publishers rushing to get their new Ali titles into stores, and a run on available backlist titles about the iconic boxer and activist.
The most noticeable uptick in sales among Ali-related titles in the week ended June 16, at Nielsen BookScan, was for David Remnick’s King of the World (Vintage, 1998); it saw a 576% increase in sales over the prior week, but still moved only 113 copies. Sales of Ali books have, however, also been climbing at various bookstores.
Daisy Kline, v-p of books at Barnes & Noble, said the retailer has seen “a definite uptick in demand" for books about Ali. Kline noted that customers are showing an interest in Ali titles aimed at readers "of all ages."
The strongest demand at B&N has been for frontlist titles about Ali, such as Tim Shanahan's May-published Running with the Champ: My Forty Year Friendship with Muhammad Ali (Simon & Schuster), and Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith's February-published Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (Basic Books).
Backlist Ali books are also moving at the chain, though. In addition to Remnick's King of the World, Kline highlighted author Dennis O'Neil and illustrator Neal Adams' graphic novel Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (DC Comics, 2010). For children, the interest has been focused on biographies about Ali with Who is Muhammad Ali? by James Buckley and illustrated by Stephen Machesi and Nancy Harrison (Grossett & Dunlap, 2014) doing especially well.
The flagship outlet of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Ali’s hometown of Louisville recently unveiled a seven-book display, near the store's entrance, featuring titles about the boxer. Among the books included are: Blood Brothers; The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammed Ali, Richard Durham, and Toni Morrison (which was originally published in 1975); Running with the Champ; and Relentless: The Stories Behind the Photographs by Neil Leifer (University of Texas Press, May).
Carmichael's bookseller Jason Brown said that, of the titles in the display, Blood Brothers is selling the best. And, while Brown acknowledged that sales of Ali books are up across the board at the store, he said customers are showing more interest in commemorative magazines, particularly those with extensive photo collections of Ali.
Other independent booksellers reported a more modest increase in sales of Ali books. Kip Johnson, co-owner of Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., said he was surprised books on the boxer weren’t doing better. Johnson predicted, though, that the sales will come, and he is planning to hold an Ali tribute event at the store in the near future.
Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., Left Bank Books in St. Louis, and Book Beat in Oak Park, Mich., all reported that Blood Brothers has been their bestselling Ali title. But many at these stores, like Book Beat's Tiffany Dickerson, thought there would be more of a rush on Ali titles. “A lot of young people don’t quite know who he is,” Dickerson said.
But Left Banks book buyer Randy Schiller, like many booksellers who spoke to PW, said he thinks his store is simply experiencing the calm before the storm, and that sales of Ali titles will really kick in when the new releases start arriving.