First-day sales for Michelle Obama’s eagerly-awaited memoir, Becoming (Crown Publishing) varied in degree at indie bookstores throughout the country contacted by PW, with several citing competition from big-box retailers who are selling it at 20%-40% discounts as an issue. But, while B&N reported that Becoming was its most pre-ordered adult book since Go Set A Watchman in 2015, first-day sales approached stratospheric levels in some indies in the former first lady’s hometown, Chicago, where the book officially launched on Tuesday.
Obama, who is undertaking a 12 stop, 10-city national tour, plus visits to London and Paris, to promote her book, started off the tour on Tuesday evening at Chicago’s United Center arena by sitting down for a 90-minute interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey in front of 14,000 people who paid between $30-$3,000 for their seats. Due to the Windy City’s regulations regarding union labor, United Center staffers actually sold books on consignment from Winnetka’s Book Stall at Chestnut Court, with bookstore staff there to oversee the sales at several stations. Book Stall manager Robert McDonald reported that 1,700 books were sold last night, and another 300 books were sold earlier to United Center, which distributed those copies to its staff.
But Seminary Coop Bookstore, located a few blocks from the Obama family’s home in Hyde Park, actually kicked off the festivities surrounding Becoming with a book release party on Monday night, followed on Tuesday afternoon by a 90-minute sold-out meet-and-greet with Obama in her only in-store appearance scheduled thus far on this tour; 500 people who registered on Sunday could buy one or two copies of Becoming to meet the former First Lady. The copies they received had been pre-signed. Every bookstore handling sales at Obama’s arena appearances is also receiving 500 pre-signed copies in their orders.
Chicago resident Judith Weinstein told PW that she waited in line outside Seminary Coop for about an hour, although others stood in the 25-degree chill a few hours longer. “They came around with hot drinks—coffee, cider and chocolate, which made it a lovely event,” Weinstein said, “I shook her hand, wished her well, and collected my two books from a staffer.”
Seminary Coop director Jeff Deutsch reported that the store sold 803 copies of Becoming since midnight on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of love for her on the South Side,” he said, “She’s a local hero and we are her community bookstore.” Barack Obama has been a member of the coop since 1985. Deutsch said the store had ordered “well over a thousand copies” to sell at Seminary Coop and its sister store around the corner, 57th Street Books. “It’s the largest single book purchase we’ve done that’s not a guaranteed sale,” he said, predicting that it is going to be a hot sell this holiday season.
In Los Angeles, Eso Won Books, which opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday with a party for early arrivals, sold 485 hardcover copies by closing time 12 hours later, as well as 27 audio books and 22 copies in large print. “This is special for us,” explained James Fugate, the owner of the African-American specialty bookstore. “We wanted to do it up right with the food and all.” Eso Won is the local bookseller in charge of book sales when Obama appears at The Forum arena in L.A. Thursday evening, in conversation with the actress Tracee Ellis Ross. “I expect sales to be over 3,500 by [the end of] the weekend,” Fugate said.
In Washington, D.C. sales were strong at the indies PW contacted, but, as Emilie Sommer, the buyer at East City Books noted, they didn’t have the intensity of first-day sales for other political blockbusters like Fire and Fury, A Higher Loyalty, and Fear. While Sommer declined to disclose exactly how many books East City sold yesterday, she did say that the store had ordered more than 100 copies, and sales were steady all day long. She thinks sales “will build and continue through the holidays,” in contrast to Fire and Fury, which, she says, “everyone interested in it, bought the first week or two, and then that was it.”
Bradley Graham, the co-owner of Politics & Prose, echoed Sommer’s take, noting that sales were “nothing like the stampede we saw earlier this year for the sensational political books,” but he expects to easily sell out of the 1,000+ copies the store has on hand. “Hundreds more” copies are on order, as Politics & Prose is the bookseller handling sales at Obama’s appearance on November 25 at the city's Capitol One Center, where she will engage with the poet Elizabeth Alexander. Solid State Books, which sold 40 copies of Becoming yesterday and reported dozens more on reserve for customers to purchase, is selling books at Obama’s November 17 event, also at the Capitol One Center.
“Obviously, there’s a huge interest. Sales of tickets are at sky-high prices in enormous venues,” Graham said, “But I have no idea how many people will be inclined to buy the book at the venue. This author tour is in a class by itself.” Live Nation, the global entertainment company bought Becoming in bulk to include copies in VIP ticket packages sold via Ticketmaster, which Graham thinks may affect sales at the venue itself.
“We’re finding there’s a lot of Obama nostalgia out there,” he said, “Books about them are going to sell really well. We have a lot of Shade [Pete Souza's latest release, subtitled A Tale of Two Presidents] and we have a lot of Becoming. We’re well stocked.”
There are 1.8 million copies of Becoming in print in the U.S. and 3 million copies worldwide, published in 31 languages.