Barack Obama's A Promised Land (Crown) went on sale Tuesday and booksellers across the country have reported initial sales for the title. "People are really excited about the book," said Nicole Slaughter Graham, bookseller at Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, Fla. "We had it on our pre-order wall and did some social media to promote it. We ordered 80 copies and sold 35 today."
Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kan., described sales of A Promised Land as "hot," and, so far, the book is outpacing sales of Michelle Obama's Becoming. "But we had so many issues keeping Michelle's book in stock, which may have affected the numbers. I know other stores talked about slow preorders on this one, but we're at or maybe even above my expectations. We're not discounting or offering special events, in part because it's selling so well on its own." Caine said an initial delivery of 100 books was subsumed by preorders and a second expected delivery will cover preorders and orders from today.
At Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, Calif., CEO Praveen Madan said the store opened an hour early Tuesday to allow customers to come in and pick up preorders. The store ordered 900 copies and expects all of them to sell through. "We are very bullish about the sales prospects of the new Obama memoir," he said. Random House is delivering large orders in several different shipments. Unfortunately, for some booksellers, this has proved problematic, as there have been many reports of damaged books in shipments. "Penguin Random House shipped us the first installment of 222 copies and 66 of those turned out to be damaged so about 30% of the first shipment we received," said Madan.
Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Books in San Antonio, which was expected to open its storefront earlier this year but has remained closed due to Covid and is taking phone and online orders, said that half of her store's initial shipment was damaged. "We had 54 preorders and had barely enough books to cover that," said Jordan. "PRH has been very responsive and is sending out replacement books quickly."
The 768-page book comes packed six to a box with little to no packing material, booksellers report, leaving the books vulnerable to any mishandling. "I had five preorders, all six copies arrived damaged from PRH -- the box was completely split down one of the corners," said Diana Portwood, manager, Bob's Beach Books, Lincoln City, Or., who said she was instructed not to return the damaged books and to just dispose of them. "They're rushing me more, they say they should be here Thursday," she said.
Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago had no complaints beyond PRH splitting up its order of books into three batches of 75 copies each so that the store had to supplement the first batch delivered through a wholesaler. Preorders filled "one side of a library cart" manager Jamie Thomas said, and almost every order received on the store's website yesterday was for A Promised Land.
For some booksellers the Obama book is a non-event. Sara Luce Look, co-owner of Charis Books & More, a feminist bookstore in Decatur, Ga., ordered only a carton of Obama's book -- "and half of those arrived damaged" -- but presold 400 copies of another book releasing Tuesday, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (AK Press). "She's a local writer, a friend of the store, and its more our sort of thing," said Look.
Still, most booksellers will agree the big Obama book drop could not have come at a better time, particularly as most stores are looking to try and make up sales lost to the pandemic. "We presold 400, and are taking call after call today for more," said Kris Kleindienst, co-owner at Left Bank Books in St Louis, Mo., who on October 27 posted an appeal on social media pages asking for support. It noted, "The last two months of the year account for one-third of our whole year's revenue - and this month, we’re 46% behind October of last year." Tuesday, Kleindienst was happy to report, "Sales are brisk! We are literally running ourselves ragged to keep up with online orders. Business is way up."