The presidential autobiography most scholars and critics cite as setting the standard for the genre is the memoir of President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant's memoirs were first published in 1885—1886 by Charles L. Webster & Company, a subscription publishing house started by Mark Twain in 1884.
PW covered the publication of the book in its Aug. 22, 1885, issue, noting that demand was outpacing supply and that Webster was planning to go back to press for another 50,000 copies, following a first printing of 150,000. Because Webster sold its books through the mail and not through stores, the story noted that Webster has "taken every precaution to prevent the book being sold by the book trade." And in a sentence that will thrill agents, the story reported that Mrs. Grant "is to receive 75% of the profit of the book in America and 85% of that abroad."
Although the memoir proved to be a big seller, Charles L. Webster fell victim to the financial panic of the early 1890s and went bankrupt in 1893. With the memoir moving into the public domain, trade paperback editions have been published by Penguin Classics and Modern Library since 1999, and, since early this month, Barnes & Noble Books.
The title that appears to have benefited the most from the Clinton comparisons is the Modern Library edition, which was ranked in the 600s on Amazon in the middle of last week. The Penguin edition, though not faring as well on Amazon, had a good week in stores. Sales tripled at Borders and doubled at B&N. Marketing director John Fagan noted, "At this point in time, we've sold more copies than we sold all last year." After nine trips to press, there are 30,540 copies in print.