Barack Obama’s record-setting memoir, ‘A Promised Land’, is causing headaches for indie bookstores that are struggling to fulfill orders

© Waterstones Waterstones on Gower Street in London on Wednesday. Waterstones
  • Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” sold almost 890,000 copies in 24 hours, leaving indie booksellers scrambling to handle orders.
  • Shipments from publishers are filling up spaces once used for shoppers and events at stores reckoning with COVID-19 lockdowns.
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At Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, boxes full of Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” kept arriving this week. By Tuesday, when the book went on sale, the booksellers had received two shipments from their suppliers. On midday Wednesday, they were expecting a third, and yet another on Friday. Their final shipment – the largest of them all – should arrive next week.

The problem isn’t selling the former president’s memoir, but finding a place for it in their shop.

Karen Hayes, who co-owns Parnassus with novelist Ann Patchett, said: “Because so much of our business is online, often out of state, we have had to devote the space in the middle of the store into a shipping center. It is the area of the store that was formally used for author events, which of course we can’t do now.”

It’s just one of many booksellers around the world enjoying a sales boost from the memoir, a 768-page volume that sold about 887,000 copies on its first day in the US and Canada, setting a new record for a book by an ex-president, according to a press release from Penguin Random House. George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” sold about 220,000, while Bill Clinton’s “My Life” managed 400,000, according to the Associated Press.

At Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., Co-Owner Bradley Graham said he expects many shoppers to give the book as a gift this Christmas, meaning the launch is a sort of unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Demand so far has been very strong, he said Wednesday.

“We’ve sold several hundred copies already and expect to sell hundreds more,” he said.

In London, a city mostly in lockdown, Waterstones had put in new Obama-themed window displays in some shops, said Kate McHale, campaigns manager.

“For those shops currently under lockdown, windows and social media have been essential ways to celebrate both in the run up and on publication. We’ve had many customers collect orders safely from shops and look forward to strong sales continuing through into Christmas,” she said in an emailed statement.

Daunt Books in London on Monday posted a tweet saying their “sleeves were rolled up” as they waited for the book to be delivered. Then they followed up with a wordless image: a mountain of boxes, presumably full of “A Promised Land.”

At Florida’s Books & Books, owner Mitchell Kaplan said his staff had pushed pre-sales of “A Promised Land” hard enough that it was already their 2020 bestseller. This week, his work shifted to getting parcels shipped out to readers. He said they were seeing some in-person shopping for the book, too.

At Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, staffers were celebrating large sales on Tuesday.

“It was wonderful to have a big book launch again and we really hope that it will give a much-needed boost to all of the independent bookstores,” said Emily Brodowicz, marketing coordinator.

Hundreds of boxes full of “A Promised Land” arrived at RJ Julia Bookstore in Madison, Connecticut, over the last few days, said Lori Fazio, chief operating officer. She said unboxing and packing them up for delivery kept her staff busy, although it helped they were as excited about the book as the customers.

“One reason we love days and weeks like this is because customers are as excited as we are about a shiny new book on the day it comes out,” she added.

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