Publishers cash in on Obama book boom
The literati are back in charge of Washington as sales of books by, related to or merely mentioned by Barack Obama rocket ahead of the author-politician's entry into the White House.
Tomes by Obama himself occupy the top three spots on the New York Times bestseller list of paperback non-fiction books. A gushing illustrated tribute to the Democrat tops the newspaper's list of children's books.
Over on Amazon.com, the bestselling work of history is "Team of Rivals," an examination of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet by Doris Kearns Goodwin. At number eight and rising is Newsweek journalist Jonathan Alter's "The Defining Moment," which looks at the first 100 days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.
Lincoln and FDR books have disappeared off shelves after Obama, in an interview with CBS program "60 Minutes," mentioned that he was reading books about two other presidents who came to office in a time of crisis.
Next year marks the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 1809, and the theme of Obama's inauguration ceremony on January 20 will be "A New Birth of Freedom" -- words taken from the revered president's immortal Gettysburg Address.
Readers are intrigued not just by Obama's own words but by those of his celebrated predecessors as they work out his intentions in office to cope with two wars and an economy in a tailspin.
"This is part of a broader interest in Obama, trying to get into his mind and learn about how he sees the world," Zelizer told AFP. "And this is the Oprah (Winfrey) book era, where people love top 10 lists and featured books," he said.
Both the Goodwin and Alter historical works are published by Simon and Schuster, as is the top-selling children's book "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope," and the imprint is working overtime to meet demand.
Since late October, according to the hardcover division's publicity director Victoria Myer, Simon and Schuster has gone back to press "multiple times" to print another 275,000 copies of "Team of Rivals."
"It's interesting to have a reader in the White House again. We've not had that for eight years," said Mark Laframboise, chief buyer for Washington bookstore Politics and Prose.
"If Obama pops up on 60 Minutes and mentions a book, publishers have to scramble. At least with Oprah, they get word in advance and they're prepared," he said, referring to the chat show queen's sales-popping book club.
But pity the forgotten authors, like Obama's vanquished Republican rival, who cannot shift books for love or money now.
Like no other president since his great hero Lincoln, who won the Civil War and abolished slavery, Obama brings a writer's detachment to politics. Unlike Lincoln, he has profited handsomely from his literary endeavors.
On his Senate disclosure form, Obama reported just shy of 4.1 million dollars in book royalties last year on booming sales of his two memoirs -- "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope."
That was when he was merely a contender for the Democratic nomination. His literary payday this year is likely to be still higher with the addition of a third book, a collection of speeches called "Change We Can Believe In," which ranks third on the New York Times list behind the memoirs.
Zelizer said interest in a new president always spikes among the book-buying 2public, especially if the election winner is a non-Washington outsider. "We saw some of this with Jimmy Carter as well as Bill Clinton," he said. "But the interest in Obama is certainly stronger than anything I have studied."