Michelle Obama and Mike Pence Books Square Off as Publishers Hope for a Holiday Jolt

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg headlined “Michelle Obama, Mike Pence Books Square Off as Publishers Hope for a Holiday Jolt”:

New books from former first lady Michelle Obama and former Vice President Mike Pence, each set for release on Nov. 15, are among the high-profile titles publishers are hoping will boost sales this holiday season after a sluggish year.

Mrs. Obama and Mr. Pence will square off in bookstores a week after the midterm elections, with books tackling very different topics. Mrs. Obama’s book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” is a follow-up to her bestseller “Becoming,” which has sold more than 17 million copies globally. It offers advice and strategies for dealing with the challenges of daily life.

Mr. Pence’s memoir “So Help Me God” is being promoted by publisher Simon & Schuster as a work of political history that offers readers “the inside story of the Trump Administration by its second-highest ranking official.” It will include Mr. Pence’s description of what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, when he came under pressure from then-President Trump to overturn the presidential election, according to Simon & Schuster.

Jonathan Karp, chief executive of Paramount Global’s Simon & Schuster publishing group, said the publication date was chosen to avoid the potential distraction of the midterm elections.

“He’s never talked about his life in such depth,” said Mr. Karp. “And the events of Jan. 6th have created a high level of interest in what he has to say.”

Publishers are betting on an eclectic collection of nonfiction titles this holiday season, including several from celebrity authors that have already been released. These include Bob Dylan’s essay collection, “The Philosophy of Modern Song”; Bono’s memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story”; and actor Matthew Perry’s memoir, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.”

TV personality Joanna Gaines’s memoir, “The Stories We Tell: Every Piece of Your Story Matters,” publishes Nov. 8, while biographer Andrew Morton’s “The Queen: Her Life” follows on Nov. 15.

The year has been challenging for the publishing industry as consumers embraced the return to movie theaters, restaurants and sporting events. Print book sales for the year, through Oct. 29, slipped 5.3% to just over 595 million units, after growing 10.9% in 2021 and 8.4% in 2020 during the comparable period, according to book tracker NPD BookScan.

Publishers have struggled with supply-chain challenges that have resulted in paper shortages, higher freight costs and printing-plant capacity concerns, though it appears those issues are improving. “The consumer book business is in a better position than over the summer,” said Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, a trade group.

High inflation and economic uncertainty could weigh on consumers and affect their spending on items such as books. Rafi Mohammed, a pricing-strategy consultant and author of “The Art of Pricing,” said publishers should be nervous about breaching traditional pricing thresholds. Mr. Mohammed views a retail price of $30 to be a threshold. “Books are nonstaple items, and there is strong competition for entertainment spending,” he said.

Others played down those concerns. Lorraine Shanley, president of publishing industry consultants Market Partners International Inc., said she expects holiday book buying to be robust, despite the economic environment.

The books by Mrs. Obama and Mr. Pence will likely appeal to different audiences, said James Daunt, chief executive of Barnes & Noble, the largest U.S. bookstore chain. Mrs. Obama’s memoir “Becoming” provided an intimate profile of her life, from the death of her father to the start of her romance with former President Barack Obama. The title was embraced by readers and book clubs, transforming it into a literary phenomenon.

“This isn’t ‘Becoming,’ but she remains a very inspiring figure,” Mr. Daunt said.

olitical books aren’t selling as well as they once did at Barnes & Noble, he said. Still, the former vice president’s memoir could prove important, both politically and commercially.

”One holds one’s breath,” said Mr. Daunt. “There is the potential for exceptionally good content and if it is reinforced by being well written, we’re off to the races.”

Simon & Schuster said it is printing 275,000 copies of the former vice president’s memoir, a sizable number by industry standards. After Mr. Pence’s two-book deal was disclosed in April 2021, more than 200 Simon & Schuster staffers signed a petition urging their employer to cancel the agreement. The petition was rejected.

Dana Canedy, the publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint at the time, told Mr. Pence that he would have to submit to “rigorous editing,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

“I think people want to hear from him,” Ms. Canedy later said in an interview. She resigned as Simon & Schuster’s publisher in July but continues to serve as a consultant.

Crown, an imprint of Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House, is printing 2.5 million hardcover copies of Mrs. Obama’s “The Light We Carry” for the U.S. and Canada.

Mrs. Obama’s first book was a hit because “readers responded to the intimacy of her voice on the page,” said David Drake, president of Crown. “With the new book, she’s responding to the anxieties and concerns foremost on people’s minds today.”

One bookseller said her store already has a large number of preorders for Mrs. Obama’s book. “People are interested in how she’s coped with everything over the last couple of years,” said Anne Holman, co-owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. “She’s got a great voice, she’s funny, and she’s smart.”

Ms. Holman noted that Mr. Pence’s book comes after a number of titles in recent years about the Trump administration. “I don’t know what he’s going to tell me, but maybe there is even more stuff we don’t know,” she said.

Jeffrey Trachtenberg covers the book industry and is part of the Journal’s Media and Marketing Bureau in New York. During his tenure on the beat, he’s written about the rise of Amazon as the world’s dominant book retailer, the struggles of Barnes & Noble to reinvent itself for the e-commerce era, and consolidation among the biggest publishers as they try to maintain leverage in a changing industry.

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