New Delhi: If Barack Obama were ever to feel that his presidential salary of $400,000 (Rs1.89 crore) a year isn’t quite enough, he may still be able to depend on the royalties from his two books, which have been selling better than ever since victory in the US presidential election last week.
Bookshops across India have run out of stock of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Obama’s critically acclaimed memoirs.
In such a situation, Canongate Publishing, the books’ publisher in the UK, would ordinarily have rushed in imported stock—except that it has run out of stock there as well.
“What we’ve seen in India, over the last few days, is part of a global trend, with more people suddenly wanting to know more about Obama,” says Nandan Jha, Canongate’s representative in India. “Demand has jumped in the United States and in Europe as well, as it has in India.”
Canongate’s managing director, Jamie Byng has said that he expects to have orders for 500,000 new copies by the end of the year, and that the books could vie for top spot with its previous bestseller, Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning The Life of Pi. Combined, Obama’s two books have sold at least three million copies in the US.
In the nine months since the release of the books in India, each book has sold between 3,000 and 4,000 copies. Impressively, then, the new surge of demand has been strong enough for Canongate to plan to bring in an additional 3,000 copies of each book, to arrive in Indian bookstores by the weekend. “We anticipate that this surge of interest will last right up until Obama’s inauguration as President in January,” Jha says.
During the presidential campaign, Jha says, readers tended to reach for The Audacity of Hope, Obama’s second book and a virtual political manifesto, to better understand his policies. Now that he has won, the more autobiographical Dreams from my Father is in greater demand, “because people want to understand him as a person as well”.
Larger bookstores such as Landmark have stocked both Obama volumes for months now, and they’ve been strong sellers throughout, says M. Madhu, category head of books at Landmark. “We’ve also seen a slight spurt in the last few days, but the really strong demand will come from bookshops that hadn’t stocked them previously, and that want to sell the books now, after Obama’s win,” he says.
“Even people in smaller towns in India are now talking about Obama, and they’re the ones asking for the books,” Jha says.
Some media reports have mentioned Canongate’s plans to translate the books into “dozens” of languages, although Jha says there has been no interest from Indian vernacular publishers as yet.
But Obama may drive the Indian publishing industry in other ways. New Horizon Media, a leading Tamil publishing house, will release its own biography of Obama, rapidly written in-house, within the week.
“In the vernacular world, there’s no demand for Obama’s own books. In fact, I doubt if many people even know that he has written books,” says K. Satyanarayan, director of New Horizon. “To bid for the rights is a lengthy process, and then the translation isn’t easy, because in the vernacular, the books will need to have a more colloquial style. Really, I don’t think it matters if the book is by Barack Obama, not as much as the fact that the book be about Barack Obama.”