Bidding for Obamas’ memoirs tops $60m in record-breaking auction

Penguin Random House and HarperCollins among publishers pursuing the deal

Former US president Barack Obama: The story of his two terms was always likely to attract huge offers. Photograph: Ron Sachs/Pool via Bloomberg

Former US president Barack Obama: The story of his two terms was always likely to attract huge offers. Photograph: Ron Sachs/Pool via Bloomberg

 

A blockbuster auction for the global rights to separate memoirs by Barack and Michelle Obama has reached more than $60 million (€57 million), according to people with knowledge of the process, a record sum for US presidential memoirs.

Several publishers, including Penguin Random House, which published Mr Obama’s previous three books, and HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, have expressed interest in the most hotly anticipated publishing deal of the year.

Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS, and Macmillan, are also in the mix for the joint deal. A win by HarperCollins would bring the Obamas into the same publishing house as Bill O’Reilly, the author and Fox News Channel ­presenter who has been one of the former president’s fiercest critics.

Penguin Random House is leading the pack for the Obamas’ two-book publishing deal, according to those briefed on the auction, with a decision on the winning bid expected imminently. The publisher declined to comment, as did Robert Barnett, Mr Obama’s literary agent, who is fielding offers on behalf of the former president. A spokesman for Mr Obama also declined to comment.

Previous presidents

The sum offered would eclipse other book deals secured by departing presidents. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, paid $15 million for the rights to Bill Clinton’s 2004 My Life when he left the White House, while George W Bush made an estimated $10 million from Decision Points, which was published by Crown.

One executive from a publisher interested in the rights, who asked not to be named, said that while Penguin Random House had made a “big move”, others were watching the situation closely before deciding their next steps.

Mr Barnett has become a power player for politicians seeking big book deals. He brokered Tony Blair’s £4.5 million contract with Penguin Random House, which is jointly owned by UK education group Pearson and Bertelsmann, the German media group. Pearson last month said it had exercised an option to sell its stake in the group; discussions are said to be continuing.

Having gained a reputation as a writer before entering the White House with best-sellers Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, Mr Obama’s story of his two terms was always likely to attract huge offers. But the prospect of a joint deal with his wife has propelled the auction to record-breaking levels.

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