Attendees walk past a painting of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg)

Michelle Obama’s Memoir Pays Off for a German Media Giant

(Bloomberg) -- Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s best-selling memoir helped boost revenue last year at German media giant Bertelsmann SE to the highest in more than a decade.

Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House sold nearly 10 million copies of “Becoming,” the account of Obama’s journey from Chicago’s South Side to the White House. That helped lift Bertelsmann’s total sales to 17.7 billion euros ($20 billion), the highest since 2007.

“We believe this could become the most successful memoir ever,” Bertelsmann Chief Executive Officer Thomas Rabe told reporters Tuesday in Berlin.

Michelle Obama’s Memoir Pays Off for a German Media Giant

The book’s strong sales are a boon for Rabe’s strategy to bet big on publishing after Bertelsmann bought a 22 percent share in Penguin Random House from Pearson Plc for about $1 billion in 2017, raising its stake to 75 percent.

Penguin Random House in 2017 agreed to pay a reported $65 million to publish separate books from Barack and Michelle Obama. The deal extended a relationship with the publisher that stretched back to when the two-term former president was still an Illinois senator.

“Becoming” continues to sell well and could become a “modern classic” that provides continuous revenue every year, the publisher’s CEO, Markus Dohle, said. Dohle said he hopes that Barack Obama’s memoir will be published this year and will sell similarly well.

Sales at Penguin Random House also rose last year thanks to a foothold in fast-growing markets such as India, the growth of audio books, and recent blockbusters including John Grisham’s “The Reckoning,” and political thriller “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.

Bertelsmann wants to increase the share of digital revenue across its units, including at broadcaster RTL Group SA, which is trying to build local video streaming platforms in countries from Germany to France. RTL’s sales rose 2.1 percent to a record of 6.5 billion euros.

Rabe said Apple Inc.’s push into video streaming doesn’t overly concern him because Bertelsmann wants to build top local platforms instead of competing for global audiences.

“The video-on-demand market is crowded," Rabe said. "Our strategy is local, local, local.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.