The Obamas are putting a new spin on an old playbook. Former first couples have been parlaying their White House credentials into lucrative next acts for decades, primarily through board seats, best sellers, and the public-speaking circuit. But a confluence of circumstances makes the Obamas’ postpresidential livelihood a sui generis proposition: Barack Obama’s proven gifts as a best-selling author; Michelle Obama’s saintly popularity, which rivals or exceeds her husband’s; the rise of streaming entertainment and social media as mass distribution engines; the intense nostalgia felt by more than half the country for the era in which the Obamas reigned.
Even by the remunerative standards of presidential book writing, the $65 million that Penguin Random House reportedly paid Barack and Michelle Obama was unprecedented, as was the rock-star-level arena tour that Michelle Obama embarked on to promote her book, Becoming. Barack Obama’s presidential memoir has been coming along more slowly. It’s not lost on the Obama brain trust that publishing it in the middle of the 2020 campaigns could be helpful to the Democratic nominee, but ultimately, “the timing is driven by the writing process, and it will come out when it’s ready,” an Obama confidante told me.
As for their other media endeavors, the Obamas’ multiyear content deal with Netflix is rumored to rival their publishing payday. Their agreement to make podcasts for Spotify isn’t quite as lofty, but it is still said to be in the $10 million to $20 million range, according to sources in the audio scene. Additional media projects will presumably follow, all under the banner of Higher Ground Productions, which the Obamas incorporated last year.