Prince Harry Memoir Must Sell 1.7M Copies to Make Money…

Meanwhile, the big publishing event of 2023 drops next week. Prince Harry’s headline-generating memoir publishes on January 10. Since there has been much discussion around the eye-watering number on the overall deal — a $20 million package — I thought it would be worth doing some rough calculations on what it will take for Penguin Random House to turn a profit. I’m always fascinated by the economics behind deals like this. It’s also an interesting exercise because it spotlights the ways in which publishing resembles the movie business with big bets and big returns on tentpole releases. (Don’t feel bad if the math makes your eyes glaze over. I get it. Skip past “The Economics” section and head right to “The Takeaway” if you just want the bottom line.)

On the heels of the hotly-debated Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan, the next big thing on the British royal drama calendar is Spare, dropping only months after King Charles’ ascension. The $20 million advance from Penguin Random House is reported to be for this book and possibly three others, though as with so much about the deal, the publisher hasn’t offered many details beyond announcing Spare.

Whatever Harry got from PRH, it’s on top of a reported $30 million from Spotify and a $100 million from Netflix for the couple. PRH hasn’t been totally clear if the deal will include a Meghan Markle book, though the Daily Mail is now reporting that a memoir from her could be the fourth book in the deal. Harry said he’s giving the proceeds from the book to charity, but all that’s been revealed so far is a $1.5 million donation to Sentebale, a charity he founded to help kids in Lesotho and Botswana with HIV/AIDS, and another £300,000 to U.K.-based WellChild.

Confirmed details on the book’s contents have been scarce beyond what was in the original announcement in which Harry stated he was “writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become.” Topics include his service in Afghanistan, his marriage, fatherhood, and of course, his relationships with his father, brother, Prince William, and grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth. PRH describes it as a story of “raw, unflinching honesty… full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom.”

It will be interesting to see how much appetitethe public still has for Harry and Meghan. They’ve delivered strong ratings so far. Their March 2021 primetime sit down with Oprah drew 17 million viewers in the U.S. — the second largest non-sports audience of the TV season (trailing only the post-Super Bowl episode of The Equalizer) — and an amazing 11.3 million viewers in the much smaller U.K. Streaming ratings are harder to quantify, but by all estimates, Harry & Meghan is a huge hit for Netflix, drawing some 28 million viewers in the first week, making it the best doc debut in the streamer’s history. Still, reviews and viewer reaction were just so-so, with the series scoring just a 38 percent fresh from critics and 18 percent from viewers on Rotten Tomatoes. Undoubtedly, there will be concerns about overexposure and public fatigue, since all Harry really has to offer is his family feud and marriage — and this will be the third big go-around for the story. But early indications are positive — as of Jan. 3, Spare is the No. 2 bestselling book on Amazon not just in the U.S., but also the U.K., Canada and Australia.

When PRH announced the deal, it targeted a late 2022 release, but the Queen’s September death (and possibly Harry’s continual revisions thereafter) pushed the release into early 2023. The book is being co-written with novelist and journalist J.R. Moehringer, who ghosted memoirs for Andre Agassi and Phil Knight, but might be better-known in Hollywood for the adaptations of his own memoir, The Tender Bar, and the LA Times article that became the 2007 Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Resurrecting the Champ.


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