5 million `Code' copies

The `Code' word is 5 million paperbacks

Brown's best-seller gets largest-ever first printing


For anyone who somehow missed picking up one of the 43 million hardcover copies of The Da Vinci Code that have been sold around the world in the past three years, the publisher is finally getting around to releasing the paperback -- in a big way.

On March 28, Random House will be placing 5 million softcover copies of Dan Brown's conspiracy-minded religious thriller in an array of outlets well beyond your neighborhood bookstore, including drugstores, supermarkets, gas station convenience stores, airport shops, truck stops and fast-food chains.

It's by far the largest-ever first printing for an adult softcover title -- by comparison, the hugely successful Harry Potter paperback editions have had first printings in the neighborhood of 2 million. But publishing observers say hordes of readers with an appetite for the tale of Renaissance sleuthing and Vatican skulduggery still might be out there.

"Five million paperbacks is a lot, but I think they'll do fine with this," said Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, a book-publishing trade magazine. "They'll go after the people who don't want to spend $22.95 on a hardcover, and there are a lot of people like that out there."

While the larger $14.95 "trade paperback" version will be sold mainly in bookstores, the $7.99 mass-market paperbacks are being aimed at "impulse buyers," the kind who don't hang out in bookstores. Whether these readers will be enticed by Brown's devotion to "the sacred feminine" in early Christian theology, and his notion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene tied the knot (and had a child), remains to be seen.

Why such a long wait for the Da Vinci Code paperback? And why now? Publishers concede that the May 19 release of the film version, starring Tom Hanks, shaped their strategy. For three years, "there wasn't a need to rush into paperback, because the book has done so well," said Suzanne Herz, associate publisher for Doubleday, the Random House imprint that released the hardcover. "But the movie gave us a unique marketing opportunity."

Few involved seem concerned that The Da Vinci Code is under attack in a London courtroom, where authors of a nonfiction book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, have alleged that Brown borrowed key ideas as well as the book's structure from them.

Last week, the plaintiffs were forced to acknowledge they had significantly overstated the extent to which Brown's book allegedly borrowed from their own.

Josh Getlin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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