Dan Brown in 2003, about the time of
"The Da Vinci Code's"
Two years ago this month, Doubleday published a
historical thriller with an
announced first printing of 85,000 and high hopes that a little-known
writer named Dan Brown would catch on with the general public.
"We surely expected to have a huge success, but I don't think anyone
dreamed it would become a historic publication," says Stephen Rubin,
president and publisher of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group.
If the "Harry Potter" books stand as the essential
popular read for young people, then "The Da Vinci Code" has captured the
crown for grown-ups. A word-of-mouth
sensation from the moment it came out, Brown's
controversial mix of storytelling and speculation remains high on
best-seller lists even as it begins its third year since publication.
Twenty-five million books, in 44 languages, are in
print worldwide and no end is in sight. Booksellers expect "The Da Vinci
Code" to remain a best-seller well into 2005. A planned film version by
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard should bring in even more readers. And
at a time when consumers are supposedly minding their budgets, sales for
the $24.95 hardcover have been
so good that Doubleday still has set no date for a paperback
"It's been our No. 1 fiction book for two years in a row, and I can't
remember another time that happened," said Bob Wietrak, vice president of
merchandising for Barnes & Noble Inc. "People come into our store all
the time and ask for it or ask for books that are like it."
Thanks to "The Da Vinci Code," about the only books that seem able to
keep up are Brown's previous novels. "Deception Point," first released in
2001, now has 3.7 million copies in print, according to Simon &
Schuster, Brown's previous publisher. "Angels and Demons," published in
2000 and featuring "Da Vinci" protagonist Robert Langdon, has more than 8
million copies in print.
The unprecedented success of "The Da Vinci Code" has been helped by
wide access, with the book on sale everywhere from Wal-Mart to airports to
supermarkets, often proving more popular than the mass market paperbacks
available at the same outlets.
"The Da Vinci Code" has also thrived during a time when both literary
and commercial novels struggled, when a tight economy, competition from
other media and election-year tensions drove the public to nonfiction
works or away from books altogether. Publishers and booksellers say
Brown's novel has worked by combining narrative excitement and provocative
-- and disputed -- historical detail.