Amazon sidesteps battle over Dan Brown book

E-tailer was poised for battle with Random House over "The Lost Symbol," but the publisher has backed down, paving the way for a Kindle version to appear the same day as the hardcover.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Amazon.com's Kindle may be the most-popular e-reader on the market, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy with it.

Amazon announced earlier this week that it will, in fact, sell a Kindle version of "Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol." The book is slated for release on September 15.


The Kindle version of "The Lost Symbol" was in limbo since Amazon first placed the hardcover version on its site for preorder. Its publisher, Random House, was concerned with releasing a Kindle version on the same day as the hardcover version. The company reasoned that with such a low price ($9.99 on the Kindle) compared with the hardcover version, which Amazon is currently offering for $16.17, that Kindle sales would cannibalize hardcover sales.

Random House's issues set the stage for what could have been a major battle between Amazon and publishers. Dan Brown's book promises to be a bestseller the day it's released. Random House might have had some leverage.

But after entering into discussions with Amazon, Random House announced last week that it had approved a Kindle version.

"Now that all of our security and logistical issues surrounding the e-book of 'The Lost Symbol' have been resolved, the e-book will be released simultaneously with the hardcover on September 15," the publisher announced. It didn't elaborate on what those issues were.

Amazon followed up that statement with its own confirmation this week.

It's interesting that Amazon felt the need to write its own press release to announce the book's Kindle availability. It underlies the importance of Brown's book and perhaps of Amazon's desire to show other publishers that Random House is allowing one of the biggest books of the year to hit the Kindle at a reduced price on the same day it's offered as a hardcover in stores.

Stephen King's next book, "Under the Dome," which is slated for a November 10 release, could potentially challenge Kindle policy if its publisher, Simon & Schuster, decides to press the issue.

Kindle DX
Publishers are wary of some aspects of the Kindle. Amazon

Amazon will continue to face those discussions as long as publishers only worry about their hardcover sales. Publishers believe that if people can buy a book on the Kindle store for $10, they will have no reason to buy a hardcover version for $16--or more.

Amazon's troubles are quite similar to Apple's battles with the music industry. Publishers are set in their ways. They don't necessarily welcome e-books, and they're deathly afraid of Amazon building too much power in the space through both hardcover and Kindle sales. The larger the Kindle's following, the less leverage they will have, they believe.

Apple can relate. It has been forced to deal with a wary music industry since its iPod started becoming the dominant force in the industry. The music industry is scared of iTunes and Apple. Book publishers don't want to put themselves in the same position with the Kindle and Amazon.

But it's possible that they are. Random House has already backed down. Simon & Schuster is up next to challenge Amazon and its Kindle. It will be interesting to see whether it goes to battle or follows Random House's example.

In either case, its decision will set a precedent.

Disclosure: Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS. CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.

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