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Does ‘The Lost Symbol’ hold the secret to reviving the publishing industry?

“Dan Brown’s latest historical/conspiratorial/symbological mystery had a stellar first day,” said Keith Staskiewicz in Entertainment Weekly. Brown’s The Lost Symbol sold more than a million copies in the U.S., Britain, and Canada Wednesday, breaking Barnes & Noble’s first-day sales record for an adult book—“‘adult,’ in this case, being shorthand for ‘not Harry Potter.’” However you read the sales data, it “spells major success for the author.”

That’s great for Dan Brown, said Alexandria Sage in Reuters. But it’s also welcome news for publishers and booksellers, who’ve “wallowed in a slump in recent years,” especially during the recession. The first-day sales pushed shares of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders higher Wednesday, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgraded Amazon to “buy.”

Sure, the release of The Lost Symbol was a “major moment” in the book world, said Jon Friedman in Marketwatch, but it “simply won’t save a beaten-down industry.” Why? First of all, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, having been handed the “hottest book in two-plus years,” are selling it “at a knockoff level,” as a sort of loss leader. “Do the math”—this doesn’t add up to good business.

The cheapest version of The Lost Symbol is on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, said Eric Engleman in TechFlash. And, amazingly, the $9.99 Kindle version is beating the discounted $16.17 hardback version on Amazon, as well as every other book at the world's largest bookstore. Amazon “scored a coup” by getting Random House to agree to release the Kindle version Wednesday, and its gamble is paying off.

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