New Delhi: Very appropriately, Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol, is not only about secrets and stratagems, it is also subject to them. In a scaled-down version of the nervy, guarded atmosphere last seen in India for the release of the final Harry Potter book in 2007, The Lost Symbol will reach book retailers only a couple of hours before it goes on sale at 6am on Tuesday.
Despite the six-year wait for the first of Brown’s books since the explosively successful The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol has not whipped up nearly as much frenzy as the Harry Potter series. Only 60,000 copies will ship out to Indian retailers on the first day; in comparison, 240,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were pre-ordered from India.
But Random House’s security arrangements for The Lost Symbol—to crush plot leaks as well as potential pirates—are no less hawkish. In a memo to customers, Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer (CEO) of Amazon.com, wrote that he had “agreed to keep our stockpile under 24-hour guard in its own chain-link enclosure, with two locks requiring two separate people for entry”.
In India, Random House has retained law firm Akash Chittranshi and Associates—intellectual property (IP) specialists who worked on Deathly Hallows—“to prevent the piracy/unauthorized reproduction” of the book, according to a statement.
“In addition, a leading IP-investigation firm (named IP Boutique) has been retained to investigate and keep under surveillance known offenders and their business locations.”
Jyoti Taneja, an advocate at Akash Chittranshi, mentions that agreements have already been made with police in various cities “to make teams available within 24 hours in case of any pirated book selling, and to help initiate criminal action against them.”
Manoj Satti, a sales administrator at Random House India, refuses to discuss specific security arrangements, beyond calling them “exhaustive and rigorous”.
He does disclose that Random House India has appointed a freight forwarder to hold the books in the days immediately leading up to the release, and to finally transfer them—accompanied by heavy security—to retailers.
This near-paranoia is familiar to Thomas Abraham, now CEO of Hachette Book Publishing India but earlier CEO of Penguin Books India and so in charge of the launch of Deathly Hallows. “There were just two of us at Penguin who knew where the books were going—to a new warehouse in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra,” Abraham remembers. “We ran a decoy, saying our old warehouse was out of bounds for two weeks—and even then we had people coming in, masquerading as officials, trying to get in.”
Penguin did get complaints from retailers, Abraham says, about receiving books in too little time to prepare them for sale. In two or three instances, he adds, some of the Group 4 Security guards were even offered “a couple of lakhs to break the embargo, because the booksellers had promised copies on the first day to customers who were too far away for first-day delivery.”
The complexities only multiply for online retail. K. Vaitheeswaran, chief operating officer of Indiaplaza, recalls his elaborate preparations for Deathly Hallows, measures that will be in place again for The Lost Symbol. “We’ll print out all the invoices and air bills in advance, and pre-pack them—and then drop the books into packages when we get them on the 15th,” he says.
For Deathly Hallows, Indiaplaza rented extra space in a wedding hall, hired 15 temporary staff, and paid its courier company to have vans standing by in each metro’s airport, to concentrate exclusively on making its 15,000 promised Harry Potter deliveries.
“It’s a huge cost we incur, in such cases,” Vaitheeswaran says. But with The Lost Symbol, the hysteria has been noticeably cooler, he points out. “For this book, I think we expect to pack and ship a few thousand orders on the day.”