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Stephen King blazes trail for web publication

by Edd Dumbill -- 2000/07/21

The author Stephen King is offering his latest book, The Plant, as a download from his web site on an honor basis at $1 per story segment.

Rejecting even the e-books model of encrytped electronic content, King will let reader contributions determine whether he publishes the whole book. The first two instalments will be published July 24th and August 21st. If the response is sufficient, he will continue providing instalments through to the end of the book.

Answering his own question "Is this the end of publishing?", King writes:

Good God, no. I love my editors, and I like my publisher. I also like books. I'm a conservative on this particular subject and I love the smell of glue. But if I could break some trail for all the midlist writers, literary writers, and just plain marginalized writers who see a future outside the mainstream, that's great.

The Washington Post has a report on King's decision, carrying comment from publishing consultant Lorraine Shanley:

"This is the moment that everyone has been fearing," said publishing consultant Lorraine Shanley. "It will raise the bar for publishers," forcing them to prove that they actually add value to the electronic publishing process.

In the worst-case scenario for publishers, Shanley said, "this will end up opening Pandora's box," as writers try to develop electronic versions of their work themselves.

According to the author of the Post article, King isn't taking much of a chance: if only 20% of those who bought King's first e-book "Riding the Bullet" pay for 10 parts of "The Plant", says David Streitfield, King would earn $1 million.

Whether the model scales successfully from an author like King down to less famous or even previously unpublished authors looks uncertain, but his move will surely inspire many to find out.