New King E-Book To Sell Via ‘Honor System’

Novelist Stephen King, already a trailblazer in electronic publishing, will begin a revolutionary online experiment Monday when he sells the first installment of his new novel using the “honor system.”

Consumers who download the beginning of “The Plant” on King’s Web site will be asked to send a check or money order for one dollar (US$). The second installment will be available for download on August 21st. If payments for the downloads equal or exceed 75 percent of the total, King will post part three in September.

King has made no secret of his interest in using the Internet to experiment with the publishing industry in ways traditional publishing houses find unsettling.

In a message on his Web site, King says, “My friends, we have a chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare. Not only are we going glueless, look Ma, no e-Book! No tiresome encryption!”

King said he is counting on honest readers and a story that will be good enough to keep them reading. The novel will be posted in installments ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 words.

E-Commerce Meets Big Publishing

In addition to King’s unbridled fascination with the mix of electronic commerce and publishing, the author’s real inspiration for the latest venture was a reader who mailed him $2.50 out of guilt over having read his last e-book, “Riding the Bullet,” for free from an unauthorized Web Site.

In March, “Riding the Bullet” caused an uproar among publishing stalwarts who have been slow to embrace the concept of taking their conservative industry into the digital age.

Even King was shocked when more than 500,000 copies of his e-book were ordered in the first 24 hours after it was offered online. The book catapulted the fledgling electronic publishing market to the forefront of both the electronic commerce and traditional publishing markets.

Jack Romanos, president of King’s publisher, the venerable Simon & Schuster, said he was “stunned” by the demand.

Consumers in Control

Publishing executives and e-commerce industry observers are bracing themselves for a similar stampede on Monday, when “The Plant” becomes available.

King’s latest idea seems to fulfill the early promise of electronic commerce as a vehicle for consumers to drive the market and participate in the new economy. “Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds,” King says in a message on his Web site. “No stealing from the blind newsboy!”

Electronic Vampires

Meanwhile, new work from another novelist in the mystery/horror genre, Anne Rice, was given an electronic debut on Wednesday. The first chapter of Rice’s latest vampire novel, “Merrick,” was offered on “Contentville,” a Web site that has also acquired e-publishing rights to James Ellroy’s next book, “Widespread Panic.” The second chapter of Rice’s novel will appear next month.

Rice’s book is officially due to be released by Knopf publishers in October. Contentville’s strategy in releasing part of Rice’s new book has much to do with the fusion of e-commerce and publishing. The site also has an Anne Rice boutique, selling other selections from the author’s body of work.

Contentville blends e-publishing and e-tailing on its site, selling everything from books to articles, TV transcripts, screenplays and even dissertations.

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