*Stephen King Sticks It to Publishers

Stephen King, who single-handedly put the eBook industry on the map earlier this year with “Riding the Bullet,” is turning his back on eBooks and offline book publishing. Today, “The Plant,” King's latest serial novel, is available for download at StephenKing.com, thus avoiding the use of a traditional publisher or eBook provider. The author is asking consumers to send $1 each time they download an installment of the book from his site.

“We have a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare,” King said in a statement on the site.

Big publishing does not seem concerned. “Everyone's always been able to self-publish. It's not something that's new,” said Amy Gwiazdowski, spokeswoman at the Association of American Publishers, New York. “Whether or not it's going to bring down huge publishers, I'm not saying it's going to or not going to. I'm thinking of whether or not I would want to read an entire book on my screen. I'm more comfortable taking a book off my shelf.”

Simon & Schuster, King's publisher for his previous work, “Riding the Bullet,” could not be reached for comment.

The emerging eBook market would seem to have the most to lose by King's latest leveraging of the Internet. However, this does not appear to be the case.

“It's wonderful. This is another experiment that again brings attention to the idea of digital books,” said Tom Morrow, spokesman at Gemstar TV Guide International, Redwood City, CA, creators of SoftBook and Rocket eBook digital reading devices.

“He's brought considerable attention to the eBook category. 'Riding the Bullet' was the seminal event for the industry,” Morrow said. “Right now we're in the missionary stages of the industry. These kind of events are good.”

“The Plant” will be available on King's site in 5,000-word to 7,000-word installments. The first appears today. The second will be available on Aug. 21.

As long as King receives payment for 75 percent of downloads, he will post a third installment. If someone steals from the “blind paperboy,” as King put it, the story and the experiment end. “If you pay, the story rolls. If you don't, the story folds,” he said.

Whether this honor system will work remains to be seen.

“With the last book, it was a matter of hours before it was pirated and posted on a Web site, and that was encrypted,” Gwiazdowski said. “It only takes one person.”

However, “he stands to make a lot of money if it works,” she said.

King made somewhat of a killing off his eBook venture. “Riding the Bullet” would have earned the author roughly $10,000 if he had sold it to a magazine. Instead, the eBook release netted him $450,000, according to reports.

More than 400,000 copies were downloaded on the day of its release in March. The book retailed at $2.50, but many online book vendors, such as BarnesandNoble.com, gave it away for free for the first 24 hours of its release.

King's take on the likelihood of his latest experiment succeeding is: “My kids, who know a lot more about the Web than I do, say, ‘No way.’ My accountant, the fiscal hard-ass of all time, says he thinks it will.”

While this project may generate excitement, the likelihood of PC downloads replacing eBooks is slim, Morrow said.

“We think from common sense and scientific study that reading long-form content on a PC or [personal digital assistant] isn't going to be done by the vast majority of people,” Morrow said. “It's just difficult to read in a sitting up position. People want to read in bed curled up in their favorite position.”

SoftBook and Rocket eBook devices allow users access to thousands of pages of periodicals, books and documents through a handheld reader that “looks like a book, reads like a book and turns pages like a book. You don't have to scroll down like on a PC,” Morrow said.

eBooks can be downloaded after payment is made, but unlike King's latest venture, encryption technology prohibits consumers from transferring the file from their system to prevent pass-alongs.

King admitted that pass-alongs are inevitable. However, he said the upside of the experiment is worth it.

“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,” he wrote.

“Is this the end of publishing? Good God, no. I love my editors, and I like my publisher. I also like books.”

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