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Update:Stephen King Scares Up Interest in E-Books

The king of the horror story, Stephen King, single-handedly brought the relatively unknown electronic book market into the mainstream as 400,000 copies of King’s 66-page “Riding the Bullet” were downloaded or ordered March 14 – the day of the e-book’s release.

It was the first time a best-selling author published a major piece of work exclusively in electronic format. Sensing this may be a watershed event for e-book products, the publisher, Simon & Schuster, and many of the major players in the field marketed its launch heavily.

The efforts appear to have workeds as barnesandnoble.com, one of the sites that hyped the release, received 2.5 download requests per second during the first 24 hours.

The overwhelming demand caused a severe online bottleneck, and many readers will have to wait to get King’s story. At press time, many of the e-book’s vendors, including Amazon.com (which is distributing the book for free), were collecting e-mail addresses and planned to ship the e-book shortly.

“The good news is that lots of people showed up for this. It’s an important first step,” said Adam Rothberg, director of corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, New York. “We learned that people will respond to reading in a paperless environment, but we probably needed more servers all around.”

To market the e-book, Simon & Schuster and a number of the vendors promoted the release electronically.

“All [Simon & Schuster] marketing is being done digitally in the spirit of the e-book,” said Rothberg, “from the press releases to the e-mailing to our Stephen King mailing list.” Rothberg would not reveal the number of names on the list, although he described it as “one of our largest.”

Barnesandnoble.com promoted “Riding the Bullet” by giving it away on the first day of its release. The eBook is normally priced at $2.50. Additionally, it sent e-mails to members of its list of four million consumers that have stated an interest in the horror genre, Stephen King or e-books.

Other vendors involved in the push include SoftLock, Glassbook, Peanutpress.com, NetLibrary, SoftBook and Rocket eBook. A number of vendors ran a joint advertisement in USA Today last Tuesday. A wide-reaching public relations campaign netted coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and on ABC News.

eBooks are not new. They have historically been used as an underground way for small businesses, consultants and new authors to market themselves. Many have written free eBooks hoping they will spread virally, acting as a brochure for their services. Some have carried advertising.

“eBooks are a step above e-mail newsletters,” said Eva Almida, owner of eBooksnbytes.com based in Kitimat, British Columbia. “For underground online marketers, it’s cheaper than advertising.”

While smaller eBooks continue to circulate the Web, Random House, HarperCollins, Doubleday, Simon & Schuster and other major publishers have become involved with the medium. Many eBooks have been launched as teasers for or in conjunction with the release of a hardcover book. Works from best-selling authors such as Frank McCourt, Scott Turow and Stephen King’s books have been released in eBook form.

The market has been growing steadily. barnesandnoble.com, for example, have increased their eBooks titles by more than 50 percent during the past six months.

eBooks will only get bigger in the coming year, according to Tom Morrow, SoftBook Press Inc., Menlo Park, CA. SoftBook’s parent company, Gemstar International Group Inc. will launch what he described as a multi-million dollar marketing campaign.

Perhaps those with the most to gain from the coverage eBooks have received are the makers of handheld eBook readers such as SoftBook and Rocket eBook, which are owned by Gemstar International Group Inc. The readers allow users access to thousands of pages of periodicals, books and documents through a handheld device.

To promote the Stephen King eBook, SoftBook provided a promotional message to all users when they logged onto their readers. Morrow refused to quantify how many consumers currently own a SoftBook reader other than to say the number was in the tens of thousands.

Consumers can also read eBook’s using their PCs by downloading free applications such Adobe Acrobat Reader and the Glass Reader. eBooks can also be viewed via personal digital assistants (through site’s like NetLibrary and Peanutpress.com).

In most cases, excerpts from the book can be viewed and then downloaded. The technology (created by SoftLock) prohibits consumers from transferring the file from their system.

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