We have one man to thank for the flurry of articles over the past week about the future of book publishing. Well, two people, actually.
We have one man to thank for the flurry of articles over the past
week about the future of book publishing. Well, two people,
Stephen King and whoever managed to persuade him to bring out an
electronic book, downloadable over the Internet. And they both deserve
Let me explain. For the past couple of years, electronic book publishing
has bumbled along without anybody taking much notice, least of all the
’conventional’ book publishing industry. There are about 150 publishers
selling a few thousand e-book titles on the Net. If a book sells a few
hundred copies, it’s considered a success. The all-time best selling
e-book so far sold under 10,000 copies - hardly anything to get excited
about. And then there’s the disdain heaped on e-book authors and
publishers by the conventional publishing world, which treats Internet
upstarts with roughly the same respect given to ’vanity publishing,’
where authors pay ’publishers’ to get a few hundred copies of their
pride and joy printed.
But all that changed last week. In case you haven’t turned on the TV or
opened a newspaper since March 14, Stephen King’s latest work, a short
story called ’Riding the Bullet,’ was published that day in electronic
form, available only on the Internet. You can download it in different
formats for PC, Palm Pilot or various kinds of portable electronic
The response was, well, favorable. So favorable that just about every
site offering it was overwhelmed, with people sometimes struggling for
days to download it successfully. The story is officially priced at
Amazon, knowing a good PR opportunity when it sees one, was giving it
away free - free, that is, until the site got so overwhelmed that the
book had to be removed completely. When I last looked, Amazon was
carrying the announcement: ’Due to incredible demand, we’re temporarily
unable to get the story to you. However, if you give us your name and
e-mail address, we’ll notify you as soon as the story’s available
Simon & Schuster, publisher of the book, can’t be too displeased
Its site (www.simonsays.com) probably got more traffic last week than it
had in its entire existence.
It took one of the most popular authors of our time to put e-books on
the map. Now book publishers don’t know whether they’re staring into the
abyss or at a new world of opportunity.
Downloadable, electronic books carry with them all the same problems of
copyright and potential piracy that downloadable music does. If you
really like something, you just can’t resist making a copy and sending
it to your friends. It’s too easy not to.
But there are benefits, too. E-publishing greatly shortens the
publishing cycle, which can take up to a year with printed books. It
means authors can address much more immediate issues and get their work
in front of readers while it still means something to them. It will also
allow publishers to test-market new authors in a way they never could
before - cheaply.
If a book proves popular in electronic form, then a publisher has a good
idea that it is likely to sell in print. And it could well lead to the
reintroduction of an almost-lost art form, the serial novel.
The genie has been let out of the bottle - something Stephen King has
made a career out of doing.
Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at