Weekly Web Watch - King fires a ’Bullet’ through the heart of the publishing industry

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, 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,

actually.



Stephen King and whoever managed to persuade him to bring out an

electronic book, downloadable over the Internet. And they both deserve

PRWeek awards.



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

readers.



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

dollars 2.50.



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

again.’



Simon & Schuster, publisher of the book, can’t be too displeased

either.



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

stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com



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