Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Tribute to a Pioneer

One of Miss Snark's snarklings made an editorial comment this evening about "pod-publishing." Since I had NO idea what the man was talking about--and I'm not at all sure he did, either--I chose not to respond. However, he went on to say this:

"I could see quality writers going this route, but first they would have to overcome the sleazy reputation of pod-publishing as well as the failure of Steven (sic) King's web publishing."

Ignoring the fact that he didn't know how to spell the man's first name, I did respond to the snarkling's disparaging comment regarding "the failure" of King's experiment in e-publishing.

I was once a very big Stephen King fan. Early King. The King of "Salem's Lot" and "The Shining." I found his later works dense and incomprehensible, and think it's a shame that his editors stopped editing him. However, on one subject, I am very clear. Stephen King's experiment in e-publishing was bold, brave and inspired. I want to talk about that today.

King first burst onto the public consciousness in 1974-75 with the release of his books, "Carrie" and "Salem's Lot." He tapped into readers' desire to be scared out of their wits. I can still remember being a kid reading "Salem's Lot" under my mother's wall crucifix. By 1995, he had become an icon and e-publishing was still in its infancy.

In early 2000, King proposed selling his novella, "Riding the Bullet," online through his publisher, Simon & Schuster. No one was prepared for the onslaught of fans trying to download the new release. In no time at all, he'd sold 400,000 copies of the novella online. Even though e-publishing had been around for more than five years by then, one estimate claims King's sales figures were greater than all the e-books sold on line collectively to that point.

Emboldened by his success, King came back a few months later and tried a second experiment. This time he left Simon & Schuster out of the equation--and I'll bet they weren't happy about it. King decided to sell his novel, "The Plant," directly to readers via Amazon. In a quixotic gesture, he opted to sell the serialized novel on the honor system for $2.50 per installment. He was forced to pull the plug because readers were downloading the installments without paying. I am assuming it was this decision that the snarkling was referring to as a "failure."

King's entry, brief as it was, onto the e-publishing stage helped over 400,000 readers overcome any hesitancy they might have had to downloading books online. In addition, it made publishers sit up and take notice. Since that time, electronic publishing has made steady progress in growing the number of people who read e-books.

I'm still not convinced that we have yet seen the gold standard in an e-reader. I have deliberately not purchased one because I believe the model e-reader is yet to come. When that happens, I truly believe the market will explode. In the meantime, I'm waiting for the arrival of my new Mp3 player. I'm looking forward to downloading audio books.

Let's set the record straight on Stephen King and what was a landmark moment on the Internet.

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