Can Online Book Publishing Stop the (Big) Presses? ; with Today's Cybernovel, Stephen King Becomes Newest Self-Published Author

By Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Can Online Book Publishing Stop the (Big) Presses? ; with Today's Cybernovel, Stephen King Becomes Newest Self-Published Author


Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


For most writers trying to make it online, the hardest part is creating buzz about their work. The exception is Stephen King, who today is scheduled to take another well-publicized "byte" out of the future of publishing.

The bestselling author is taking his words directly to readers, posting the first installment of a novel, "The Plant," on his Web site.

By entirely bypassing the publishing industry, Mr. King hopes to strike a blow for artistic freedom. "My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare," he writes on his site.

King's high-profile status makes his Internet "experiment" unique. But his latest effort highlights how a growing number of authors - and musicians and filmmakers - are avoiding the stranglehold of media conglomerates and heading straight to consumers via the Web.

The trend, to be sure, doesn't herald the end of traditional publishing. But the development promises to diversify the hidebound book industry - offering more choices for readers and a creative outlet for artists who thought the industry would never let them in the theater door - let alone in front of the spotlight.

"People can live very comfortably self-publishing online themselves if they are willing to do it full time," says Angela Adair-Hoy, an e-book author who makes more than $5,000 a month on her self-help titles (and coincidentally lives down the road from King in Maine).

Following in the footsteps of self-publishing pioneers like Ben Franklin and W.E.B. DuBois, authors are actively pursuing alternative ways of publishing. They are creating their own Web sites and using e-mail and publishing-service sites to get their works to the public more quickly and with less formality than if they went through a traditional publisher.

For example, while she's not as well known as King, author Lynn Thomas is using the Internet in the same way.

Ms. Thomas's "How to Make & Market Gel Candles That Sell Like Wildfire!" has been downloaded by more than 600 readers since she made it available online in February. Those are hardly bestselling numbers, although quite successful by e-book standards. But Thomas is excited at the prospect of having reached readers as far away as China, and with e-business in general. "I feel like I'm more in touch with the reader -it feels more congenial."

For folks who aren't confident they can go it alone, a handful of publishing-service sites, Xlibris.com, iUniverse.com, and Mightywords.com, have sprung up. For as little as an e-mail or as much as several hundred dollars, these sites turn anything from a speech to a novel into an e-book or a title that can be printed on demand. While skeptics deride the sites as the cyberequivalent of vanity presses, a way for the talentless to feel vindicated, they see themselves as equalizers.

"All we're about is trying to provide every author with a decent opportunity to succeed - a fair chance at the well," says John Feldcamp, head of Xlibris in Philadelphia. Mr. Feldcamp estimates that, of the aproximately 1 million authors in the US, about a quarter are dabbling in online activities. He says he has 25 new authors sign up each day, and has corresponded with 20,000 authors about the site in the last few months.

"For someone who is not a professional author, I think that e- publishing is perhaps their best avenue," says Mick Curran, a TV scriptwriter in Pasadena, Calif., who co-wrote an e-novel available at Mightywords.

Spotting a business opportunity (or perhaps unwilling to run the risk of being muscled aside), traditional booksellers are already dipping their toes into the world of online publishing.

Xlibris announced this spring that Random House is now a partner, and iUniverse and Mightywords both have arrangements with Barnes & Noble.com. iUniverse recently announced it will work with IDG Books in an experiment that will allow readers to purchase individual chapters of its "For Dummies" how-to books and Frommer's travel guides. …

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