Magazine article Newsweek

A Thriller on the Net: Stephen King's E-Book Sold Half a Million Copies on the Web. It Could Signal a Scary Future for Publishers

Magazine article Newsweek

A Thriller on the Net: Stephen King's E-Book Sold Half a Million Copies on the Web. It Could Signal a Scary Future for Publishers

Article excerpt

Folks in publishing are still trying to figure out what happened last week. One thing they think they know is that they've just seen the fastest-selling book of all time, Stephen King's "Riding the Bullet"--if you can call it "sales" when many of the first day's 400,000 copies were distributed free, and if you can call a downloadable but not printable electronic text a "book." The title of King's e-book-only story refers to a scary amusement-park ride. He wrote it while recuperating from being hit by a van last summer, with no special idea of how he'd publish it, so he didn't know how apt that title would prove. But e-books, which up to last week had seemed a niche market with distant possibilities, suddenly have a working mass-market model--almost working--and everybody's lining up for the thrill ride. Almost everybody.

King's agent on this deal, Ralph Vicinanza, had been talking about e-books for a couple of years when King told him, "I have a piece. Take a look at it, see if it's the right length." This was just four weeks ago. At about 60 pages, the story seemed perfect; Simon & Schuster put it into the digital pipeline (graphic, below). "Riding the Bullet" ended up wherever Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com keep those busy little electrons, and at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday the two giant e-tailers started letting customers download it free into PCs or such portable readers as the Rocket E-book and even Palm pilots. It will probably cost retailers about $1.50 per download in fees to S&S--nobody will say--but they wanted to get customers into the store, and to test-drive the technology.

By daybreak, both giants were swamped with orders--more than 2.5 per second--and by the weekend some customers were still waiting. But more Web-savvy fans got "Bullet" easily for the suggested retail price of $2.50 at smaller e-tailers like Powells. …

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