Stephen King (Publishing of 'The Plant')Stephen King was the first prominent, best-selling author to attempt the exclusively web-based publishing of a book, with chapters from a story King had begun in the early 1980s called 'The Plant.'
After hackers cracked the encryption to the e-book version of Kings' "Riding the Bullet," the publishing of 'The Plant', in January 2000, was reported by Kings' representatives to be a means to circumvent piracy, by offering the book unencrypted and in installments. People could pay a US1 dollar fee for each installment on the honor system.
According to King's representatives, the venture was a failure. The project was ended, they claim, because of a lack of sufficient payment, and a public that could not be trusted on the honor system. Some even continued with claims that this represented the commercial infeasibility of web publishing.
However, fans and readers claimed the idea as a success, rather, that it was made infeasible for other reasons, particularly greedy pricing for an inconsistent product. King and his publisher, citing dissatisfaction with the percentage of paying readers, raised the cost of each installment to a high of 7 dollars.
King decided to use the honor system, allowing people to download the story installments, whether they paid for it or not. He threatened, however, to drop the project if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75 percent.
More than 200,000 customers downloaded free copies of the story in a 24-hour promotion, through the Barnes and Noble website.
It received over the desired 75 percent for its first installment, and this fell to 70 percent after installment two. With the third installment, and the bad publicity generated by Kings' complaints for the drop in reader payment, the numbers surged back up to 75 percent.
Instead of allowing the market to determine the products value, by accepting the rate of payment people would be willing to pay, King and his publisher still held fast to their ideal rate of return at 75 percent.
They decided to double the cost of the fourth part of the novel to US2 dollars. King tried to balance this by also doubling the number of pages to 54 pages for the fourth. He also promised to cap the total cost of the entire book at US13 Dollars. Paying readers dropped severely to 46 percent of downloads.
And the number of downloads dramatically decreased overall as well. Though King's core fan base was largely loyal, they could not speak for the general public, who did not react well to King's changing of terms.
Pricing was the main readers' grievance, but also, it was the lack of satisfaction in the quality of the work, and the natural cost-to-quality comparison by the public, was further imbalanced by the raise in cost.
See also: web publishing