Stephen King's new serial is now online.
July 24, 2000 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Stephen King's new serial is now online. The download is free, but he's asking people to pay; the next installment will be posted only if he receives payments for at least 75% of downloads.
posted by harmful (18 comments total)
I know this was mentioned a while back, but I thought this was worth a repost now that it's actually available. Other models for paying for free content have been proposed, such as street performer protocol or voluntary micropayments. Lots of questions come to mind: Do you think 75% of downloaders will pay? Is 75% too much to ask for? Would a smaller percentage be acceptable for a larger number of downloads? Has there ever been a voluntary payment experiment of this scale before? Finally, if anybody's read this beast already, is it any damn good?
posted by harmful at 6:40 AM on July 24, 2000

Publishers are wrestling with the idea of eBooks. It'll be a while before they figure it out.

As it now stands, eBooks cost the same (if not more) than their first edition, hardbound, paper counterparts. Despite the lack of printing costs, publishers are reluctant to part with the possibility of huge profit margins.

Further, concern over tools like Gnutella, which allow eBook trading as easy as Napster allows music sharing, prevents publishers from making electronic content readily availble.

The solution, of course, is to make eBooks so cheap, that it becomes an annoyance to obtain the same book through illegal means.

This is what King is trying to do. But serialization isn't a good deal. Paying a dollar a chapter will result in a much more expensive work, and it encourages the author to drag out the story in an effort to increase sales. Note that King is writing this novel as he goes - the more sales he receives, the more chapters he'll write.

What I'm getting at is that from a consumer standpoint, the serialization of novels isn't a good thing. If King's model proves successful, it won't be long until we're paying a fee for 'parts' of all sorts of publications - while this may be good for custom made newspapers and magazines, it doesn't bode well for those if us who like to read full length, unabridged novels.

I must admit, however, that his experiment is an interesting one. I very much doubt that he'll receive much in the way of payment. A more intelligent approach would be to release the first few chapters of for free, in an effort to generate sales for the as yet unpublished paper novel.

That's a bit of a treatise I've composed . . . this emerging field fascinates me, even though I'm neither a writer or a publisher. I'm just a geek who likes to read Star Trek books on his Palm Pilot.
posted by aladfar at 6:51 AM on July 24, 2000

Anne Rice is trying the free chapters model for her next "Mayfair Witches" novel, and I believe I read the first chapter of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six as a promotion on one of the online bookstore sites.
posted by harmful at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2000

Stephen King vs. the Tragedy of the Commons.

"Boy this chapter's good, I hope enough people send in money to get the next one.

"Me send money? Naw, it won't make a difference one way or the other - what matters is whether all those other people send in a buck."
posted by straight at 8:40 AM on July 24, 2000

Well what I want to know is, what does ZachsMind think?
posted by EngineBeak at 9:33 AM on July 24, 2000

*doubletake at EngineBeak* Uh... thanks?

First off, though I do agree with the ideology that people should be paid for what they produce intellectually and creatively, I also don't like how "dotcom" has come in and basically taken over the 'Net. Throw a few dollars in the pit and everyone scrambles for it. That was not what the 'Net was meant to be. However, like the introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden, this too is inevitable. Imagine if Adam and Eve never ate the apple. We'd all be wandering around in fig leaves right now completely oblivious to everything. What a boring story that would have been. So okay. An attempt to avoid turning the entire 'Net into a fee-based operation while simultaneously insuring much of the 'Net is freely accessible. Lots of possibilities here. Admittedly, we're not reinventing the wheel here. There's stuff that already works. Variations on a successful theme.

Matt was on the right track awhile back. Create a brand name and sell paraphernalia. (Roaches and bongs'd be cool too) However, the owner of the brand name has to 1) insure any companies he works with are legit and aren't trying to take too much off the top and 2) not feel like he's gouging his fans just because he wants to cover his own expenses. If you like a certain website, you can support that person by buying stuff available from that website. However, you can only have so many keychains and posters and t-shirts. has a plan where every time someone listens to any artist's mp3s, they get 'hits' that are calculated into money. Some people can get thousands of dollars this way. (I got less than a buck. still it's cool). Where does MP3c get the money though? Well, right now it's corporate sponsors and other things. Eventually they will have to get the money from the people who use the service. Personally, I would NOT go for any system that gouges me with change. A penny here and a quarter there. However, I would be willing to pay a reasonable monthly or yearly fee in order to have full access. I don't want to get stopped before each download asking me if I want to send a dollar someone's way. I want to pay one fee, and then every time I click somewhere in the site, the equivalent of a portion of what I paid to get in would go to that person.

Let's say that in order to keep its doors open, and appeal to the RIAA demons, Michael Robertson of mp3c sets up a deal like this: Anyone can go to mp3c and listen to the free stuff all they want. However, any artist who opts to can move their music to the 'premium' section. Their music won't be heard from the world at large, but anyone who pays a premium monthly fee will have access to it. Anything brand new automatically goes to the premium section by default, until the artist chooses of their own free will to make something 'free.'

This could work with other stuff too. Imagine if Stephen King made deals with twenty other well known authors, they all put ALL their books online in digital form at the same servers. For one monthly fee, you could have access to that library. Each time you download a given book, that particular author gets a 'hit' which guarantees a few pennies more from the profits of the premium charges going to their pocket.

Since it's premium, the server could keep track of who logs in by username and password. You can download anything as long as you like so long as you pay your 'dues' but once you've downloaded something, repeated downloads do not increase your favorite author's chances. Each book gets one vote per participant.

And of course the premium 'membership fee' would also allow you benefits like access to members only message boards, regular chats with famous authors who have their stuff online there, your own space on the server to write reviews or try your own hand at writing, perhaps writing workshops online and reader's appreciation networks, and all the community flavor we've come to expect from everything from The Well to MF.

Yes. Someone will pay the fee, download everything, then make it publically available on some cracksite. So? New stuff will generally be premium, must like today the new movies that come out are more expensive than the old stuff. After the product in question has peaked its sales, the provider of that product can opt to make it free.

The files in question will include the full copyright stuff. The authors (or musicians or game designers or moviehouses etc) can opt to prosecute if they find out who did it. Or they can consider it free publicity, because even if I came across one book from that list, I'd still consider hunting down the premium service so I have access to ALL THOSE BOOKS in ONE PLACE.

Variations on this are happening right now. Some more free based than others. I see this as the inevitable direction however, where people put walls up between the freedom of the 'Net and secure transactions and privacy. I don't like it, but it's inevitable. The question is, is it feasible.. or even possible?
posted by ZachsMind at 10:07 AM on July 24, 2000

Finally! A chance to get Stephen King to stop writing! Please, everyone, download the chapter and don't pay.
posted by schampeo at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2000

I just downloaded 'The Plant'. Yes, I paid. Like Stephen King or not, this is a sooper cool way to cut the greedy fat talentless middleman pig out of the artist to consumer equation.
It is only 20 pages, though. That was a little disappointing.
posted by internook at 12:35 PM on July 24, 2000

EngineBeak: bwahahahahahah. hee. heh... thanks, needed a grin today ;)
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2000

Just downloaded, and read, part one. It's a series of letters and memos, and it looks to be the intended form of storytelling throughout. Now, I like Stephen King, always have and probably always will, so I paid. But this teaser chapter doesn't get us into the meat of the story yet, so basing his 75% goal on this installment alone may be a hazard.Still, I'll wait eagerly for part two because, just as I got a job in a bookstore the summer that The Green Mile was serialized, good ol'SK has never let me down.
posted by Awol at 12:47 PM on July 24, 2000

It's a series of letters and memos, and it looks to be the intended form of storytelling throughout.

Hence Stephen's statement on the download page: "The Plant, an epistolary novel set in the early 1980s."
posted by daveadams at 12:59 PM on July 24, 2000

SK fans have long drooled over "The Plant," because it was originally a story he sent out in annual installments, bound and printed, as Christmas cards to friends. I've been wanting to take a gander at this for years, so I'm willing to pay my buck. The only thing is, I thought this story was unfinished, because, as King stated, it was turning into a copycat of The Little Shop of Horrors. Does this mean King's gone back and finished it? If so, cool.

The other thing is, if this e-book thing does take off, I hope authors like King won't start publishing their works exclusively in electronic form. I LIKE paper books. They give my eyes something to do besides being bombarded with radiation the other 90% of my day. The idea of being chained to this computer for even more hours per day doesn't exactly rock my world.

posted by Bryan at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2000

That's a damned well thought out approach, I think, Zach.

*That* is why he wanted to hear what you had to say.

posted by baylink at 4:13 PM on July 24, 2000


Yes, I suppose redundancy is a crime punishable by mockery.
posted by Awol at 5:14 PM on July 24, 2000

Thanks Baylink. =) You shouldn't encourage me though. I don't think everyone in MF's community shares your kinder thoughts in my general direction. =)

Actually, this'll probably eventually veer over to Metatalk, but what if Matt did this pay thing in a way? He could keep MetaFilter and MetaTalk available for free, and then offer a THIRD premium service, available only to those who actually paid some kind of annual membership fee. Call it 'MetaSpecific' and that section could actually be where he tries out his latest tinkering and improvements on the program before he subjects the main MetaFilter to it. It could also be more extensive, and have a tighter community, where those who actually invest money in MF could help influence its future. The growth of it would be a group thing, and those who paid to support Matt could have more of a say somehow in how things get done and...

Ewwww! On second thought, forget I mentioned it. LOL!

Actually, Cranium had a better idea. Those who have the knowledge and talents to help Matt make changes and improvements would be "paying" him in a way far better than mere money. Provided he welcomed the assistance, of course.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:17 PM on July 24, 2000

If SK expects a dollar for every 20 pages, and expects 75% of people downloading it to pay up, he'd better be damn sure each installment makes 75% of people reading it think the next instalment is woth a dollar. Wouldn't he be better served by offering the first 2 chapters for free, then charging a fee for the rest of the book, otherwise the honest fans of SK will be left hanging, and the people who download it 'because it's free' will have the satisfaction of pissing the rest off.
Nice idea, suspect execution.
posted by Markb at 6:05 AM on July 25, 2000

Wow. Matthowie's already been lookin' at this idea. And Adam said something back in April that warms my heart. There's still a glimmer of hope for armchair anarchists. ..must there be one business model? What works for King may not work for Adams.

The way shareware worked best, in the early days, was that the first installment was free. If you wanted the next installment, it cost. Doom worked like this, if memory serves. It's consistent and it's worked in the past. However, the first installment has to be meaty. I've thought about buying into King's idea just to support the attempt, but twenty pages is not enough for me to pull out my credit card.

I found this interesting:

Mort Janklow, a literary agent who represents hundreds of authors, sees a huge future in the electronic distribution of books once good business models are in place. "These are highways with no cars on them. I own all the cars," Janklow says. "After they finish with all the distribution patterns they will need product. "That's a fellow sitting up in Maine having fun, but it's not a way to run a business."

He owns all the cars? The Information Superhighway is without Product? What about personal narrativists? Journalers? Diarists? The people giving away their words? What are we? Chopped liver? Just because we don't have big famous names? Just because only a handful recieve critical acclaim of any sort, and most of that is from their peers?

Does one have to be a celebrity to be considered talented? Isn't that supposed to be the other way around?

What if this had started charging? Granted, I'm a social pariah in the eyes of some All-Stars because I don't know how to play nice. I'm socially stunted, but I have to admit objectively that they still rock. They're still worth at least as much as Stephen King is charging. Aren't they?

Is that the direction we want this.. this whole thang going here to go? Where each online journal goes pay, or has premium content? It's already happening actually, in other circles, to meager success.

...who AM i talking to? I'm so full of hydrogen. No reeally.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:47 AM on July 25, 2000

Some of us are still listening Zach.....
To me this is a symptom of whats happening everywhere, theres the corporate mentality, desperately trying to be the first to make a killing from the web, and the people - like yourself and many others here - who publish for free.

I'll say up front, I'm not a fan of Steven King, I've tried to read several of his books but never finished any of them. But many people do and he's spotted a possible way to make more profit from them - cut out the middleman and charge by instalment, he's too shrewd a businessman to ditch his publishers and go totally self sufficient, he can obviously still make big bucks from printed media. But what if?......What if he makes a killing, at a dollar every 20 pages and no indication of how long the story is, this could be a nice regular income, and he's found a way to keep everyone happy.
But while theres interesting, informative *free* content on the web, which I consider to be better than the pulp fiction produced by the like of Steven King, I'll keep reading it, and sending an email to thank those people whose content I enjoy. Just because you give away your words, doesn't make them of any less value.
posted by Markb at 6:32 AM on July 26, 2000

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