King Releases the First E-Novel Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The popularity of Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet, the first “electronic” novel, available exclusively online, led publishers to expand their e-book offerings and lent credence to the argument that e-books would eventually dominate print publishing.

Summary of Event

Toward the end of what is popularly known as the “dot-com” boom, companies such as Microsoft began predicting the end of the printed book and maintained that electronic books (e-books) would soon be outselling traditional books. To facilitate this process, Microsoft Microsoft Corporation developed its e-book reading device, the Microsoft Reader. Electronic publishing Publishing, electronic Riding the Bullet (King) [kw]King Releases the First E-Novel (Mar. 14, 2000) [kw]First E-Novel, King Releases the (Mar. 14, 2000) [kw]E-Novel, King Releases the First (Mar. 14, 2000) [kw]Novel, King Releases the First E- (Mar. 14, 2000) Electronic publishing Publishing, electronic Riding the Bullet (King) [g]North America;Mar. 14, 2000: King Releases the First E-Novel[10640] [g]United States;Mar. 14, 2000: King Releases the First E-Novel[10640] [c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 14, 2000: King Releases the First E-Novel[10640] [c]Communications and media;Mar. 14, 2000: King Releases the First E-Novel[10640] King, Stephen

Stephen King, a best-selling author of horror fiction, announced in March, 2000, that his new work, Riding the Bullet, would be available exclusively online. The novel sold very well, and it was predicted that the e-book would revolutionize the publishing industry the way the paperback had earlier in the century. Microsoft’s predictions that the e-book would revolutionize the publishing industry seemed savvy.

While the success of Riding the Bullet turned out to be an isolated event, it did open the doors to increased self-publishing online and inspired further exploration into e-book publishing. King told reporter Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in December, 2001, that “I just wanted to see what would happen. And it was a way of saying to the publishers ’I don’t necessarily need to go through you.’ But the other part of it was to keep the writing fresh.” Initially unsure what to do with the piece—it was too short to be marketed as a novel, and too long to be sold to a magazine as a short story—King was approached by Scribner’s and asked if he had anything that could be published as an e-book. The publishing company, according to one interview with King, wanted to use his work to promote their e-reading devices.

Released online on March 14, 2000, Riding the Bullet was met with so many requests for downloads that Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com experienced technical difficulties in getting the book to their customers. The first twenty-four hours of its release witnessed more than 400,000 requests for the book.

One early problem to be resolved was library access to the book. When it was initially released, libraries were told by Simon & Schuster (King’s publisher) and other e-book vendors that they must purchase one for each patron who wanted it, in order to satisfy the “one download per person” rule. Eventually, Simon & Schuster came to an arrangement with libraries: As long as the book was confined to a single e-reader that could be checked out over and over, the book could be sold to libraries.

Riding the Bullet sold most of its 500,000 orders in the first few days after March 14, but overall, the e-book sold less than King’s print publications. King noted that the venture was successful, netting him approximately $750,000. Riding the Bullet was eventually re-released in print as part of King’s 2002 collection Everything’s Eventual.

Horror novelist Stephen King.

(Tabitha King)

Publishers responded to King’s success. Random House invested in the e-publisher Xlibris and created AtRandom, an e-book division, and Simon & Schuster began offering more works by their authors in e-book formats. Many publishers began digitizing their back lists for potential distribution. Time Warner established iPublish. Microsoft worked with Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com to distribute e-books accessible with the Microsoft Reader.

After King’s success with Riding the Bullet, he began making available a new e-novel, The Plant, Plant, The (King) through installments, without the help of his publishers. Readers could download chapters of the book for $1 each from Stephenking.com and were asked to do so on the honor system. King wrote at the time on his Web site that by downloading his book online in this manner, “we have the chance to become big publishing’s worst nightmare.” The experiment ended in December, 2000, after six installments. King noted that he had made approximately $600,000 from the work (none of which had to be shared with agents and publishers). He stopped the e-novel to work on other projects after 100,000 downloads of his installments had been recorded. Many of these downloads were unpaid for, and many users had difficulty with downloading the installments to their e-reading devices, a problem exacerbated by the lack of standardized e-readers and software.

Significance

Early speculation that King’s initial success with Riding the Bullet would lead other prominent authors to publish their works online was not proved correct, at least in part because of the difficulties with The Plant. Random House closed AtRandom, its e-book division, in November, 2001. Although Riding the Bullet did not lead to the demise of print books or to major authors’ bypassing their publishers, King’s e-book venture did demonstrate that writers no longer had to go through publishers to get their works out to the public; they could instead use the Internet. As Stephen Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes andnoble.com, wrote in August of 2000 about the impact of Riding the Bullet: “The next few years will witness a democratization of the publishing process that will forever change the rules of publishing and the roles of the players involved.”

Although changes did take place, they did not take the exact form that Riggio and other commentators envisioned (MightyWords.com, owned in part by Barnes and Noble, and Time Warner’s iPublish both were closed by early 2002). The boom in Web logs (blogs) Web logs Blogs in the early twenty-first century, as well as online journals and other forums, proved the Internet’s power to democratize expression—if not income from that expression. Publishers also developed e-book markets, producing such materials as electronic versions of textbooks, Star Trek titles, and online databases marketed to libraries. These ventures became increasingly important to the publishing industry’s bottom line, although print is expected to remain an important, if less dominant, format in decades to come.

King’s experiment with e-publishing gave the e-book industry a shot in the arm, although, whether because of technology issues or because of consumer disinterest, it did not herald the beginning of a new era in popular fiction publishing or overtake the print market. It did however, open new publishing options for writers, many of whom have taken to the World Wide Web to publish their work through blogs. Electronic publishing Publishing, electronic Riding the Bullet (King)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boynton, Robert S. “You Say You Want an E-Book Revolution?” Time Digital 5, no. 8 (December, 2000): 38-48. Discusses the success of Riding the Bullet and why The Plant failed, and includes commentary from e-book authors M. J. Rose and Brendan Massey. Also provides an overview of the various e-reading devices.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Epstein, Jason. Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. The beginning section of this book, “The Rattle of Pebbles,” discusses the possibilities and problems with online publishing from the perspective of major publishers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rich, Frank. “Stephen King’s Week of Terror.” The New York Times, March 25, 2000, p. A19. Examines Microsoft’s claim that e-books will outsell print by 2009 as well as arguments supporting that claim, and King’s success in selling Riding the Bullet online.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riggio, Steve. “E-Books Are Here to Stay.” PC Magazine, August 1, 2000. Vice chairman of Barnesand noble.com comments on the Riding the Bullet phenomenon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schneider, Karen G. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the E-Book.” American Libraries 31 (May, 2000): 88. Examines e-books from the perspective of libraries, which were initially denied access to Riding the Bullet, as well as librarians’ enthusiasm for the venture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sofer, Daila. “E-book Publishers Get Mixed Signals.” Poets and Writers 30 (March/April, 2002): 12-14. Examines the post-9/11 e-book industry and the closures of e-book companies, with commentary from popular e-book author M. J. Rose and concerns from the Authors Guild.

Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers

Development of HTML

Rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web

Amazon.com Sells Its First Book Online

Rise of the Blogosphere

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