King's Killer Gimmick

The Web phenomenon known as Stephen King has roared into the headlines again, drawing eager fans and even more eager media to his Web site for the second installment of his serial novel, The Plant.

Fans grabbed 100,000 downloads Monday, the first day that part two was available, exceeding last month's first-day downloads for part one.

When King launched his self-publishing experiment in July, he tantalized fans and the media - who continue to salivate over the author's Web schemes - by saying he would only continue to post installments on his site if at least 75 percent of readers paid a $1 fee, which is being collected on the honor system.

King continues to be pleased by the number of downloads, said Marsha DeFilippo, the author's assistant, but he is holding fast to his gimmick - he still won't promise fans that he'll finish the novel.

"Each installment will be decided on an individual basis," DeFilippo says.

"Even if he has more [of the book] written, if [payments] drop below 75 percent, he just won't put it up." King already has written parts three and four and is at work on part five, DeFilippo said. Part one was downloaded more than 150,000 times in its first week on the Internet.

King's first foray into e-publishing, with the novella Riding the Bullet that was published on the Web last March, is regarded as both the first success story in the nascent world of electronic books and a wake-up call to the publishing world. Since then, major publishers have moved rapidly to develop e-books. King released Riding the Bullet with his publisher, Simon & Schuster Inc., but decided to go solo with The Plant, a novel he began in the 1980s but abandoned because of the story's similarities to Little Shop of Horrors. But King hasn't migrated to the Web for good. His upcoming memoir will be delivered in October the old-fashioned way - in print.

King's on-your-honor payment system initially struck many as dubious - how many people would take the trouble to mail King a dollar? - until Amazon stepped in to accept payments. On King's behalf, the online book giant is processing credit card payments on the Web and accepting cash and checks by mail. Some readers have been sending in more than a dollar (one person sent in $20) to ensure that the story continues. As of July 31, 76 percent of those who downloaded the book have paid - just enough to keep the story coming.

And if readers keep paying, there's a bonus down the road: King probably will provide the last installment for free as "a thank you to everyone who's been there and been honest," DeFilippo says.

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