Stephen King's Latest Tale Hits Web

SAN FRANCISCO (03/15/2000) - Simon & Schuster debuted popular horror writer Stephen King's e-book "Riding the Bullet" at 12:01 a.m. EST today, calling it "an experiment." The experiment could obviously be a success, given King's vise grip on pop culture, and it has been an opportunity for online booksellers to ride his marketing wave.

Simon & Schuster had no expectations about the success of their latest offering. King actually pitched the idea to launch an electronic-only version of "Bullet" to Simon & Schuster's Web site.

"Stephen King was anxious to do this. He had this story that he had written, and he wanted to put it out there in this format," says Simon & Schuster director of corporate communications Adam Rothberg.

Barnes and Noble launched an e-book store yesterday to "show commitment to this format," says spokesperson Lisa Lanspery. While they've offered e-books since November 1998, King's high-profile book release was seen as a tool for promoting the format further.

The only problems with the 16,000-word novella reported so far have been slowdowns for some vendors' sites. Macintosh users were the big losers, though, unless they were downloading "Bullet" for their PDA or Rocket eBook: None of the vendors support Mac downloads yet.

Simon & Schuster is selling King's latest for $2.50 a pop; once downloaded, the book will be neither printable nor transferable. The publisher offers the book through six different vendors: Glassbook, NetLibrary, NuvoMedia (who owns the Rocket eBook), Peanut Press, Softbook and Softlock.

While Barnes and Noble will only offer the book for free today, Amazon will give the book away for the next two weeks, after which they have no specific plan as to how they'll distribute it. Following Simon & Schuster's characterization of the electronic distribution as an "experiment," Amazon spokesperson Kristen Schaefer calls it an "opportunity to test the e-book thing." While Glassbook is Amazon's only mode of downloading at present, they will try a number of different methods in the future.

Downloading Glassbook and the story is a long process for modem-bound customers of Amazon. Barnes and Noble offers the option of downloading the book through Glassbook, Rocket eBook, or SoftLock. Downloading it through SoftLock allows customers to read it with Adobe Acrobat, and the total transaction time seemed much quicker.

The King book will never be offered in print, according to Rothman. The publisher won't comment on future e-book offerings, but say they are talking to other authors.

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