When it comes to business models, Stephen King is no stranger to experimentation.
Back in 2000, long before the Kindle brought the digital book market to life, Stephen King published one of his novels as an online serial. In 2009 he published one of his stories as a Kindle exclusive, and earlier this year he released an essay as a Kindle Single.
So when I read this morning that King was only going to allow a print edition of his latest novel, the only detail that surprised me was his explanation.
The next Stephen King novel, Joyland, is about to hit store shelves. The book is a murder mystery set in a Southern theme park in the 1970s, and according to the press coverage this book will only be available in paper (apparently at the request of the author).
"I have no plans for a digital version," King told the WSJ. "Maybe at some point, but in the meantime, let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one."
This is an interesting idea, isn't it? It seems that King wants to support real bookstores, so he has decided to refuse to support digital stores. That's why he's not going to allow even the paper copy of the novel to be sold online.
No, wait, Joyland is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and elsewhere. (And as pidgeon92 reminded me, even the Audible audiobook is up for pre-order.) It's just the ebook edition that cannot be bought. Apparently Amazon selling the paper book at a steep discount isn't a threat to physical bookstores.
If it sound strange to you that King is blocking the ebook while still allowing Amazon to sell the paper book, you're not alone. When I reported on this story last year I was under the impression that King didn't like the ebook edition because he wasn't a fan of ebooks (for this book, at least). In fact, he made a statement to that effect in the press release.
I thought his reasons would be similar to that of, the author of The Time Traveler's Wife. She is opposed to ebooks on aesthetic grounds and because she is concerned about conservation:
I am not opposed to the existence of e-books; I know lots of people are wildly enthusiastic about them. But I have spent my life working with books as an art form and I am devoted to physical books. E-books in their current incarnations are still imperfect and they threaten the arts of book design and typography. As a book conservator I am also nervous about the digitization of books: will they be readable one hundred years from now? Or will thousands of books simply vanish as platforms and programs change?
Now it seems this is just a misguided attempt to help physical bookstores. Sadly, this is probably going to fail at its intended goal, but at least it will test whether piracy is useful as a promotional tool.
JK Rowling was the first to test the idea with the Harry Potter series. The ebook editions weren't released until years after the series had ended, and there is little sign that she was negatively affected by piracy.
I don't think piracy will affect sales of King's new novel, but we'll have to wait and see.
image by robinrkc