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Stephen King Wants to Support Real Bookstores, Lets Amazon Sell Latest Novel Anyway

5759597207_58df0605f5[1]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 onĀ 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 Audrey Niffenegger, 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

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ucfgrad93 May 20, 2013 um 12:31 pm

I don’t buy fiction in a physical form any longer. So I guess I’ll need to find something else to read.

Bob A May 20, 2013 um 12:33 pm

I’m sorry that S King has made this decision. I have nothing against print books but some of us read real books on an eBook reader. And, when one lives overseas, especially in a developing nation, it’s often difficult to even get to a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Dan Meadows May 20, 2013 um 12:35 pm

If piracy does affect him, and I don’t think it will, it would likely be more of a protest vote against his attitude toward ebooks. Funny how none of these folks ever find a reason to support writers. These efforts are always to help bookstores or publishers, and writers are given lipservice about some kind of supposed trickledown benefit. That’s okay, though. Writers seem to be figuring out how to help themselves just fine, thank you.

Marcus May 20, 2013 um 1:57 pm

Jussi Adler Olsen tried the same thing with his last novel in Germany. It didn’t work at all. It took only five days until someone scanned the book and made it available as a perfectly well formatted ebook. So there was no legal way for ebook readers to buy the book. That’s why lots why lots of them turned to illegal download sites for the first time. When this went viral, Adler Olsen changed his mind after about a month and finally allowed publishers to sell the ebook.
When such a famous author decides to ignore ebooks on purpose it doesn’t help bookstors, but ebook piracy. I am surprised that Stephen King is not aware of how the Internet works.

Thomas May 20, 2013 um 4:33 pm

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a scanned version of this hits the internet before the book is released. I’d say that King knows this, and just doesn’t care. Given that he tried selling a book as a serial over the internet once and gave it up when he found out people were copying it, he has to know that not selling an ebook doesn’t mean one won’t be made. He’s rich enough to have bought two radio stations; I doubt he’ll care much about losing ebook sales for this book.

Michelle Louring May 24, 2013 um 6:35 am

I think your comment pretty much sums up while Stephen King will be shooting himself in the foot.
Also, no matter how much he would lose from piracy, I’m pretty sure the ebook sales would make up for those losses…

carmen webster buxton May 20, 2013 um 3:03 pm

An author who wants to help bookstores has a built-in problem. Not everyone lives in easy shopping distance from a bookstore– any bookstore. The Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings of the world can choose to limit their audience, but generally speaking most writers need to expand it as much as possible. The more people who can buy your book, the better! As a reader, I am a total; digital convert, but as a writer, I wish I had the resources to publish my books in print as well as ebook form. I haven’t been able to get around to that as yet, but I have plans.

pidgeon92 May 20, 2013 um 6:41 pm

Does "no digital version" include audiobooks?

That’s how I read the last two King novels, both of which were released as print and audio at the same time, with ebook versions coming several months later.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2013 um 6:44 pm

You know, I’m not used to thinking of audiobooks as digital, but but it could be. Perhaps the audiobook editions aren’t viewed as competing with the print edition?

pidgeon92 May 20, 2013 um 6:46 pm

I suppose they can categorize it however they want, but I always get one or the other, never both. And more and more, I am choosing the audio version.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2013 um 7:02 pm

Good point. And if nothing else the audiobook can’t be bought in physical bookstores so they should have been blocked with the ebook.

pidgeon92 May 20, 2013 um 6:44 pm

I just checked Audible, and sure enough, it is available as a pre-order. I’ll be picking it up this way, rather than going to an "actual bookstore."

Greg M. May 21, 2013 um 11:09 am

I doubt I’ll ever read the book in any format, so I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but I do think King should be allowed to decide to limit the ebook availability if he wants to. It’s been the plan from the inception of the novel not to have an ebook version. The idea, remembered from something read a year or so ago, is that King wanted to pay tribute to pulp novels in eras before the Kindle. I fo see were he is coming from. But what I hear is a lot of whining. Readers like to whine. I also remember King saying he wanted to try write a story in French but some of his readers (who can’t read French) were whining vigorlessly. I thought he should go for it and send his unhappy readers a coupon for cheese.

The fact the book will be uploaded and whinny readers will download it only proves that people will wear there asses on their heads.

Three Out of Four eBook Pirates Prefer Calibre – The Digital Reader January 23, 2014 um 8:39 pm

[…] Mr King had decided not to release Joyland as an ebook (he wants you to buy the paper book in a bookstore, or Amazon), so I was all set to write a post showing the pointlessness of his decision. I was going to […]

Susan February 4, 2016 um 8:37 am

I read using E-Reader because in particular, Mr. King’s books are so heavy that my hands hurt holding them. "It", "The Stand", are two of my favorite books. I lucked up and got "The Stand" before he clamped down on e-version. But would love to add "IT" and read it again. I already have the paper version.

Three Out of Four eBook Pirates Prefer Calibre | The Digital Reader June 19, 2017 um 2:51 pm

[…] Mr King had decided not to release Joyland as an ebook (he wants you to buy the paper book in a bookstore, or Amazon), so I was all set to write a post showing the pointlessness of his decision. I was going to […]

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