May 22, 2013

Stephen King kills ebook in favor of print for his latest, Joyland


Stephen King has been an online pioneer, digitizing his work long before other authors and publishers caught on, but in the case of his latest novel, he’s insisting readers go to the bookstore.

By withholding the digital rights to his book Joyland, King is hoping his fans will patronize their local bookstores, to the delight of booksellers everywhere. As King said to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in The Wall Street Journal,

“I have no plans for a digital version…Maybe at some point, but in the meantime, let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Trachtenberg also notes that this is an interesting about-face for the author, who has been unusually active and saavy in taking advantage of the opportunities of ebook publishing.

“Mr. King’s latest move to make “Joyland” only available as a physical book is essentially the reverse of what he did in 2000, when he became one of the country’s first writers to make a new work available exclusively in a digital format. Then, CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster publishing arm issued Mr. King’s 16,000-word ghost story “Riding the Bullet” as an e-book priced at $2.50…Mr. King’s effort was treated as a potential turning point for a small but growing digital-publishing industry.”

The New York Times wrote at the time, that another of King’s projects, an ebook-only novella, published by Scribner and released on his website, scared publishing “out of its wits”. King even wrote on his site, encouraging readers to buy the book using his unusual model, “My friends,we have the chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare.” The book was about a flesh-eating plant sent to a publisher by an author whose manuscript was rejected, natch.

Perhaps King reserves his ire for the Big Six — his latest move might also be considered a gesture of support for independent publishing. The publisher of Joyland is Hard Case Crime, an indie that publishes paperback crime-fiction.

King’s decision to forgo ebook sales in order to support his publisher (who might earn more from print given its higher price point) and bookstores, while admirable, is obviously one that the bestselling author has the luxury of making. Not to mention, the flexibility of working with a smaller house.

King’s big book of the year, a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep, will be published by Scribner, who will surely make a huge windfall from both print and ebook sales, and were perhaps not as open to any gimmicks.

Not to mention, it’s also a savvy publicity move and has been widely covered. King has won the benefit of being the first well-known author to publicly make the anachronistic announcement of a print-only book. Will anyone follow?



Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.