Stephen King Pulls Plug on Online Serial

ByABC News

Nov. 29, 2000 -- Stephen King’s online serial novel is taking a break — and a monster the author has seldom faced may bear part of the blame.

King says on his Web site that he needs to take a break to focus on other projects. According to a published report, those projects may have a better chance of paying the bills than the serial, titled The Plant.

The story got off to a strong start when an estimated 150,000 users downloaded the first part in July. But readership has declined to about 40,000 for the latest installment, according to the New York Times.

King’s spokesman said the author did not learn of the declining numbers until after he decided to shelve the project, according to the Times.

Fewer Readers, Fewer Payments

Making matters worse, payments are down. Readers are able to download the chapters and pay only if they like it — with King promising to keep writing as long as the checks, $1 or $2 a chapter, keep coming in.

While it worked early on — an estimated 75 percent of first-installment readers paid up, including some eager fans paying extra to make up for those who didn’t — the Times reported that only 46 percent paid for the latest chapter.

King’s online promise required payments from 75 percent of the readers or more for the story to continue.

But the author tactfully did not mention numbers in the message posted on the site. In fact, he promised that the story would eventually be resurrected.

“The last time The Plant furled its leaves, the story remained dormant for 19 years,” King writes. “If it could survive that, I’m sure it can survive a year or two while I work on other projects.”

Those projects include Black House (a sequel to The Talisman, which was co-written with fellow horror novelist Peter Straub), and his “Dark Tower” series, as well as two new novels. The first of those, Dreamcatcher, is due to hit shelves in March, he writes.

“And my agent insists I need to take a breather so that foreign translation and publication of The Plant — also in installments, also on the Net — can catch up with American publication.”

E-Publishing Pioneer

King has been something of an online publishing pioneer. Prior to The Plant, King set the standard with the online-only release of his novella, Riding the Bullet. Some 500,000 copies of the work were sold, although many were given away by online booksellers in promotions.

Still, Riding the Bullet is considered the most successful e-book ever.

The Plant is the story of a vampire vine taking over a publishing company. King says next month’s installment — the last before the project goes into hibernation — will resolve many issues, so readers will not be left dissatisfied.

“You will find a climax of sorts, and while not all of your questions will be answered — not yet, at least — the fates of several characters will be resolved,” King writes. “Nastily. Permanently.”

That installment, he said, will be free — a gift to all those who ponied up the dough for the first five installments.

“Enjoy...but don’t relax too much,” he warns. “When The Plant returns, it will once more be on a pay-as-you-go basis.”