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Stephen King's experiment fails

By fvw in MLP
Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:55:01 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

It appears Stephen King's online experiment has gone awry... Get the news from King's site or Wired. He should have used street performer protocol. Even if the reason he stopped wasn't not getting enough money, it would at least mean a smaller angry mob who feel cheated.


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The story
o Read it, paid for it 3%
o Read it, didn't pay for it. 2%
o Didn't read it, didn't pay for it. 90%
o Didn't read it, payed for it. (Huh?) 4%

Votes: 131
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o King's site
o Wired
o street performer protocol
o Also by fvw

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Stephen King's experiment fails | 30 comments (22 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not really a failure (4.00 / 5) (#1)
by Nick Ives on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:36:20 AM EST

I dont really see this as a failure of the experiment. If anything it was a success, he prooved that it was possible for authers to make money from online publishing. True he might well be a special case because hes so popular, but it shows that online publishing is at least financially viable in the practical sense for some authers.

The 'failure' in this sense is King's failure to complete the book that his fans had already paid for. I think that getting your fans to pay for a book that hasnt yet been written is a bit shady to say the least, and he should have finished the book before asking for fans to pay for it. The lesson to be learned from this is the time honoured "buyer beware", even the most sucessful and famous authers can fail on their promises.

Well, well... (2.50 / 4) (#2)
by HiQ on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:36:57 AM EST

It wasn't a very long stand then ... :-)

How to make a sig
without having an idea
just made a HiQ
Misleading story title. (3.00 / 7) (#4)
by nicksand on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:47:28 AM EST

The Stephen King experiment did not fail. Failure would mean that less than 75%-80% of the people who downloaded the stories paid for them. If you have actually been reading the stories (I have), you will notice that the story is approaching the end of the first story arc.

If you look at the actual length of the content so far (over 225 pages), you would realize that he has already written enough that many authors would justify splitting this up in a series. When he finishes the sixth installment (which will be free), he'll be over the 300 page mark.

To me, this is no different than waiting for Robert Jordan to finish the next volume in his Wheel of Time series. Granted, its annoying having to wait. However, its unfair to jump on Stephen King just because he has some other projects that he also needs to work on.

How Much? (2.80 / 5) (#7)
by Wah on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:09:15 AM EST

Anybody know how much he has collected so far? How this compares to what he normally makes for writing 300 pages? How the costs compare to traditional publishing?

If this was an experiment, where's the data?
Fail to Obey?

Failure or Success story? (4.55 / 9) (#8)
by spaceghoti on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:30:56 AM EST

I had considered posting this story as well, but someone beat me to the punch. Curse my late time zone!

To provide some history, when King started this he declared that he would continue to post stories to the serial only if 75% or more of the readers sent in payments. Some people sent in extra money just to help make sure the experiment succeeded. It worked so well that King announced the second chapter sooner than anyone expected.

According to the information I read on ABCNews.com, the first chapter logged a total of 150,000 readers. The latest chapter has attracted only 40,000. Furthermore, while the first chapter generated over $100k (over 75% of the readers sending in payments), the latest chapter has generated less than $20k (less than 50% of the readers sending in payments). That, friends and neighbors, is a significant drop in readership and income. But the article in ABCNews.com reports that King wasn't aware of the numbers when he made his decision, he was informed after he decided to focus on more mainstream projects. Whether or not this is true is up to speculation; I'm not inclined to believe it, but anything is possible.

Those numbers tell a tale that ought to have King shivering under his covers. Although his book sales tend to hit the Top Seller charts very quickly, people have been complaining for years that the quality of his writing has dropped sharply. Like Anne Rice, he's gotten too famous for anyone to edit him. He doesn't have to put up with it, so he doesn't. And his work suffers for it. In other words, The Plant isn't dying because the Grand Experiment is failing, but because his writing is failing to keep his readership interested. What he's asking is "would you pay a dollar to read this?" As the chapters progress, the answer is increasingly becoming "no. This isn't worth a dollar."

I was amused to note that when I voted in the poll for this article, 100% of the votes went to "didn't read it, didn't pay for it." I'm also one who didn't read it or pay for it, because I haven't read a book by King that really gripped me since It. Whatever point people decided that King wasn't worth reading anymore, they apparently agree. So to have King spearhead Internet Book Sales is a sad thing for would-be-professional writers like myself. I'd love to have people read my work online and send me a check because they liked it. But if King's failure is any indication, that's a dream that won't happen in my lifetime.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

The last King book that really grabbed/moved me (2.66 / 3) (#11)
by Demona on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:14:07 PM EST

(Warning: Some spoilers)

was The Tommyknockers. There are so many reasons I don't even know them all. I just love the perfect juxtaposition and contrast of external horror (the boogeyman under the bed/from outer space) and internal horror (man's inhumanity to herself). It only vaguely borders on Ludditism or a Pandora's Box attitude despite the hero's drunken anti-technology ramblings and the ultimate 'explanation' of what the Tommyknockers are -- beautifully constructed scene -- and the climactic scene with the hero dying yet winning, still makes me cry every time I read it.


who also cries in 2001 when the ape learns how to wield a bone mace

PS: Per the above, I'm one of those who didn't bother to read The Plant. Sounds like King definitely learned from the experience, and it was good publicity for the concept, encouraging discussion like this among writers and publishers alike.

[ Parent ]

I agree, but... (3.60 / 5) (#12)
by eskimo on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:24:40 PM EST

First of all, King is hack. I wish I could be as successful a hack, but King is a hack nonetheless. Like you said, his biggest problem is that he can't be editted. Stephen King reminds me of the Jon Lovitz 'Picasso' character on SNL, paying for meals with scribbles on a napkin. 'I'm Picasso.' And I tried, I really did. I am told that Dark Tower would be worth my time, but after slogging through The Stand, I doubt I'll read anything else by him unless it is the last book on the library cart in a prison. And I am not in prison, so it will take a pretty wacky chain of events to find me behind a copy of Dark Tower.

But you make an interesting point and ask an interesting question. King was clearly the wrong man for the job, but who would be the right man? Clearly, we need a better writer, but what about a specific genre? In the long term, genre might be more important than the writer, and even the quality of the story. There are thousands of adults who pay $2.50 a month for they entertainment in comic books, so the principle works. They even suffer through some rough story arcs. Without falling into a geek stereotype, which many of you know I loathe, I think that the shotgun blast of King's demographic doesn't provide nearly enough overlap with the dedicated computer user. I'd be interested to see how many copies were downloaded through AOL. I think that the right genre would be more tech oriented, cyberpunk, maybe, or even straight sci-fi. Though I can't right it, fantasy would probably kill. Hell, I don't know what 'The Plant' was about, but I think that even good horror would sell.

Note: I don't think that there is much near future hope for electronic books. I would love to write them, but I would have trouble reading them. Trying to muscle an ancient and nearly perfect interface like 'the book' out of the way makes trying to escape Windows seem like cleaning bugs off the windshield.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

To hack or not to hack (3.50 / 4) (#13)
by spaceghoti on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:45:47 PM EST

Whether or not you can accurately describe King as a "hack," he is undisputably a leader for the writing and publishing industry. What he succeeds or fails at, the industry will take note of and act on or reject based on his results. I've tried many times to break into the field without success, and my research tells me that with the huge influx of material they have to sort through, they take the safe and easy path. If someone has sold before, they'll sell again. And if someone is on top (the way King is) then they will watch him closely and take notes. I continue to work on my writing to try to bring it up to a level that would entice an editor to take a chance on me, but the more I learn about the industry the more I think I'm just going to be satisfied with publishing on my webpage.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Wrong Attitude... (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by eskimo on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 04:52:20 PM EST

Publishing on your own site is fine and dandy. I did it for a year, almost daily, acting like a journalist and an essayist, and I pulled it off wonderfully. So did my friends, who played the same game.

But the real question is where you are peddling your wares. And what you are peddling. I am not going to give advice on getting published because I have proven piss poor at it already, but short fiction is the way to break in, and there are publications begging for pieces. You might not make Esquire on the first try, but you can get published. Trust me, it is so easy that I had to come up with new methods of self sabotage.

And calling Stephen King a hack and accepting that he is a leader in the world of popular fiction is an easy position to take. The two are not mutually exclusive. And among the other hacks who lead with him in the world of popular fiction, King is Shakespeare. Look at somebody like Grisham, or worse, Clancy. I think it is safe to say that John Grisham is not Harper Lee. And Clancy definitely isn't Jules Verne.

A word of advice, though: publishers are not looking for the next Stephen King. They may call the next big thing that, but that is not what they are looking for. They are merely looking for something that will sell. The position of improving your writing while admitting that publishers readily accept those that are most appreciated by the least common denominator is one of those traps writers fall into. Avoid the trap. We need to write and get read. We will find an audience. They may or may not be as big as King's, but if we are very lucky, they will be enough to attract a publisher. Remember, the only thing easier in the world than writing is NOT writing. Everybody has stories. Telling them well is the trick.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

Attitude and the Publishing Industry (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by spaceghoti on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 05:41:52 PM EST

It's true that letting rejection and discouragement get to you is the best way to not be published. The market is fickle, and you have to submit, submit, submit. I learned of tricks to "sweet-talk" editors and publishers into taking a chance, though I haven't put any of them to practice yet. Still working on my next creation.

I'd like to point out that I said nothing to the effect of King isn't a hack, or that he can't be a hack and an industry leader. I make no claims whether or not he's a hack (though I personally love the way I was pulled into his descriptions when I still read his work); he's an industry leader regardless.

The reason I point out his status in the industry is to explain why I believe that discouraging results for his attempt at web publication will hurt future attempts at web publication. With the exception of companies like Baen Books, I believe most companies will not move in that direction if they see Stephen King, one of the best guarantees for book sales, fail on the web.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
So We Agree? (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by eskimo on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 06:26:57 PM EST

What a gyp.

I think that after the 14,000th focus group, somebody will realize that there are different markets for different kinds of books. When I walk into Borders, I see a whole store. I see heaven. My Mom sees some James Patterson tripe and a cash register. Certainly she is the target of the brunt of their assault, but I think that there are a lot of people who might even make it to the second or third tables in Borders, with the new paperbacks. I theorize that some people might even look in the stacks. (Sarcasm NOT directed at you, more at people like my Mom...but not my Mom, because she is much cooler than her reading material...). Once they figure out more about those people (us), they'll figure out how to switch mediums.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

Yup, we agree. (4.40 / 5) (#19)
by spaceghoti on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 06:49:31 PM EST

The publishing industry, like so much of our society these days, needs an overhaul. The problem is the sheer volume of material being produced, a very large portion of which is not fit for print. The Internet is an incredible litmus test for the literary quality of the United States as well as the rest of the world. If you go to Seventh Dimension's Highlander Archives, you'll find literally hundreds of stories written entirely by amateurs about their favorite subject: Highlander. Whatever your opinion of fan-fiction, you will find some legitimately good writing at this site. For the most part, you'll find legitimately bad writing.

That's the herculean task for the publishing companies: finding the gems among the sewage. It takes a lot of work and care, but the industry is results-oriented. I've heard a lot of stories of editors burnt out from frustration because they found gems that deserved recognition, but the stories didn't match the profile the company was looking for. Therefore, even if the story got published it wouldn't receive the advertising needed to make the story successful. The days of James Campbell and Lester Del Rey are gone, and the publishers of today will focus on the big winners while burying everyone else. It will take a huge shakeup for them to even consider looking in another direction, and Stephen King provided a small shakeup with his experiment on the web. But I think the publishing companies are going to look at the results and write it off as a passing fad.

You have no idea how sad that makes me.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Borders is heaven? (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 03:21:47 PM EST

When I walk into Borders, I see a whole store. I see heaven.

Gosh, I walk into Borders and feel naseous.

Now, here in Cincinnati we have a little store downtown called "The Ohio Book Store." Four floors of used books in a decrepit falling apart building. Meandering through the shelves one can find books that one would never expect to see in a Borders or a Barnes and Noble. The best part is that except for the really old and rare items, the prices are a fraction of what the chains carry. But those old and rare items make it worth the trip just feel the history between your fingers as you browse....

[ Parent ]

Agreed, but... (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by eskimo on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 06:36:28 PM EST

We have Liberties, which is in an upscale mall. Great bookstore, but not that different from Borders. When I lived in Atlanta, on the other hand...omg. The problem with living in the suburbs is that while we have technologically wonderful movie theaters, which I appreciate greatly, we don't exactly have the best bookstores or record stores.

I don't know how well read you are, and I'll admit that there is plenty of charm in independent bookstores, but the fact is, there is tons of raw and beautiful information in B&N or Borders that I find that I would never have found anywhere else. I found Janwillem Van De Wetering at B&N, and now I know what life was like in Amsterdam in the late seventies. And that's not what I was setting out to do that morning.

Like I said in a previous post: I will not let popular culture determine whether or not I think something is useful or meaningful.

And I can get Autosport at Borders. I got my sig at Borders too.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

the right man (3.33 / 3) (#20)
by micco on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 11:22:45 PM EST

But you make an interesting point and ask an interesting question. King was clearly the wrong man for the job, but who would be the right man?

Perhaps the right man for the job is David Pesci. He has released his novel, The Satori Effect, as a "web-book" with the first 100 pages free to download and a $10 fee for the rest.

Personally, I like Schneier's Street Performer Protocol for this kind of distribution, but Pesci has a very good explanation of why he's doing this, and I think his model will work. At the very least, I think Pesci's model holds more promise for unknown authors.

[ Parent ]

failure only depends on your perspective (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by no carrier on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 01:28:14 PM EST

even looking at the low end of 20,000 downloads paid for, for a 50 chapter book (which is somewhere in the middle, i've seen much longer, i've seen much shorter) that's $1,000,000 with very little overhead involved.

and he even says he'll come back to it one day, possibly letting it die down and the come back to generate more hype, which is where he made the most money off the first installment.
failure? i'd take a million dollar's worth of failure anyday.

I stab people.
[ Parent ]
Trends (none / 0) (#25)
by spaceghoti on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 01:41:41 PM EST

King got paid over $20k for over 40k downloads of Chapter 5, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I certainly wouldn't mind getting paid half that for posting one of my stories on the web in its entirety. However, the "failure" aspect comes in when you realize that he received over $100k for over 100k downloads of the first chapter. Thus you realize that interest in this story is in a downward decline. Why would the publishing companies invest valuable money on something that's looking like a flash in the pan based on King's results?

It isn't the amount of money King is getting that's determining success or failure. It's how much interest web publication is generating or not generating as time passes. Publishing companies will take the downward trend as a failing of the market itself rather than any failure on King's part, which I believe to be the true reason for the declining downloads and income.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Failure? (4.20 / 5) (#9)
by fvw on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:40:16 AM EST

Some people seem to object to my use of the term 'failure' for this.. While it may be a bit misleading, I still feel it is a failure. It might not be a failure for SK (after all, he got a lot of money, and didn't even deliver full work), but it is a failure in general. For me, success would have been all parties satisfied with the arrangement. But it's ended with one party screwing the other, which, in my eyes, is a bad thing, and thus a failure of the experiment.

Not the first time King's done this (2.40 / 5) (#14)
by Global-Lightning on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 03:04:16 PM EST

A similar series of event happened with the "Gunslinger" series.
After 4 or 5 books that started off strong but eventually meandered aimlessly, I just stopped reading them.

From a technical point of view, the experiment was a success: People were open to paying for a fairly priced product online, AFAIK it wasn't badly pirated, and initially all parties (except perhaps for the book binders and paper middlemen) were satisfied.

The only failure I see here was readership losing interest in a bad or dying product. And that will always happen, regardless of the medium!

inetresting (2.00 / 3) (#17)
by /dev/trash on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 05:56:44 PM EST

Soooooo, The Gunslinger should have a new book out every 6 months?????? How high quality would that be? He wants to take a break to get the Gunslinger epic going again and to do other things. Calling it a failure is wrong. I went to the page expecting to see "I am never going to finish The Plant". This was just a post by someone who believes in FUD.

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
Clarification (2.00 / 1) (#22)
by omegadave on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 03:22:29 AM EST

Not to nit pick, but it's the "Dark Tower" series of books, in which the first one was called "Gunslinger" The series isn't known as the "Gunslinger series". Just thougt I'd everyone know if they didn't ;)

A Prisoner's Dilemma? (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by trust_no_one on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 03:37:50 PM EST

I looked on King's experiment as a Prisoner's Dilemma problem. One could cooperate by downloading the chapter and paying the dollar or one could defect by not paying, thereby getting something for nothing. If we didn't get 75% cooperators then the experiment stops and everyone gets nothing, cooperators and defectors alike.

As time went on, the number of cooperators decreased, so the percentage of defectors rose. Whether the cooperators lost interest in the story, or felt they weren't getting their money's worth I'm not sure.

Personally, I felt that King would never finish the story. I couldn't bring myself to actually pay for each chapter when I was fairly certain that it would never be completed.

I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

Stephen King's experiment fails | 30 comments (22 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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