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King puts computer ethics to the test

By ronfar in News
Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:34:56 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

This article, Stephen King posts new novel online, basically shows something interesting about Stephen King. As you know, Stephen King came out with an eBook a while ago that was in an (ugh!) encrypted, proprietary format. It gave even people who don't care about things like MP3s or DVDs the shudders, because it proposed the possibility of a future where stuff like CSS could even be applied to print media, giving greedy, evil corporations the power to control what people read as well as the other media they are already in the process of locking down.

It was also somewhat ironic for King (and probably inspired his current actions) that he could not read his own book without a Windows machine, even though he is a Mac User.

So, Stephen King is letting the reader be his patron. If the readers like what they read in his first chapter, they send him a small fee ($1.00) and he goes on to publish more chapters.

I think King is a pioneer in this, and I think it is very forward thinking of him to try to make a business plan that would allow him to make money as an author without imposing draconian controls on his work. Or, perhaps, he just understands the futility of content access systems, and is trying to find something that actually works. Either way, I think it is an interesting experiment.


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King puts computer ethics to the test | 36 comments (35 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
who will bother... (none / 0) (#2)
by madams on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 05:59:22 PM EST

with only one dollar?

just my $1 - 58¢

Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

= 42 cents? (none / 0) (#3)
by madams on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:04:31 PM EST

1 dollar equals 100 cents.

1 minute = 60 seconds.

I must have been thinking about pr0n. :-/

Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.
[ Parent ]

Street Performer Protocol (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by Tolian on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:35:01 PM EST

This seems like the Street Performer Protocol. Its been a while since I read it, so I may be off. You can find one description of SPP at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_6/kelsey/index.html

Re: Street Performer Protocol (1.50 / 2) (#22)
by bobsquatch on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:26:42 AM EST

It's similar to the SPP. Similarities:
  • King gives away a small part of the whole as proof/advertisement.
  • King makes release of the rest of the whole contingent on sufficient payment.
  • King makes no effort to require payment from anybody.
There's some marked differences, though, from the SPP as described by S & K:
  • King will be removing chapter 1 when he posts chapter 3. Why? I dunno. Seems rather pointless, and will only encourage people to re-post chapter 1. Or discourage folks who came in late from ever starting to read it -- who wants to start reading a novel at chapter 2?
  • King is asking for $1 per download. He's asking for it even after he's reached the threshold for further releases. The SPP asks for whatever donation you think is fair.
  • King's threshold seems to be (number of downloads) * $0.75 for the next chapter. An SPP threshold would be a fixed amount, the amount of money King considers fair compensation for the work he put into writing the story.
  • King is still claiming copyright protection on his works. He will still ask for $1 per download even after the whole story is released. He won't let anybody mirror chapter 1 even after chapter 1 is removed from the site (again, why?). The SPP asks for money up front, and then doesn't bother with copyright enforcement after the fact.
So, it's pretty close to the SPP -- but not close enough to actually call it a test of the SPP. I'm kind of worried that King's scheme is too trusting to actually work, since it's based on micropayments-per-download, not the PBS-style "fixed goal" system. I think it's prone to failure because putting the toll gates on "download" instead of "release" ignores the reality of digital information; digital info is scarce on release, not on copying. I'm worried because some people may choose to view a King failure as a failure of the SPP, and then claim that any other SPP-esque scheme is bound to fail as well.

Perhaps my fear is just a warmed-over rehash of the frustration I've had promoting Free Software in a previous job -- all my opponents would say about it is that "Open Source is a failure because Mozilla is a failure." King's variation on the SPP could cloud all SPP schemes if it goes splat.

[ Parent ]

And if I don't like his writing? (2.20 / 10) (#5)
by plastix on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:38:28 PM EST

Can I tie him to a bed, make him burn the manuscript and break his ankles with a sledge hammer?

Re: And if I don't like his writing? (none / 0) (#13)
by tzanger on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 10:25:01 PM EST

Can I tie him to a bed, make him burn the manuscript and break his ankles with a sledge hammer?

IIRC (and it's been a LONG time), she cut off his one foot with an axe in the book.

[ Parent ]
Re: And if I don't like his writing? (none / 0) (#20)
by squigly on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:19:29 AM EST

I think the breaking of the ankles sounds more painful.

People who sig other people have nothing intelligent to say for themselves - anonimouse
[ Parent ]
Shareware (3.00 / 2) (#6)
by drivers on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:50:41 PM EST

Someone mentioned that is was like the street performer protocol. That is what I was thinking, so I think I will say that it is also somewhat like the old Shareware scheme. You can download the first episode (in this case the first two episodes) for free, but you have to pay for the extra episodes. (Like Doom.) In this case though, you could send him the money but never get to see the final episode. Also I saw something about him wanting a certain ratio of people who pay, and I doubt he will get that amount... I think he should say that if he gets a certain dollar amount he will finish the book, as opposed to a certain ratio. I think that would be closer to the Street Performer's Protocol. Besides, how would you count copies made but not downloaded from the site?

Not really (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 08:11:44 PM EST

The thing about Doom and other shareware: you can get the entire product even if you're the only person in the world who wants it.

With SK's setup, not only do you have to like the product, but you have to count on thousands of other people to want it too. That is pretty clever of SK actually, once you've read and paid for the first few chapters, you're hooked and you will try to convince your friends to pay for it as well so the threshold is reached and the next chapter is also released. The fans will basically become the author's publicity agent.

Granted, at anytime you're free to pay $500+ just to get SK to release the rest of the book, but that is a lot more than the $35 you'd pay as the only fan of Doom.

Anonymous? Yes. Hero? Not by a long shot.

[ Parent ]

Re: Not really (1.00 / 1) (#25)
by bobsquatch on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:41:17 AM EST

It's an advantage for the lone consumer, but still a small one. If you're the only one interested in it, it's probably crap -- or you have outrageously specialized needs/wants. If it's crap, the company goes under (since it's only grossed $35 on many months of labor), and you have your unique copy of crap. If you have super-specialized tastes, such that you are the only person who really wants/needs that product, you should be subsidizing the costs of producing that product -- or else your supplier goes bankrupt and you lose in the long run.

So, the shareware model for a product with only one buyer gets that one buyer a piece of crap, or a product with no support and no sequels; the SPP model gets the one buyer his money back; King's model leaves the buyer out a couple of bucks. A marginal advantage at best to the shareware model!

[ Parent ]

Online Reading (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by the coose on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 07:04:54 PM EST

Ok so I haven't read a Stephen King novel since The Talisman but after reading this, I might have to give it a shot. Not because it's a King novel but because I have never read an eBook. Now, as a programmer, I've read plenty of documentation online - but a book? I dunno..if anybody has tried this, I'd be interested in hearing about the experience.

Re: Online Reading (none / 0) (#10)
by pabs on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 07:58:53 PM EST

Actually, I read Jurassic Park in electronic form about 6 or 7 years ago on my PowerBook 180. IIRC, it was a HyperCard-like application.

Anyways, the point is that it's really not that much different than a book, assuming the media has reasonable justification and a legible font.

My overall impression was a positive one, although I still think reading books via a computer terminal will always pale in comparison to reading a hardcopy. Unless they can perfect paper computing, that is.

[ Parent ]
Re: Online Reading (none / 0) (#14)
by relarson on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 11:27:48 PM EST

Baen books has had their webscription ebook service for almost a year now, check out the free example book, _On Basilisk Station_ if you want to experience online book reading. Basically webscriptions allow you to see the first half of the book 3 months prior to publication, 3/4 2months prior to publication and finally the full book right before the actual publication date. You get 4 books for 10 bucks, straight html no BS special format. A little bit better deal than a dollar a chapter. (As you can tell I'm a big fan) -Rich
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.
--John Dryden,
    All for Love

[ Parent ]
Re: Online Reading (none / 0) (#26)
by meadows_p on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 05:13:42 AM EST

There's a lot of classics out there on the web, granted it's not the same as holding a real book in your hands, but it's not too bad. I don't know how well it will go down with the general public, but seeing as you're a programmer, you're probably used to staring at a screen for hours! Check these out; On-line books and Project Gutenberg

[ Parent ]
Nothing new under the sun... (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 07:32:48 PM EST

Back when copyright was less pervasive, a number of authors published works on the installment plan, with subsequent chapters/volumes released after sufficient subscriber payments had been received. IIRC, one that did this was Willam Blake (1757-1827).

E-money (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by phlaegel on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 07:48:03 PM EST

Maybe it's just me, but I don't really see this method (which I'm in favor of) taking off without a much more convenient method of payment being in widespread use. Something like Paypal, but with the addition of.. oh... let's say, international availability (Can you tell I am *not* in the US and want to be able to use paypal?). I just don't see a lot of people running out to send off a check or MO for *$1*. I know I won't. Make it a quick, easy, electronic transfer of a buck, and I'd be much more likely to do it.

E-gold is like that. (none / 0) (#16)
by TheDullBlade on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:00:57 AM EST

e-gold is suitable for small payments (down to around 1 cent).

It has its problems, but I think it's workable.
Visit Boswa Bits, now with 99% less evil!
[ Parent ]

Re: E-gold is like that. (none / 0) (#35)
by joostje on Sat Jul 22, 2000 at 04:47:23 PM EST

e-gold may be `like that', but from what I read from the e-gold site, it will not work here.

The e-gold is (correct me if I'm wrong) not directly transferable to real dollars (or euros), and you thus cannot easily pay $1 (depends on the current exchange rate).

Also, to fill your account, apparently you have to send real gold (or other metal) to the e-gold bank, not very user-frendly. Or did I misunderstand something here?

[ Parent ]

It's easier than you think. (none / 0) (#36)
by TheDullBlade on Tue Jul 25, 2000 at 01:22:30 AM EST

You can very easily pay $1 or 1 euro equivalents. You can specify your transfer amount in one of many national currencies and they will do the calculating for you.

Someone has to send in real metal, but you can just buy e-metal from them. As it is now, there are about a dozen places you can buy e-metal from.

It's definitely not perfect, but I think it's the best thing around right now. (paypal is great, but not international)
Visit Boswa Bits, now with 99% less evil!
[ Parent ]

This fucking rulez! (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by Nyarlathotep on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 08:18:31 PM EST

This is cool. I do not read Stephen King's stuff, but I may go give him a buck anyway. There is no art, music, or novels without artists, musicians, and writers period. The people who make the content can fucking say "give me money so I can do more stuff" and people will pay. Hardcore, buy the CD / novel the day it comes out types will say "I get way more enjoyment from your shit then most people's.. here's a hundered bucks.. I'l just go pirate everyone else's shit." The fan will need to do this or they will be stuck reading the shit other authors write.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
Some other "low pay" plans (none / 0) (#15)
by Wah on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 12:25:30 AM EST

just ran across this tonight during my daily "what the hell is goin on with music" surfing.

I haven't used, and am not familar with any of the technologies mentioned, any of you guys, seen/used any of them?

I'm glad to see King make this move. I'm not sure if I'll even read it though (and I am(was) a big SK fan). After reading "The girl who loved tom gordon", I realized that his recent accident made him appreciate life too much to be truly scary anymore (the girl lost in the forest doesn't even die, just sees some scary hallucinations)
Fail to Obey?
Art as shareware (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by mbrubeck on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:45:08 AM EST

One of several interesting tidbits from Stephen King's official web site:

look Ma, no e-Book! No tiresome encryption! Want to print it and show it to a friend? Go ahead! There's only one catch: all this is on the honor system. Has to be. I'm counting on two things. The first is plain old honesty. "Take what you want and pay for it," as the old saying goes. The second is that you'll like the story enough to want to read more. If you do want more, you have to pay. Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds. No stealing from the blind newsboy!

Anyone with even mild computer experience will recognize this as a variant of the shareware business model. Shareware schemes are becoming a popular way for independent artists (and now, an established novelist) to distribute their work in the digital world. One variation is found at sites like MP3.com, which gives away the music but let fans buy CDs, both for convenience and to support their favorite bands.

Jim Monroe has a similar business model for his self-published novel, Angry Young Spaceman. The text is available digitally for free, but fans can choose to pay for a hardbound book. Interestingly, his direct sales are handled by veteran shareware middlemen Kagi. This company got its start handling registration for shareware computer programs. Now they give people like Monroe a way to sell directly to customers, while taking a much smaller cut than other e-commerce or retail channels.

Voluntary payment systems seem to be the prevailing direction for supporting art and entertainment on the net. I want to know whether shareware is the right model. Computer programmers have been using shareware, freeware, and free software licenses for years now. We've found a few viable ways to make money doing it, and a lot more that have failed. How many shareware authors made decent returns on their work, and how did they do it? Will artists benefit from those experiences, or will they end up re-learning each lesson the hard way?

Re: Art as shareware (none / 0) (#21)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:22:25 AM EST

Head over to No Media Kings to see what Jim Monroe is doing and his motivations for self-publishing his novel. You can also download the novel there.

[ Parent ]
The Street Performer's Protocol (none / 0) (#27)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 11:13:50 AM EST

I think King has independently arrived at something that is not so much like the shareware model as it is Bruce Schneier's Street Performer Protocol.

[ Parent ]
I don't get it... (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by PrettyBoyTim on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 02:23:26 AM EST

Surely, we're going to need some form of digital content protection for stuff to be sold on the web?

I write Small Computer Games (I know, shameless plug... and I know, Windows only atm...), and we've got a system whereby you can play a section of the game, and then you pay up the $15 for a serial number that unlocks the rest of the game... This is very common with software, and I don't see why it's suddenly so objectionable when it comes to music and other art forms.

Now, I know that whenever somebody releases some music or a book in encrypted form, everybody here gets pissed off because it normally only works on a Windows machine, and I agree that sucks, but we've got to start somewhere... (Although I do think that it probably shouldn't be an OS creator who controls the format - too tempting to use it to promote their OS.)

We've got to move forward - I'm sure that selling content over the internet is the future.

Re: I don't get it... (none / 0) (#24)
by Skapare on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:39:21 AM EST

A game being first in Windows only is entirely different than being able to add a decryption module to an existing reader application such as Adobe Acrobat Reader which already exists on numerous platforms. I don't know how hard it is to write a game, but I suspect there are a lot of difficulties getting all that 3D action to work fast on a variety of video cards created by different teams of engineers who seem to have discovered some very good drugs somewhere. By contrast, the principle work has already been done in things like PDF readers to get them to run on systems like Linux. One contract programmer who has crypto and GUI experience in Linux could convert the module for Linux I am sure in just a few days and test it in a coiple weeks at a cost to the corporation of probably no more than $10,000. Instead, they prefer to exclude what is currently about 5 to 10 percent of the market, and then they wonder why these people were stealing it (actually they may have bought it, but were trying to crack it so they could read, listen, view, or whatever).

Do please come out with the Linux, BSD, and Mac versions as soon as you can. But unless you are a big corporation with lots of development financing at hand, I don't expect you could do that so soon. So I don't have a problem with the little guys doing Windows first as long as you don't have a problem with the fact that I use Linux exclusively (at least at home).

Still, experience should tell you where and how to modularize tools in your development so as to make a portable game core function with various interface modules. I don't know how much that kind of design would slow things down, not being a graphics programmer. But much of my other code "just works" on many platforms because it doesn't need to mess with system and platform interfaces. An encryption module should be able to do as well.

[ Parent ]
This will fail (none / 0) (#19)
by yuri on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:04:20 AM EST

Picture the scene:

you download an MP3, start playing it, it stops after 30 seconds, launches your web browser and asks you to pay to hear the rest of the song.

If even once you spend an hour trying to get the download of the song/book to no avail. You will be unlikely to try it again as you have been left hanging without the punchline. Unless they really make this seamless for people to get what they want, people will become leary of it. It would be better to offer the whole book for a fixed and relatively cheap price prior to download.

Put the hassle before the pleasure.

Press the lever and you may get shocked does not work with mice and I doubt it will work with humans.


CSS (none / 0) (#23)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:37:04 AM EST

Gosh, I sure hope they DON'T use Cascading Style Sheets on that stuff. That'd be bad form.

Yeah. They should wait for XSL. (none / 0) (#31)
by marlowe on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 02:37:21 PM EST

What were talking about again?
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
Tsk. Tsk. I expect better on K5. (1.00 / 1) (#28)
by synaptik on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 12:09:36 PM EST

I know this isn't Rusty's fault, as it's the users that control what K5 prints, but... I expect better from us, guys.

CSS is not intrinsically evil. There is nothing inherently evil about using encryption to keep people from reading something they haven't paid for. In the case of DVDs, CSS was used evilly, in 2 ways: (1) control which parts of the world got to see the content first, and in which way (ex: The USA got a censored version of Eyes Wide Shut,) and (2) demand exhorbitant licensing fees from people who wanted to build DVD decoders (hardware or software). This latter way was only evil in that it disallowed grass-roots operating systems such, as Linux, from legally supporting encrypted DVD content.

Claiming that encryption of online content is greedy is like claiming that locking the doors of a brick-n-mortar bookstore after hours is greedy. Do you lock your car when you leave it in a parking lot?

warning C4717: 'WORLD3D::operator=' : recursive on all control paths, function will cause runtime stack overflow

Re: Tsk. Tsk. I expect better on K5. (none / 0) (#30)
by ronfar on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:43:10 PM EST

There is nothing inherently evil about using encryption to keep people from reading something they haven't paid for.
Of course there isn't and nowhere did I say there was!

Encryption can give corporations who could care less about your right to read a book that you have paid for the power to prevent you from reading it if you don't do so the way they say you must.

Whether or not all corporations are evil I'm willing to debate, but some are. Therefore, this kind of power must be balanced by legal sanctions against those who would abuse it.

As long as people can do whatever they want with encryption (no matter whether it circumvents things like the First Amendment or allows them to rip-off consumers without any legal recourse on the consumers part) I can't support the use of encryption in the commercial sector.

If fair laws are created which balance the rights of consumers with those of copyright holders, I will change my position.

[ Parent ]

Re: Tsk. Tsk. I expect better on K5. (none / 0) (#32)
by synaptik on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:06:31 PM EST

I guess I read something into your comments that you didn't intend. But I think I've got it straight now... you're bemoaning the fact that encryption schemes like CSS preclude open source software, because CSS was encryption through obscurity.

I'll agree with you that the encryption model for CSS was thoroughly broken in this respect, but I hesitate to claim that their intent for this was to control HOW you access their product. At the end of the day, all they care about is that you paid for what you got.

I've always like the method that software like Matlab and Open Sound System uses; they clearsign a license.txt file with a private PGP key, and the software validates it with the compiled-in public key. This methodology works great for open source, because the strength of the security isn't dependent upon the opaqueness of the algorithm. But the people who make the decisions for things like CSS aren't use to that model of thinking. They think of software security like a combination lock, and knowing the inner workings of how a combination lock operates is 90% of the battle in cracking one.

In short, I guess I'm saying "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance." As long as they get their money, they don't care what you use to view the movie. But an unfortunate side-effect of the scheme they chose is that it isn't OSS friendly.

warning C4717: 'WORLD3D::operator=' : recursive on all control paths, function will cause runtime stack overflow
[ Parent ]

Re: Tsk. Tsk. I expect better on K5. (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 06:14:38 PM EST

Give me a break. The obviously care more about than just whether or not you paid for their product. It has been admitted in court that DeCSS is the suckiest way to copy a DVD that has any chance of working. There are far better ways to copy DVDs (Power Ripper, DOD Speed Ripper, etc.) that haven't come near a court case.


DeCSS is the only utility that threatens their control of the player market. Without DeCSS they can control players in lots of ways:

1) Region coding
2) No fast-forwarding through ads (or anything else they don't want you to FF through).
3) No digital interface
4) Analog output is required to be Macrovisioned (want to plug your DVD player into a TV/VCR combo? sorry, that won't work!)
and anything else they have included that I have missed or they feel like including in the future.

Do not fall for the MPAA propaganda. The DeCSS case is not about illegal copying. The only reason DeCSS has any relationship to copying is that if you can see a movie, you can always copy it (one way or another). The DeCSS case is about whether the DMCA gives the MPAA the right to control the DVD player market. If it does, then I'm sure the next court case will establish that Microsoft has the right to control the Word "player" market (and maybe even the PE "player" market, for that matter) and at that point you can kiss OSS goodbye because it will be illegal to reverse-engineer our way out of the boxes proprietary companies put us in.

[ Parent ]
Sounds like the Street Performer Protocol (none / 0) (#29)
by po_boy on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 12:29:23 PM EST

This looks like the first implementation I've seen of something like the street performer protocol. I first read about it in First Monday. It's described by Bruce Schneier and John Kelsey, and is basically a distributed way of paying an artist. Everyone that's interested pays a little bit, and if/when the artist gets enough, he releases the work of art (or the next chapter, as it were). It's kinda like holding your art hostage.

ah, free association (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by Simian on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 05:37:27 PM EST

<forgiveness is begged from those who've seen this before <g>>

I am pretty psyched about this development. I was also a little (well, quite) disappointed about Mr. King's last e-book venture. E-books are a disturbing trend (at least as they are being pushed nowadays).

There are services that charge paper price for books, require minimum orders, kick you off the site if they think you're printing (they have an algorithm that monitors pages viewed per minute, etc.) and will only let one person look at a book at a time. Libraries are snapping this stuff up, even though it's exactly like a physical book.

Is it just me, or don't you get sick seeing the ridiculous lengths copyright holders impose in order to make the electronic exactly like the physical, only less flexible? Just like the RIAA, just like M$, etc., they all want to use the power of networks to squeeze more out of us for less. It's a 'legacy effect', when the masters of an old medium weigh in with all their wealth and power to twist a new one into a shape compatible with their same existing 'profit model'.

I applaud Mr. King for experimenting, instead of simply following the crowd of artists being herded by publishers of all sorts into the slaughterhouse. <hint to same: the RIAA/MPAA doesn't have your best interests at heart.>

Copyright was meant to protect publishers from each other, not from consumers. From consumers, there is no defense<g>.

"Never underestimate the power of a small tactical nuclear weapon."

"As I would not be a slave, so would I not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." Abraham Lincoln
King puts computer ethics to the test | 36 comments (35 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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