King lets fans pay after reading horror online

Misery for publishers and hackers

Horror maestro Stephen King has bypassed publishers with his second online serial novel experiment.

The Plant, available from today, costs $1 for every chapter readers download from King's site. The author has committed to publishing at least the first two chapters, the rest depends on enough people coughing up the cash. The scheme rests on the honesty of King's fans as they can choose to pay for the sections - via Amazon.com's site - after they have read them.

If more than 75 per cent of the people who read the offerings pay, King will reward them by publishing more.

"My friends, we have a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare," he writes on the site.

"Not only are we going glueless, 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."

But he warns: "Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds. No stealing from the blind newsboy!"

The Plant is plugged as a funny yet gruesome tale of a vampire vine that takes over the offices of a publishing house in the early 1980s. The first chapter is available for download today, and part two on 21 August. Part three is scheduled for September, as long as fans pay their dollars.

In March, King put the novella Riding the Bullet online at $2.50 a pop. Despite computer enthusiasts distributing pirated copies on the Web for free, it still sold around half a million electronic copies over the Net, making King around $450,000. ®

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