Stephen King's THE PLANT Withers... (Mania.com)

By:Denise Dumars
Date: Friday, December 08, 2000

The suspension of the on-line serialization of Stephen King's story The Plant the first week of December sent ripples and rumors through e-publishing. The New York Times ran an editorial on Dec. 1 that inflamed King's ire, and he struck back with an rebuttal on his official website, www.stephenking.com. By then it was too late; by the time Writer's Digest got hold of the story some pundits were calling the 'failure' of King's online experiment the 'end of electronic publishing.'

Not to worry, says the online versionnot surprisinglyof Writer's Digest. 'It's amazing how words can get switched around and, when they do, how much a situation can be blown out of proportion,' states an article in the Dec. 5 edition of Tips and Updates From Writer's Digest. Far from ending the online publishing experiment, WD prefers to look at the situation as just an example of a previously abandoned writing project (the story lay fallow for 19 years before King revived it for the online version) that is set aside once again as the writer goes on to bigger and better things.

King took umbrage at The New York Times' version of the reason for the end of the serialization of the story. They felt that 'one reads Stephen King novels in a single gulp. Their chief effect is suspense of a kind that cannot be drawn out over months.' King felt that this assessment was unfair, citing his own success with serializing the novel The Green Mile and the success of a similar project by John Saul.

King does not, unfortunately, confine his response to a rebuttal to the editorial. He continues his response with what certainly seems to be an insult to Internet users, blaming them for the failure (if grossing $600,000 can in any measure be considered 'failure') of the project. King states, '...most Internet users have the attention span of grasshoppers....Internet users have gotten used to the idea that most of what's available to them on the Net is either free or should be.' Well, then why try the experiment at all?

The facts in the matter are simple: the first downloaded installment had 120,000 paying customers. By the fifth installment the number had dwindled to 40,000, and a lot of those downloading were no longer paying for the installments. (Payment of $1-$2 per installment had been on the honor system all along.)

King maintains that The Plant as a serial has not been abandoned. The last part e-published concludes the first major phase of the story. He states that the project is 'on hiatus,' but does not say whether the book will eventually be finished online, in traditional book publication, or at all. Anything else, including what this experiment means to the world of online publishing as a whole, is pure conjecture.