I found it interesting that Stephen King’s experiments with e-book publishing seem to have been interpreted quite differently by two different authors I’ve been reading recently. According to Kovac’s “Here Comes the Book: Never Mind the Web: The Printed Book is Alive and Kicking” (p. 50, referencing Gomez “Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age“), when, at the end of 1990s, King published his novel ‘The Plant’ electronic only “the outcome was disastrous, with sales … being at least five times lower than the usual sales of his printed books.” On the other hand, according to John B Thompson in “Merchants of Culture“, publisher expectations of the success of ebooks “…were also raised by the startling success of one of Stephen King’s experiments with electronic publishing. In March 2000 he published his 66 page novella ‘Riding the Bullet’ electronically, available only as a digital file that could be downloaded for $2.50: there was an overwhelming response, resulting in around 400,000 downloads in the first 24 hours and 600,000 in the first two weeks.” (p. 313). More recently, in 2009 (and too late for either author) Stephen King released “Ur” in Kindle-only form and it sold “five figures” in three weeks.
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I’m unimpressed at Harper Collins’ move to limit the number of times an e-book that is bought by a library can be loaned to 26. Most limits on distribution of content are at least partly justified by the fact that they are designed to prevent new copyright infringing uses of that content (even if in practice they also limit fair uses of that text). However, this new rule limits libraries from operating in perfectly normal, legitimate ways. One might conceivably argue that some limit could be set to account for the fact that physical books bought by libraries have always had the physical limitation of only being lendable for a certain number of times before they deteriorated (that’s why they tend to buy more hardbacks). But would a hardback become effectively unreadable after 26 readings as a Harper Collins e-book now will be? And is that the rationale they are offering libraries?