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Diane Brady

A great start, but
problems -especially copyright protection- remain.

Best-selling author Stephen King kept returning to the darkest corners of the soul in his writings. But when it came to the new world of electronic publishing, he pioneered virgin territory. In March 2002, the master of the macabre sold more than half a million copies of his 66-page electronic book, Riding the Bullet, through the Internet for just $2.50 a pop. After that, King did something more radical. Later that same month, he sidestepped publisher Simon & Schuster Inc. altogether by releasing installments of his new novel, The Plant, direct to readers from his own Web site at $1 per episode. ''It's the ultimate experiment,'' said King's agent, Ralph M. Vicinanza.

The experiment worked and could help establish a new era for authors of all stripes: from unknowns scribbling in their garrets to the rich and famous. Electronic books have been talked about for decades, but suddenly they seem to be coming out of the woodwork, not to mention the crypt. A recent joint study by Andersen Consulting and the Association of American Publishers projects that the e-publishing market for consumer books could reach $15.5 billion by 2010. Many feel the market for professional and education books is even riper, because people use them for quick reference. ''The e-book will be the paperback of the 21st century,'' predicts Jack Romanos, president of Simon & Schuster. He shrugs off King's self-publishing move, saying, ''we chalk it up to an experiment and not a threat at the moment.''

Already, a handful of industries are revamping in anticipation of the switchover. Publishers have digitized thousands of titles and are working to establish standards before the end of the year that ease distribution while preventing the threat of piracy. (Thieves stole copies of King's Riding the Bullet and posted them on Web sites for others to filch.) And tech companies are working to make e-books more palatable to readers, whether on computers or special e-reader devices.

If this new medium takes off, the biggest winners could be the authors. While the publishing industry is quick to coddle and promote stars, it often has little time for those who don't rack up big sales. Indeed, the Net exposes the flaws of traditional publishing. Of course, the promise of e-publishing isn't quite fulfilled yet. While it may offer wonderful opportunities for readers to see work that traditional houses would never touch, it also threatens to overwhelm them with unreadable junk and provides little help in separating the gold from the dross.

E-publishing also means speed to market. Instead of waiting months for publication, King got Riding the Bullet out mere weeks after penning the last page. Because of the low cost of electronic distribution, the Net allows authors to cater to smaller markets than is generally possible in print.

While e-books open the floodgates for new authors, some established writers are concerned about a decline in quality. Mystery writer Mosley shares the enthusiasm for e-books and is publishing some short stories on the Net, but he worries that adding sound and images to text could change reading from an active intellectual exercise to something more passive, like TV. ''Reading forces you to imagine, think, create, and question,'' says Mosley, adding that too many bells and whistles ''will degrade the amount of thinking on the part of the reader.''

As technology improves and a new generation of readers gets comfortable with e-books, more writers will surely follow King and Clark. Important work will get published online. And someday, traditional book publishers may go the way of the medieval illuminators. Now, that's a macabre thought worthy of Stephen King.

Source: Businessweek Magazine


he sidestepped: he tried to avoid questions (trató de esquivar al)
scribbling: writing down quickly without much attention to detail (que escriben a la apurada)
garrets: an open space at the top of a house just below roof (áticos)
riper: fully prepared (totalmente maduro o preparado)
we chalk it up to: we score it as (lo anotamos como)
revamping: renovating (renovando)
switchover: change (cambio)
for others to filch: in order other web visitors make off with the books (para que otros lo robaran)

palatable: acceptable to the taste or mind (digeribles)
takes off: sets in motion (despega)
to coddle: to spoil, to treat with excessive indulgence (para mimar)
rack up: score, gain points (obtienen)
flaws: imperfections (vaivenes, idas y vueltas)
fulfilled: developed (desarrollada)
to overwhelm them: to charge them (saturarlos)
the dross: the worthless material that should be removed (la escoria, lo descartable)
after penning: after producing a literary work (después de escribir)
to cater to: to supply with (para proveer a)
bells and whistles: unimportant details (chucherías, adornos sin importancia)