Stephen King deprives his readers of a digital Joyland
Earlier this year, Stephen King caused waves when he held onto the digital rights to his latest release, Joyland, denying readers the chance to purchase an ebook copy, and cause customers to, in his words, “stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”
To the traditional publishing world, this may seem like a brave stance against ebooks and their wily ways, but it leaves the majority of us saying, “Why?”
To King, limiting the sales of Joyland to physical copies might seem like he is single handedly saving the brick-and-mortar bookstore. Is he, though? Obviously e-tailers like Amazon or The Book Depository will swoop in with their deep discounts and free delivery (though probably not for much longer in France).
Most customers today want a huge variety of choice, and more importantly, they want it available at a moment’s notice. That’s a large part of the allure behind ebooks, digital publishing and e-tailers – you aren’t dependent on the opening hours of your local newsagent or bookstore, you are only limited by your Internet connection (not to mention your download limit and credit card).
This Guardian article seems to have confused digital books with online sales, however. Both Mr. King and the Guardian need to remember that regardless of whether or not a physical book is available at a physical location, many people would still prefer to shop online. Or to be even cheaper (and slightly illegal), wait a week or two for the book to digitally scanned and uploaded for free distribution throughout the Internet. Illegal digital distribution will have been especially popular in this case, since that will be the only way that King fans can read Joyland on an ereader.
Retailers like Amazon are as big as they are because they can package together the convenience of purchasing online and the even bigger convenience of having your book delivered to your front door. That’s what’s killing the mortar-and-brick bookstore – not ebooks.
If Amazon were to shut down tomorrow, who’s to say that the next big thing couldn’t be a physical bookstore that sold only ebooks? You certainly wouldn’t need much floor space, and customers would be able to browse through shelves or read snippets just as easily. This is a great idea in theory. However.
Consumer needs are changing, and like I said above, they simply prefer to have the choice of shopping online. People don’t want to go to the shops these days unless they absolutely have to – you can even buy your groceries online now and have it delivered to your house.
Overall, this is a strange and surprising choice, considering that King was one of the first authors to publish a novel online back in 2000. Although sales didn’t last long, it still made him a pioneer.
It possibly looks as though King might be moving backwards with his technological advances. Maybe he’s simply holding onto the digital rights so that he can publish them himself. Or perhaps he plans to create some sort of augmented reality novel for tablets? Fans can only hope that such stubbornness won’t last. (Or maybe King has struck a private deal with Amazon – that might just be the conspiracy theorist in me talking, though.)