Cover of the original e-book release
|1982; 1983; 1985; 2000|
The Plant is an unfinished epistolary serial novel published by Stephen King privately in 1982–85, and in 2000 as a commercial e-book. The novel is about an editor in a paperback publishing house who gets a manuscript from what appears to be a crackpot. The manuscript is about magic, but it also contains photographs that seem very real. The editor writes the author a rejection slip, but because of the photographs, he also notifies the police where the author lives. This enrages the author, who sends a mysterious plant to the editor's office.
The story is told in epistolary format, consisting entirely of letters, memos and correspondence.
King wrote a few parts of a story by the same name and sent them out as chapbooks to his friends, instead of Christmas cards, in 1982, 1983 and 1985. Just three installments were produced by Philtrum Press before the story was shelved, and the original editions have been hotly sought-after collector's items.
In 2000, King published the novella Riding the Bullet over the Internet, making it the world's first mass-market e-book. However, there were technical problems with downloading, and hackers eventually cracked the encryption. Later that year, King released The Plant directly via his website, unencrypted and in installments. People could pay a one-dollar fee for each installment using the honor system. He threatened, however, to drop the project if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75 percent. He viewed the release as an experiment in alternate forms of distribution, writing on his website at the time, "My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare." More than 200,000 customers downloaded free copies of the story in a 24-hour promotion through the Barnes & Noble book-selling site.
The book received more than the desired 75 percent for its first installment, but it fell to 70 percent after installment two. With the third installment, the numbers surged back to 75 percent. All told, after six installments, King revealed that he'd made nearly half a million dollars from the release of The Plant in what has been called his e-book experiment. King decided to double the cost of the fourth part of the novel to $2, while at the same time doubling the number of pages to 54. He also promised to cap the cost of the entire book at a total of $13. Paying readers dropped to 46 percent of downloads. The number of downloads decreased overall as well.
The last installment was published on December 18, 2000. The book is yet to be completed. The original installments are now available for free on Stephen King's official website.
|Original chapbooks||Ebook installments|
|Part one (November 1982)||Installment one (July 2000)|
|Installment two (August 2000)|
|Part two (November 1983)|
|Installment three (September 2000)|
|Part three (November 1985)|
|Installment four (October 2000)|
|Installment five (November 2000)|
|Installment six (December 2000)|
- What is Stephen King trying to prove?, Stephen J. Dubner, New York Times Magazine, 2000-08-13
- The Register, "Stephen King reveals The Plant profit: Not 'Big Publishing's worst nightmare' after all," 7 February 2001
- Wired, "Stephen King's 'Plant' Uprooted," 28 November 2000