By now everyone must know the deal: if 75 per cent of people who download the monthly installments of Stephen King’s ‘new’ online novel, The Plant, pay for it, he’ll keep on churning it out. Addressing visitors to his website as ‘my friends’, he urges them to ‘Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds. No stealing from the blind newsboy!’ Since the man’s sight is rapidly failing him, the last sentence has its own macabre twist – ‘vintage King’, as the pundits might say. Cynics might reply that King is in fact banking on only, say, 60 per cent of his readers forking out. He wrote the first three episodes back in the early 1980s (he nonchalantly makes a virtue out of the epistolary story being ‘set ... before e-mail ... when even the fax was a fringe technology’). As long as fewer than three quarters of readers cough up, he’ll have effortlessly, even wordlessly fulfilled his promise to his fans that they’d have something new this summer – he took a sabbatical following a nasty road accident – while earning at least a few dollars, one per honest reader per pre-prepared episode. Money for old rope, to buy King more time.
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