Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: Short E-Stories?
There’s a new Stephen King story out called Mile 81. But if you don’t have an e-reader you can’t read it.
This isn’t that big of a loss for King fans. One of King’s most endearing qualities as a writer has been his dedication to the short story as an art form, making it commercially viable through sheer force of will. He’s written some great ones in his time. But Mile 81 isn’t one of those. It is a decent middle of the roader but hardly one of King’s best. It won’t stick with you the way that King’s best short stories, say The Jaunt, The End Of The Whole Mess or The Raft will, but for three dollars it makes an entertaining lunch break.
It features another one of King’s killer cars, which have proved a consistent fascination for the author. This one parks itself at an abandoned rest stop by the titular mile marker and starts eating whatever passes by. King’s prose is always entertaining and his keen ear for dialogue, patterns of thought, and internal monologue skill are as sharp as ever (“Once you started eating shit, it had a way of becoming a regular diet,” one character muses.) But eventually, the repetition begins to wear and reminds one of nothing more than the old Monty Python skit in which blancmanges eat most of Europe.
King was far ahead of the curve in regard to the e-book format. Eleven(!) years ago, he released Riding The Bullet exclusively as an e-book. It sold 400,000 copies in its first day alone, not including the free downloads offered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Were there even that many e-readers in circulation at that time? He followed this up in 2009 with the Kindle-only story Ur about a magical Kindle that could get books from other dimensions. Really. The success was duplicated and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal King admitted, “It took three days, and I’ve made about $80,000. You can’t get that for short fiction from Playboy or anybody else. It’s ridiculous.”
Perhaps it’s figures like that which are drawing authors to publishing short fiction as e-book exclusives, rather than aesthetic dedication to the form. Whatever the reason, we’re in the middle of something of a boom when it comes to short stories. Heavy hitters like Lee Child, J.R. Ward, Walter Mosely, Brad Thor, Pittacus Lore, Dean Koontz and David Baldacci are all offering exclusive short fiction via the e-reader. John Ajvide Lindqvist has a nice nasty little story, entitled Itsy Bitsy available for free too.
These stories are used for advertising (Itsy Bitsy comes loaded with samples from Lindqvist’s upcoming novels) and a quick buck. A lot of the time they’re not truly independent short stories but really prequels or epilogues to the author’s most recently published work. Still these stories have proved there is an appetite and a market for short fiction, an art form all but left for dead as commercially defunct. It’s not hard to picture a canny editor making the most out of the situation and finding a very receptive market.
One final note. When King’s excellent Full Dark, No Stars was released in paperback, tucked behind the afterward was an extra short story. Of course if you had an e-reader you were out of luck, it was a paper exclusive.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
Share a Thought below if you’ll read Mile 81 or if you have strong feelings about the e-reader-only approach.
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Elsewhere on inReads: Take a look back on how the e-reader boom began.