Stephen King Electronic Book Becomes Big Marketing Tool

It took a major author like Stephen King to draw attention to electronic book publishing, and, now that the hype has begun, Internet companies are rushing to use Tuesday’s new release for their own marketing purposes.

First, book e-tailer Barnes & Noble.com (BNBN) announced it would offer free digital downloads of the 66-page short story, Riding the Bullet, as a means of promoting its site and the Rocket eBook. The digital download would usually cost $2.50.

The company is offering the download only in the eBook format, even though Simon & Schuster Online is publishing it in several different electronic formats. Not coincidentally, Barnes & Noble.com is an investor in NuvoMedia, the creator of the Rocket eBook format. (NuvoMedia was acquired by Gemstar International Group Limited (GMST) in January.)

“Stephen King’s decision to publish his new short story in electronic format is a concrete declaration that the eBook format has arrived,” said Steve Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes & Noble.com.

“By offering King’s eBook for free, we hope customers will embrace this new technology, which promises to revolutionize the way we read.”

Not to be outdone, competitor Amazon.com (AMZN) teamed with Glassbook, the creator of another electronic book format, to offer the book free at its site. This deal ensures that Amazon.com customers aren’t left out of the electronic book frenzy, and it gives Glassbook the opportunity to get its software downloaded on these people’s Windows systems. Perhaps, once they’ve downloaded and installed the Glassbook software (which takes 20 minutes on a 56K modem), they’ll be interested in buying a Glassbook-formatted book in the future.

Glassbook also has a distribution deal with Barnes & Noble.com, but it apparently turned to Amazon.com after Barnes & Noble.com decided to offer the free downloads in the Rocket eBook format.

Other companies involved in the electronic distribution of King’s book are also trumpeting their roles.

Simon & Schuster Online scored a publicity coup in announcing the book’s availability.

SoftLock, which provided the technology to make sure only those who pay get to read the book (excepting these free offers, of course), is hoping to get a boost in name recognition.

NetLibrary, and its peanutpress.com division, is promoting its ability to distribute the book in formats for personal digital assistants. If the slowdown in its Web site today is any indication, the firm seems to be getting a boost.

SeekBOOKS.com, a search engine for book sites, is also featuring the book prominently on its site.

“I’m curious to see what sort of response there is and whether or not this is the future,” said Stephen King. Well, the marketing buzz sure shows that, if e-books are the future, there are plenty of players eager to grab potential consumers.

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