Stephen King wants "Under the Dome" to help bookstores

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Hoping to prevent the creation of a retail landscape in which bookstores start going down like dominos, super-author Stephen King will hold back the release of the electronic version of his latest novel, "Under the Dome," scheduled to appear in hardback on Nov. 10. According to Scribner, King's publisher, the e-book version will not become available till 12:01 am on Dec. 24.

And despite the drastic discounting of bestsellers announced this month by various large retailers, the list price for the "Under the Dome" e-book will be $35 (although retailers, of course, can always discount).

It's not as if King has anything against e-books. On the contrary, in addition to being a self-confessed (and very happy) Kindle owner, King has been an e-book innovator from the start.  His 2000 e-novella "Riding the Bullet" was first published for free online and, early this year, when Amazon.com brought out a new edition of the Kindle, King's novella "Ur" was sold exclusively through the new Kindle.

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But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, King said that he wanted to help both independent bookstores and national bookstore chains sell the hardcover edition of his book. "I never thought we'd see people preordering a copy for $8.98," he said. "My thinking was to give bookstores a chance to make some money."

King and his publisher are not alone. The e-books editions of "True Compass," the already released memoir of the late Ted Kennedy, and "Going Rogue," the upcoming memoir of Sarah Palin, will also be delayed to give the hardcover copies of the books a chance to sell during the holiday season.

But it's no slam-dunk that bookstores will be greatly aided by the delay. All three books have also become part of the frenzied book wars now taking place among mass market competitors like WalMart and Target. On the websites of both companies you can pre-order hardcover copies of all of the above titles – and other likely holiday picks – for $8.99.

Where does it all go from here? "While price cutting [on books] could drive sales on select titles," points out blogger Eric Engelman, "it could also readjust the value that consumers place on books."

No kidding. Once readers get used to snapping up their favorite author for under $10, it's going to be very  hard to ask them to take a step back up.

But if anyone's going to be worrying about the relationship between readers and their books, you can probably guess that it's not going to be WalMart, Target, or Sears (also now jumping into book discounting.) "All the guys in ties want to talk about is whether a new delivery system is going to work," King told the Wall Street Journal. "Nobody seems to care about the book."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.   

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