Scary Side of a Book You Really Can't Put Down

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You only hurt the ones you love.

Even as Stephen King professes affection for his editors and publishers, his plan to make his next novel available online is sure to be breaking hearts at Simon & Schuster, the horror scribe's longtime publisher.

In a groundbreaking move, King will be offering chapter one of his next opus, "The Plant," on the Internet, where readers will be able to print it right off the screen without any intermediary transaction. But in order to keep the page-turner scrolling, King fans will have to pony up a dollar per installment — and hope that their fellow readers are equally honorable: If less than 75 percent of people who download pay up, King will simply stop posting chapters, and no one will find out what happens. And that might even include King, who hasn't written the book yet and won't bother to finish it if the public doesn't play along.

The novelty factor aside, this has to be an extremely worrisome development for the book industry. King says he likes Simon & Schuster, but "The Plant" represents a Cujo-size bite into the hand that has fed him so far. Unlike his previous online release, "Riding the Bullet," a story that readers had to pay up front to download from Simon & Schuster's web site last March, "The Plant" will appear on King's own site, cutting out the middleman altogether. Publishing houses rely on blockbusters la King to finance the development of up-and-coming talent, and the prospect of cultivating such writers only to see them fly the coop and reap the big bucks independently is more terrifying than volumes of killer cars and telekinetic teens.

King isn't shy about the implications of his venture, calling it "a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare." But he may be on shakier ground when he suggests that he's blazing trails for "midlist writers, literary writers and... marginalized writers." The Internet can be a lonely place if you're not a marquee name, as King himself might have found out once upon a time without the marketing resources of a powerful publisher to make him a household name first.