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Simon & Schuster offers Net-only Stephen King novel

Stepping up its online distribution efforts, the publisher taps e-merchandiser SoftLock to sell the horror author's latest novel exclusively over the Internet.

Stepping up its online distribution efforts, publisher Simon & Schuster has tapped e-merchandiser SoftLock to sell Stephen King's latest novel exclusively over the Internet.

King's story "Riding the Bullet" will be made available for download later this month through several Web distributors that will get a cut of sales in exchange for promoting the work on their sites. The book will not be made available in print; it will sell for $2.50.

The deal is an early test of both the consumer market for "e-books" and of SoftLock, which until now has focused on the business-to-business market. SoftLock will handle all aspects of the book campaign, offering copyright-protection technology, transaction processing and merchandising.

Simon & Schuster has offered works for sale over the Net before, announcing a charitable promotion late last year involving excerpts from works by King and other best-selling authors, such as Mary Higgins-Clark.

This is the first time a major author has distributed a book solely in digital form, according to Adam Rothberg, a company spokesman.