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Frederick Forsyth follows King's online footsteps

The best-selling suspense author will release his first e-book Wednesday, aiming to duplicate Stephen King's enormously successful foray into online publishing.

Best-selling suspense author Frederick Forsyth will release his first e-book Wednesday, aiming to duplicate Stephen King's enormously successful foray into online publishing.

Forsyth is partnering with electronic publisher Online Originals to release a series of five short stories, collectively titled "Quintet." The stories will be available through Online Originals' Web site and other online bookstores in a range of e-book formats, including Microsoft Reader, Glassbook and Adobe's PDF.

On Wednesday Forsyth will release the first part of the series, titled "The Veteran," which tells the story of a police officer's failed efforts to convict a pair of thugs for a vicious assault. The installment will sell for $2.99.

The announcement comes as online publishing gradually increases momentum with authors, major publishers and technology companies laying the groundwork for digital book sales.

In March, Stephen King shook the publishing industry when readers downloaded 400,000 free digital copies of his 66-page novella "Riding the Bullet" in an online promotion. In an effort to win sales, King revived the serial format for his second online publishing experiment, "The Plant."

The author has promised to publish ongoing installments provided enough readers pay a voluntary download fee. He released the fourth part of that novel last week.

"The Internet offers authors and their readers a new diversity of opportunities and freedom," Forsyth said in a statement. "It is very exciting to be going down this road, and I suspect that others will follow suit."

Popular authors may have high hopes for the digital arena, but the e-book format has yet to become a best-seller. Analysts said the medium is still waiting for broad consumer acceptance and workable anti-piracy technology.

"Everybody's kind of dabbling right now," said Malcolm Maclachlan, a media analyst at IDC. "It takes a big-name author to really drive sales. Books...have been a hard business. Publishers have been taking fewer chances and looking for a new way to expand the industry."

Forsyth has written a dozen novels and numerous short stories over the last three decades, and his name has often been on the best-seller charts. His most famous work is The Day of the Jackal, about an assassination attempt on Charles DeGaulle. It has twice been made into a movie, most recently in 1997 with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere.