Dear Constant Reader,
For those of you who are interested, here's an update on The Plant as of late August. I judge Part 1 as a considerable success, both in the number of downloads and in the pay-through. The situation with Part 2 is less clear. For one thing, a number of people have experienced problems getting connected and successfully downloading the story. These are technical problems which are being worked out, and all I can say is that if you have had problems, keep trying... and remember what one E-book executive has said: Where we are with this new form is roughly analogous to where the automobile industry was in 1908. In other words, if you are having problems getting the engine started, keep turning that crank.
We are seeing two potential problems with Part 2. First, while downloads remain strong, we have little doubt that the total number is down slightly from Part 1. This may be because people don't like the story; it may be because there has been far less publicity and media interest. As the author of the story, I naturally prefer the second possibility. In terms of continuing, this is not a problem. Based on the ground rules I set down at the outset, my job is to continue even if only 800 people download every episode-as long, that is, as 75% of those 800 people pay for what they are getting. The real problem is that we at Philtrum are beginning to see a widening disparity between downloads and payments. There is undoubtedly some thievery and bootlegging going on, but Marsha and I believe the real problem may lie elsewhere. It appears to us that some people are downloading two and even three times to different formats-to the Palm Pilot say, and also to whatever Microsoft uses. This may be based on a simple misperception. Let me put it this way: you couldn't go into a bookstore and say, "I want you to give me the paperback version and the audio version of this book free because I bought the hardcover." As simply as I can put it, you must pay for what you take every time you take it or this won't work.
As for the story itself, I have gone back to work and have written another 50,000 words. I am now all set to publish episodes of The Plant in September, October, and November. All I am guaranteeing, however, is Part 3 in September. After Part 3 is published, we will make a go-no go decision based on the pay-through.
I have been asked by a good many people about the fate of The Plant if the on-line experiment fails. All I can say is that while I love the new stuff, I have a great many other commitments, and the chances of it being finished or published in the near future would be slim. With the Internet to drive matters, the show will go on. If, however, the numbers don't support continuing the story, I will have to cease. The eventual decision doesn't rest with me; it is floating around somewhere out there in cyberspace.
One thing I almost forgot, and that is the issue of pricing. Installments one, two and three are going to be available for $1. Further installments up to 8 will be available for $2 each. In other words, you complete financial liability for the first 8 installments of this story will be $13 or about the cost of a trade paperback or a hardcover novel offered at 40% discount in a chain bookstore. Any parts beyond 8-which would be the balance of the story, would be posted free.
We have also had some complaints about the cost of ink and paper. On that subject, I have just two words: oh, please. One would think the books people bought in book stores were printed on air or that the cost of ink, paper, binding and boards were not included. As Internet readers—en as printers-buyers of The Plant are being spared these last two expenses. In closing let me quote science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: TANFL, that stands for There Ain't No Free Lunch.
In closing I just want to add that I appreciate all the support you have shown me thus far, and to add that the profit-motive was never the principal force driving this amusing exploration, and that is not what's driving it now. We are exploring a new continent, that's all, and so far it has been fun.