I've just been sitting chatting to Frances Pinter who is at the Creative Commons Berlin office to talk about publishers and CC. She was asking us whether CC enabled people to donate money to artists/authors who use the licence, and I said that many people used tip jars and paypal links on their sites as a way to encourage others to fund their work. Frances then mentioned a story about Stephen King writing a serial novel on the internet where he asked his readers to pay per download of each chapter (it was available free as PDFs on the site).
Turns out to be a fascinating story in the days where the WWW was seen as inappropriate and dangerous for publishers. Apparently, King published 'The Plant' on his personal website as an online serial in 2000. This was an experiment to circumvent the piracy that saw hackers cracking the encryption on his previous book, Riding the Bullet. Initially, King asked readers to pay $1 per download. He said that he would continue to write the book as long as 75% of his readers contributed. According to Wikipedia, 'More than 200,000 customers downloaded free copies of the story in a 24-hour promotion through the Barnes and Noble website.'
It received over the desired 75 percent for its first installment, but this fell to 70 percent after installment two. King and his publisher held fast to their ideal rate of return at 75 percent, and they decided to double the cost of the fourth part of the novel to two dollars. King tried to offset this price increase by also doubling the number of pages to 54 pages for the fourth installment. He also promised to cap the total cost of the entire book at a total of 13 dollars. Paying readers dropped severely to 46 percent of downloads.
He then dropped the project and his fans - especially the ones who had paid for the first chapters - were obviously hugely angered. According to Wikipedia, 'Pricing was the main readers' grievance, but also, it was the lack of satisfaction in the quality of the work, and the natural cost-to-quality comparison by the public, was further imbalanced by the raise in cost.'
The last installment was published on December 18, 2000. The book was never completed.