Stephen King deserves kudos for his sweeping narrative powers, creative brilliance and prodigious output. But his real genius may be his ability to successfully navigate new content platforms.
Case in point: e-book singles.
A look at the 2013's top 10 Kindle Singles Best Sellers culled from the Thin Reads' weekly analysis shows that Stephen King is truly king of this form of content.
Five of his e-book singles have landed in 2013's top 10 Kindle Single best seller lists. Four are fiction (and he co-authored three of them, but we can't fault the man for bringing in a partner considering his work load). Let's examine his one non-fiction e-book single, Guns, which may be among the year's biggest e-book single success stories.
In the 25-page Guns essay (it's thin, but weighty), King looks at both sides of the gun-control topic and presents his thoughts about how to address this critical American issue. The essay was posted January 25 and it's been a Kindle Single top 10 seller ever since. For five weeks, it was the best selling non-fiction book. The last time it ranked #1, was the week of March 3. This past week, it came it as #6.
Here's why it's so successful:
The power of the Stephen King brand: There are people (loads and loads of people) who will buy anything he writes. That probably powered the first wave of sales. But there's more to the enduring success of Guns than just the King name.
Topicality: Guns was published five weeks after the tragic events at Newtown and the issue of gun control still dominated the national discussion. What's amazing is that Stephen King the novelist - he's a member of a profession that normally doesn't take advantage of topical issues and trends - jumped on a hot topic and quickly produced a work that resonated with readers.
Well written: Naturally, right? But not all novelist transition smoothly into essay writing, especially focusing on something as politically freighted as gun control. Stephen King nailed this essay. His 10th grade English teacher should be beaming.
The Stand: You have to admire King for taking a stand on an issue that has polarized the country. Most celebrities (and yes, he is a celebrity in his own right) avoid controversy for fear of impacting the commercial viability of their brand. It's hard to know whether writing the piece helped or hurt sales of his books, but he gets points for tackling this subject. I know readers who bought the story just as a show of support for King taking a stand on an important subject.
King's fictional e-book singles - previously known as short stories - are also rattling the cash register although not to the same degree of success as Guns. Mile 81, which is about spooky happenings at an abandoned rest stop on the Maine turnpike, has been in the Kindle Single fiction best sellers all year, although it has never topped the list according to Thin Reads. What's truly remarkable is that this e-book single was published on September 1, 2011, almost two years ago. Stephen King is getting a lot of mileage out of Mile 81.
In the Tall Grass, which Stephen King wrote with Joe Hill, has landed in the Kindle Single top 10, five times this year. "Throttle," also written with Hill, has been in the Kindle Single top 10, four weeks this year. The Thin Reads review ranked it 3 reeds strong (out of 4). The story concerns a group of outlaw motorcyclists being chased on a deserted stretch of Nevada highway by a mysterious truck that has echoes of Steven Spielberg's "Duel." "A Face in the Crowd" has been his least successful e-book single this year spending only one week in the top 10.
The bet here is that King will continue to take advantage of the e-book single platform. It's obvious that his fans will buy his work on whatever platform it appears. It's also apparent that he has a knack for writing provocative and topical non-fiction. What other serious topics occupy his mind besides gun control? Will he write about them on the e-book single platform?
Finally, it seems evident that King's heart might be as big as his wallet based on his success with e-book singles. He's donated all proceeds from Guns to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Based on those Kindle Single sales, the Brady Campaign may be flush with cash for a very long time.