The techno prophets said the Internet would kill off the book, but, thanks to the web's insatiable appetite for content, the written word thrives. Nevertheless, publishers are still unsure about the relationship between literature and the Internet.
Maine's most famous son, Stephen King, went online last summer to sell his latest novel, The Plant. The feedback was mixed. Plenty of people were keen to download his words; fewer were willing to pay for the privilege. More than 75 per cent of readers who logged on paid the $1 fee. By the fourth instalment, the figure had dropped to 46 per cent.
King always maintained that if contributions for his efforts fell below 75 per cent, he'd leave the story unfinished. "If you pay, the story rolls; if you don't, the story folds," he said. So far he's on his fifth instalment and, according to news coming from Maine, the sixth will be the last for a while.
Maybe the digital publisher LiveReads is on to a winner with its decision to buy the rights to one of Jack Kerouac's unpublished early works, Orpheus Emerged. For the next two years the novella will only be available online.
Livereads says it is "dedicated to exploring the new frontier of reading" and is doing its utmost to make the most of the medium. The site includes 500 hyperlinks, some with audio and video footage. An extract of Orpheus Emerged can be read at www.livereads. com. The complete story can be downloaded for $3.95 (pound;2.80) from the LiveReads site or the Barnes and Noble site at www.bn.com.
If you're more interested in getting something for nothing, go to www.bibliomania.com. Bibliomania has 800 copyright-free texts, including classic novels, poems, short stories and drama.
Of course the web isn't just a tool for selling books. It can be a good way for authors to foster a relationship with their audience. The distinctive world of Terry Deary has been given a virtual presence at www.terry-deary.com. The author, probably best known for his Horrible Histories, which won a Blue Peter award last week, is keen to maintain a site that is more than a shop window. Given time, he could succeed, but the new site needs some input from his fans.
There are opportunities for those on Deary's wavelength to submit poems, stories and practical jokes, and there's a chat room. So far, Deary seems to be the only contributor (perhaps because the site is so new), and visitors are left to read about his roadshow dates, his latest play, his upcoming pilot television shows and how to get hold of his back catalogue. So get those Deary fans among your throng to become part of a real interactive collective.
Most book sites try to sell you books, offer classic texts online or obsess about a particular author. The Word Pool, a site created by children's author and former maths teacher Diana Kimpton, specialises in reviews of children's books. The Parent's Corner provides information on books for carers of children who are sick, disabled or emotionally disturbed, andis useful for anyone in search of good and hard-to-find books for and about children with special needs. The site is at www.wordpool.co.uk