King's agent, Ralph Vicinanza, said Tuesday that downloads of King's novella "UR," available only as an e-book and released to coincide with the launch of Amazon's upgraded Kindle reader, have reached "five figures" after barely three weeks on the market.
In 2000, in the early years of digital texts, King's novella "Riding the Bullet" was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, overwhelming Amazon.com and other online sites.
Amazon.com has declined to offer any specific numbers for sales of the Kindle or for individual books, although publishers have said that popular titles sell in the thousands or better.
Vicinanza said in a telephone interview that Amazon would not be providing specific numbers until 60 days after the Feb. 12 release, but added: "We've been told that they're in the five figures already.
"We're excited. They're happy, we're happy and from the initial information that we're getting, it seems to be a success."
As of Tuesday afternoon, "UR" was No. 18 on Amazon's list of Kindle best-sellers.
Vicinanza had approached King with the idea of writing a story for release as an e-book as a way to "create some excitement" in electronic publishing at a time when the book industry is going through tough times.
The New York-based agent recommended the strategy even though the Kindle and competing devices account for no more than 1 percent of overall book sales. "UR" eventually will be made available in print, he said.
The Kindle 2, a slimmed-down model with upgraded components and storage capacity, went on sale Feb. 9 for $359. The gadget downloads books, newspaper stories and blog posts over a wireless network.
"UR," available as a download for $2.99, is about a college English instructor whose pink Kindle allows him to access new books by famous dead authors as well as newspapers that tell of a future event that he is compelled to try to forestall.
While some readers have likened the book to an infomercial for Amazon's pricey device, Vicinanza says any King fan recognizes how often cars and other products appear in his books.
"There isn't enough money out there for Stephen King to do product placement, for sure," he said.
King began writing the story Jan. 18, the agent had it edited and sent to Amazon on Feb. 4, and the edited proofs were in the hands of King and his agent sent, in fact, to their Kindles two days later.
King sees the Kindle as a delivery system that matters less than the story it delivers. In his blog on the Entertainment Weekly Web site, the author opined a year ago that Kindles will not replace books, which have a permanence that accentuates the importance of the ideas and stories they contain.
But they can, he wrote, enrich a reader's life.
"For a while I was very aware that I was looking at a screen and bopping a button instead of turning pages. Then the story simply swallowed me, as the good ones always do," King wrote. "It became about the message instead of the medium, and that's the way it's supposed to be."
By JERRY HARKAVY