Riding the Bullet is available on the only on the Internet and was made available at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Web sites including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com were swamped by high demand for the horror master's 66-page work, and downloading it was downright impossible.
"All the servers have reached 100 percent capacity and gone over several times today," said Pat Eisemann, a spokeswoman for Scribner, the co-publisher with King's Philtrum Press. "Everybody is pretty much crashing and you can't get through."
Buyers can download Riding the Bullet, a 66-page tale that King describes as "a ghost story in the grand manner," for $2.50 and read on a computer, personal organizer or dedicated e-book device.
The short story, a co-publication of Scribner and King's Philtrum Press, is electronically published through Simon & Schuster Online, which is making it available through Web sites of e-book manufacturers and online booksellers.
However, a check by CBSNews.com of the Simon & Schuster Web site Tuesday morning found the site and those of two of its recommended suppliers slow, possibly jammed with King readers.
King completed Riding the Bullet while recuperating from near-fatal injuries after he was struck by a minivan last June while walking on the shoulder of a country road near his summer home in Lovell, Maine.
Some science fiction writers have experimented with cyberspace-only distribution of their work. But King, the author of more than 30 best-sellers, is the first in the top tier of book sales to give that method a try, industry officials said.
"This is really the first effective market test," said Keith Loris, president of SoftLock.com, of Maynard, Mass., which provided the technology to download the book to retailers. "Up to now, this has been technology in search of a market."
King's publisher said the e-book format bypasses the traditional yearlong publishing cycle.
"What's exciting is that we are able to go from Stephen King's computer to the reader in a faction of the print-book publishing arc," said Kate Tentler, vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Online, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., which itself is part of Viacom Inc.
Ralph Vicinanza, King's agent for foreign rights, came to Scribner with the idea of an original e-book. Vicinanza was instrumental in the publication in 1996 of The Green Mile as a six-part serial, a format popularized by 19th-century writers such as Dickens and Tolstoy.
Since then, John Grisham, whose legal thrillers such as The Firm put him in the same sales league as King, and Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist, have opted to use the serial format.
Last year, King released a three-story collection, Blood and Smoke, exclusively for audio. Vicinanza said the author likes to explore ways to break the mold and give his readers a sense of adventure.
Vicinanza said a short story, rather than a novel, was an appropriate vehicle for King's first online work.
"We're dealing with a new technology here, and not many people are comfortable with the idea of reading an e-book. So we think to sort of get them used to it, it might be a good idea to do something short," he said.
Vicinanza said he hopes new technology will result in savings to the consumer by driving down production and distribution costs.
"I don't think that e-books will replace books," he said. "It's a new format that will exist side-by-side with the traditional outlets for bookselling."
©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report