Riding the Bullet, a 66-page tale that King describes as "a ghost story in the grand manner," will be available Tuesday as an "e-book," which buyers can download 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, will be electronically published through Simon & Schuster Online, which will make it available through Web sites of e-book manufacturers and online booksellers.
"This innovative publication strategy takes the e-book from the realm of novelty and directly into the very mainstream of today's culture. And it reaffirms the publisher-author relationship at a moment when it is fashionable to predict its demise," said Jack Romanos, president and chief operating officer of Simon & Schuster Inc., a division of Viacom Inc.
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.
"I'm curious to see what sort of response there is and whether or not this is the future," King said in a statement about his first work earmarked for e-book distribution.
King, who lives in Bangor, was unavailable for further comment.
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."
Loris said there will be "a full e-merchandising rollout" to promote King's book.
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 fraction of the print-book publishing arc," said Kate Tentler, vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Online.
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 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 threestory 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.
Riding the Bullet, he noted, is equal in length to one of the parts of The Green Mile, which could generally be read at one sitting.
Noting that King has always sought to hold down the price readers must pay for his work, 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."