King wrote a few parts of a story by the same name and sent out as chapbooks to his friends instead of Christmas cards in 1982, 1983, and 1985. Only three installments were produced by Philtrum Press before the story was shelved, and the original editions are hotly sought-after collector's items today.
In 2000, King picked up The Plant again and started to publish it as an electronic serial. The first part (matching the 1982 story) was put on his own web site for anyone to download. He also said that he wanted everyone that downloaded the story to pay him $1 either before or after reading it.
The idea was that if enough people paid up, more parts would be published in the same way. The limit was set at 75% of payers versus downloaders. The rate of paying customers decreased over time, but at least the first parts were over the set limit. As of mid-2001, six parts have been published (making up the first somewhat self-contained part of the novel). King has said that there will be more, but that some other projects will be finished first. To date there has been no further mention of the story.
The story tells of a person working as editor on a paperback publishing house. One day he gets a manuscript from what seems like a crackpot. It's about magic, but it also contains photographs that seem very real. He writes a rejection slip about the book, but on grounds of the photographs, he also notifies the police where the author lives. This enrages the author who sends a mysterious plant to the editor's office.
The story is told in epistolary format, consisting entirely of letters, memos, and so
King was the first prominent, best-selling author to attempt the exclusively web-based publishing of a book, with chapters from a story he had begun in the early 1980s called The Plant.
After hackers cracked the encryption to the e-book version of King's "Riding the Bullet," the publishing of The Plant in January 2000 was reported by King's representatives to be a means to circumvent copyright infringement by offering the book unencrypted and in installments. People could pay a one-dollar fee for each installment using the honor system. He threatened, however, to drop the project if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75 percent.
More than 200,000 customers downloaded free copies of the story in a 24-hour promotion through the Barnes and Noble website.
The story received more than the desired 75% for its first installment, but this fell to 70% after installment two. With the third installment, the numbers surged back up to 75%.
King and his publisher held fast to their ideal rate of return at 75%, and they decided to double the cost of the fourth part of the novel to two dollars. King tried to offset this price increase by also doubling the number of pages to 54 pages for the fourth installment. He also promised to cap the total cost of the entire book at a total of 13 dollars. Paying readers dropped to 46% of downloads, and the number of downloads decreased overall as well.
The last installment was published on December 18, 2000. The book has yet to be completed.