Fans of Maine author Stephen King have resurrected the Portland Press Herald’s freelance reviews of local books by purchasing more than 100 digital subscriptions.

After the newspaper decided to stop running paid reviews of Maine books in its Sunday edition, the Maine Sunday Telegram, a horrified King took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to ask his 5 million-plus followers to retweet his protest of the cuts.

The prolific author, who lives in Bangor, argued that local reviews are vital to give lesser-known Maine writers a “boost.”

“Many of them depend on those reviews to buy bread and milk,” he wrote in a follow-up tweet.

More than 8,000 King fans complied with the author’s request and retweeted his protest.

Then the plot thickened.

The paper responded by promising to reinstate the reviews “immediately” if 100 of King’s followers purchased subscriptions to the newspaper using the promo code “KING” for digital subscriptions and “CARRIE” for both digital and Sunday print.

“Stephen King sent me!” reads the special subscription page.

“Since Stephen King was interested in our coverage, we wondered how his influence could help support local journalism, which is expensive,” Press Herald Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman said.

Schechtman said 100 new digital subscriptions would cover the expenses of bringing back the freelance reviews.

The planned cuts would have affected paid freelance reviews only – wire reviews would still be published, and the Books page itself was never in any danger of being killed – but the newspaper’s move upset readers and highlighted the financial difficulties faced by the news industry at a time of declining circulation and revenue.

“Unfortunately, the economic forces are not in our favor, revenue is down and we needed to make expense cuts,” Schechtman said.

King first learned about the newspaper’s decision to discontinue freelance book reviews from a petition by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Some of his followers embraced the subscription challenge right away.

“The best way to tell your local paper not to do this, is to subscribe to the paper, or buy advertising,” tweeted @ShayMacMorran.

“Newspapers are businesses. They can’t afford to run as usual without money coming in. Even if they want to. This is all over the country. Papers are fighting to stay alive.”

“Maine book friends and book companies: Let’s all step up!” replied @librarythingtim.

In a tweet posted Saturday afternoon, King questioned whether the spontaneous subscription drive was a sales pitch or blackmail. “Either way,” King tweeted, “71 people have subscribed so far. Are there 29 more Twitterheads out there who want to ante up? Just asking.”

But by the time that tweet appeared, the newspaper had already reached its goal.

“You all are the best readers anywhere,” the Press Herald tweeted late Saturday morning. “Sincerely. We’re at our goal. Book reviews will return. We love you Maine. We love you journalists. We love you newspapers.”

Schechtman said the Sunday Telegram will begin using freelance reviews again next week.

To subscribe to the Press Herald, click here.


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