One of the really interesting angles of this story, though, is that from day one, the first three volumes of Diary of a Wimpy Kid have been available online, for free. It started out as a web-only book on the kids' site Funbrain.com, and author Jeff Kinney has insisted on keeping it there. How does that work? I suspect there are two kinds of readers: Those who know about Wimpy Kid but not Funbrain (I'm guessing the target audience doesn't spend a lot of time using BitTorrent) and those who go to Funbrain for math help, as my daughter did, and stumble on Wimpy Kid along the way. So he's tapping into two separate audiences, much as comics publishers hope to do with digital and direct market sales. In addition, Kinney upgraded both the writing and the art for the print edition and threw in some extra twists that aren't online. Although this seems to be pretty ad hoc, it sounds like a pretty good business plan to me.
Kinney had better watch his back, though: James Patterson, the author of Maximum Ride and Daniel X, both of which have done well both as prose novels and as graphic novel adaptations, has just published Middle School, a prose-graphic novel hybrid with a bit of a Wimpy Kid vibe—and he has put the first 20 chapters online for free.