Will eBooks Change a Bookstore Tradition?

Stephen King autograph on a Kindle

“Writers will begin signing e-books,” a headline promises at the web site TechEye. Er, wait a minute — then where are the writers going to put the pen?

But it turns out there’s a new technology — and also some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of. For example, one PR professional suggested that instead of a signature, authors at a book-signing could pose for a digital photograph with all their fans who waited in line. (And yes, you could e-mail that photograph to your Kindle, where you could then access it from your home page.) And the photos could also be uploaded to Facebook or posted on weblogs — or even uploaded to your cell phone, so it’s next to the apps where you’re reading the author’s ebook!

Of course, it’s also possible to use a pen-shaped mouse to draw a digital signature onto the photograph, so the fans could still get their autograph after all. But according to TechEye, there’s an even more interesting possibility. A developer named Tom Waters teamed up with an IT contractor for NASA to create an application called “autography,” which captures a writer’s autograph on a digital blank page so that it can be inserted directly into ebooks! This could spread a new tradition throughout the world of ebooks, according to an insider for the publishing industry who was interviewed by the web site. “Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, although Waters says the final service will be device and format agnostic…”

This might be a better way to handle ebooks when authors are promoting their new releases at a bookstore. (I’ve already collected several stories about fans who asked the authors to simply sign the outside of their Kindles.) Last year at a Manhattan bookstore, this happened when humorist David Sedaris was promoting a new collection of essays called “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — and he came up with the perfect inscription. “Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, ‘This bespells doom’,” the New York Times reported, adding that the event “may have offered a glimpse of the future.” When the Times contacted Sedaris later, the author revealed that actually, he’d already signed “at least five” different Kindles — as well as “a fair number of iPods…for audio book listeners!”

William Gibson, the famous science fiction author, also experienced the same phenomenon — during a special book-signing at the Microsoft campus. (Gibson acknowledged to the fan that this was a first, and then autographed their Kindle with big, black letters using a permanent marker.) Later, the fan discovered that William Gibson was also talking about the incident on Twitter. “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft,” Gibson announced to his fans. “Actually, *touched* very first Kindle.

“Appealing unit, IMO,” added the science fiction writer.

Gibson’s new book ultimately became Amazon’s best-selling science fiction book in September, and it’s possible that the extra publicity helped. It’s fun to think about this as two worlds colliding — that it’s the virtual world of ebooks confronting the real-world physicality of printed books (and their authors). But while this ritual may be undergoing simple changes, it could offer hints about something larger.

One fan even confessed to the New York Times that she actually felt embarrassed as she’d approached the author, because “if you’re asking for your Kindle to be signed, you’re taking the bookstore out of the process!”

21 thoughts to “Will eBooks Change a Bookstore Tradition?”

  1. Living in Haiti, without access to many English language books, I couldn’t survive without my Kindle enabling me to easily access what I want to read. Still, I enjoy what I call my “book-books” for the physicality of that experience. E-books offer a less sensual reading experince, but sometimes the convenience can’t be topped for readers from far-away places.

  2. OK, as an aspiring (published) writer myself, I must admit: Never thought about the implications of e-readers on a book signing!

    But I love the digital pic idea, and the electronic sig would work as well.

    I only hope one day, I have to deal with this consideration! ;)

    Great post — thanks for making me think!

  3. To be honest, I’m never going to buy an e-reader. Really. There’s nothing like the feeling of holding an actual book in your hand. Flipping it’s pages.

  4. It just isnt the same asking an author to sign your Kindle…. and i miss the days when friends and family members would give you a book for Christmas or a birthday and they would write a little message inside the front cover to commemorate the occasion….

  5. Technology doesn’t like books cuz they can’t put banner and flash ads on every page or link three or more key words in every sentence to casino’s and other sites that want to sell ya something.

  6. I wasn’t completely convinced about my iPad/e-reader but honestly it’s AMAZING. It’s nice to type comments and highlight things that I like and then find it fast. I love that I don’t have to carry around a large book and my entire library is right there at my finger tips :). I don’t know if I will ever buy another paper book, which makes me sad because I love the feel of a book and love being able to see my progress but the convenience of an e-reader is just too great!!!

  7. I’m not so sure how I feel about these kindles. I mean, there is still something about holding something in print that gives it that feel. Plus, the computer screen tends to hurt my eyes after a while due to the light. I don’t see printed books completely dying, but this kindle will possibly be taking over. Upsetting…

    1. Plus, the computer screen tends to hurt my eyes after a while due to the light.

      That’s actually one of the biggest reasons why I first bought my Kindle, Erin! The Kindle isn’t back-lit, like a computer screen, so the words are lit up by the “natural light” that’s in the room around you. It’s as easy on the eyes as reading a newspaper — except that in the space of one paperback book, you actually holding hundreds!

  8. but where’s the fun in ‘autography’ when you’re not exactly waiting in line and feeling jittery about your favorite author signing your (or his) book? and ebooks = less people with 20/20 vision.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! :)

  9. I believe eBook is a positive development to society, technology makes it just more efficient and convenient for the readers to access them. This might not be true for poor countries yet but I am sure in the near future they will take advantage of eBook technology as well.

  10. It really wouldn’t have the same effect for me at all! There’s no authenticity in it. You can easily get a copy of an autograph which can also be copied off the internet. Nothing like having your personalised book with your own personal signature.

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