Palm’s e-autograph idea: Time to revive it—this time on the Web? And maybe even use it to help p-bookstores?

imageimage Why mess with autographing physical Kindles or other gizmos?

As early as 2003, Palm Digital Media let an author embed his autograph in his e-book.

Tad Williams, a best-selling fantasy writer of works such as The War of the Flowers, obliged fans at BEA in Los Angeles.

How Palm embedded e-autographs 

“With high-speed, short-range technology from WideRay,” reads an old press release to which ex-Palm employee Lee Fyock kindly linked from TeleRead’s comment section, “users will be able to simply point the infrared port on Palm Powered™ handhelds and PocketPC devices in the direction of the Jack access point and download the eBook.

“Williams will open a special page within the eBook and sign his name or write a message with the stylus. Palm Digital Media technology recognizes the strokes, and the autograph/message are then embedded into the eBook.”

Time for Fictionwise and others to repeat the idea on the Net

Nice potential here! Why can’t e-book publishers and retailers, including Fictionwise, which now owns the eReader, the old Palm format, set up infrastructures to do the same thing. But this time, it could happen over the Net rather than simply in person—although perhaps there could be versions for use in brick-and-mortar stores.

What do you think, Scott and Steve? I’d be delighted to be a guinea pig. Perhaps the autographed copies could even carry serial numbers, so that the earliest ones were the most valuable as collector’s items. Meanwhile I’m curious if Fictionwise still has the original software and could share a screenshot of what a book-embedded autograph looked like.

The Independent bookstore angle

If I were involved with the IndieBound project, I’d be all over this idea. Perhaps some books could debut with e-autographs available only in physical stores. and their proprietors could share profits with Fictionwise or other e-tailers that provided the infrastructure. Evil of me to say this in an e-book blog oriented toward the Net, not meatspace? Heck no. I want both E and P to thrive, and for indies, too, rather than just the chain giants, to survive.

About David Rothman (6820 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

7 Comments on Palm’s e-autograph idea: Time to revive it—this time on the Web? And maybe even use it to help p-bookstores?

  1. Of what use is a digital autograph? That’s like the machine the President uses to sign pictures and form letters.

  2. Hey, Mike, we’re talking about individualized messages to the book buyers—and they can specify them. Much more personal than robosig machines! That said, I like the postcard idea you mentioned. I’d love to hear from people who’ve actually tried it.


  3. Wait, you mean dishonest people might get technically savvy and FORGE serial numbered, registered, digital autographs? Good lord, that could lead to all sorts of crimes. Some less talented people might even start taking ink pens and forging signatures in paper books!

    Jack Tingle

  4. Given my previous comment on a similar story, my imagination needs a little attention. :-)

    I can certainly see being able to store a signature/message captured from a touch-screen as a good way of getting an autograph for an ebook.

  5. I haven’t done postcards, but I offer free signed bookplates to anyone who sends an SASE. I’m happy to personalize them, etc.

    A friend designed the bookplates–they have the title of the book and are designed to fit six to an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. I then print the page onto a full-sheet label and cut them. I sign it and readers can then stick the plate in their copy of the book, and it’s like having a personally signed book. It works pretty nicely. I think I’ve sent out about 100 of them so far.

    A label won’t really work with an ebook but if an ebook reader wanted to collect signed postcards, that would work great.

  6. Autographs are a peculiarly “physical” thing that (if it isn’t clear by now, it should be) just don’t fit the nature of e-books at all. It’s basically a local promotional tool for a physical product, but the very idea of hosting a local function for something that can literally be bought globally, and probably not in the actual bookstore, makes little sense to me.

    And the differences in hardware and software make an on-the-spot timely transfer of any worthwhile electronic product unwieldy (unless you’re limiting your event to “Kindle-only” or “iPhone-only” parties. No, thanks).

    Until physical bookstores work out a practical method for customers to browse and buy e-books in their preferred format at (or through) the store, I’m not sure where the connect is here.

    Let the “autograph” and physical giveaways remain in the physical world. E-books are a 21st century digital product, and need a 21st century digital kind of promotion.

  7. The “autograph” function on the old eReader (which is in fact still present in the PalmOS (and I would assume the Windows Mobile) version to this day) would bring up a “paint” screen such that someone could draw on it with the stylus. The signature would then be saved as a bitmap attached to the file, and you would sync it off your device next chance you got and archive it somewhere safe. Whenever you loaded that book from then on, you would see the bitmapped signature on the title page.

    The idea was that it would be used for authors doing promotional “e-book signings.” They’d be told the “secret code” of how to access the autograph function (just write “AU” in the text area on the title page of an eReader-DRM’d book) and would then append their signature. (Of course, the limitations of the touchscreen and the drawing software meant that the signature would invariably come out looking like the author had one too many cups of coffee that morning.) I don’t think it ever really took off, but to be fair it was a pretty neat idea.

    Of course, this system breaks down with the iPhone/iPod Touch, which—even if it supported autographing—doesn’t offer any way to move files back off the device (short of jailbreaking it).

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