In the digital age, what will become of author signings?

A chance Facebook encounter with a signing event showcasing four authors, including Mercedes Murdock Yardley, who I interviewed previously for TeleRead, set me speculating and inquiring about the current state and future prospects of author signings, and how these were evolving in the Kindle era.

Signing by Juli Caldwell, Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Shantal Hiatt Sessions, and Wendy Knight

Unsurprisingly, many service providers have jumped on the principle of digital book signing. Authorgraph was one of the first to target this market, and its creator, Evan Jacobs, links its genesis to a signing involving a Kindle:

“One time, during the summer of 2010, I attended an author reading in Seattle. After the author had read a section of his book, he invited everyone to come up and have their books signed. I had the author’s book on my Kindle and I felt awkward since I didn’t have anything for him to sign. In May of 2011, I built the first version of this service to enable authors and readers to interact through digital books.”

author signingsAuthorgraph signatures are requested directly by readers to subscribing authors, who can sign them freehand so long as they can draw or paste to a browser window, and are stored as separate documents that can be archived independently.

MyWrite is another firm working in this space, and is currently available as an iPhone and iPad app through the App Store. From the company’s website:

“Digital books have an inherent disadvantage over their paper counterparts—personalization. At book signings, readers not only attend to hear a reading of the work, but to purchase books and have the author personalize them. Any reader knows that having their copy personalized by the author makes the book more valuable to them.”

Personally, I don’t find this approach convincing. It has the past in its favor, which might aid adoption, but there is no pretending that a digital artifact is unique and irreplaceable in the same sense as ink on paper. If you can duplicate it, it’s not as personal.

Then there’s a different tack: Getting authors to autograph Kindles. Jonathan Franzen became one of the poster boys for this, on account of some much-circulated anti-e-book remarks he made, but the trend is recorded at least as far back as 2009. Elsewhere, vendors offer autographed Kindle cases and sleeves.author signings

It’s this trend that I personally find more interesting. After all, Kindles and other e-book readers are rapidly heading further and further down into the realm of the impulse purchase, and one that sports a noted autograph might actually gain some resale value on eBay or elsewhere.

A quick eBay search for an autographed Kindle still turns up more Sergio Kindle memorabilia than e-readers, but I’m sure this will eventually change.

Face-to-face meetings with authors will surely remain an important experience for readers, and a valuable platform for promotion and engagement for writers.

And if they want unique digital takeaways, readers can always get photographed with their favorite authors. That should be at least one kind of memorial that remains unique and personal.

2 Comments on In the digital age, what will become of author signings?

  1. I suggest that an issue lurking here is a sense of personal possession of the reading device. Screen books disconnect the literary work from the given reading device. Print books, on the other hand, connect the literary work with a unique reading device as an inseparable production. The reader’s sense of possession of the print book product, including any enhancements such as author’s signature or hand written annotations, is not conflicted.

    Further factors of the sense of conceptual possession of content are in play and these may influence the conflicted reception of screen textbooks. Still another factor is the discard of older electronic reading devices without remorse since we rarely develop any allegiance to the device in associated with given literary works. TeleRead actually encourages just such up-grade and cut-over …bucking affordances of reader possession inherent in books.

  2. And if one wanted, with Calibre, you could change the cover of the book to be the signed picture.

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