One of the great things about Portland is the constant flow of amazing author readings and signings. I recently attended a Jasper Fforde reading hosted by Powell’s Books. The reading was for a fantasy book by Fforde; the publisher also made available the newest book in his Eyre Affair series two weeks before the paperback’s official release. After about thirty minutes of waiting it was my turn to have my books signed, but I had a dilemma. Even though I was buying a printed book, nestled inside my Kindle are other books in the series. I, like most e-book readers, am a hybrid reader; a lot of my reading is done on my e-reader, but I still read and purchase physical books. I handed Fforde the book I had been carrying and shyly asked, “would you mind signing my Kindle? Your books are in there.” He graciously responded, “I sign anything,” selected a Sharpie from the coffee mug sitting next to him, and proceeded to sign the back of my e-reader.

I continue to be overjoyed that he signed my Kindle and I like to imagine the other authors whose names will join Jasper Fforde’s. While I was willing to allow my e-reader to be defaced, I realize that not every person has that same desire; so how do people get their e-books signed?

A Seattle-based software developer was constantly attending readings by authors whose books were in his e-reader; he didn’t own any physical books that could be signed, so he started Authorgraph. The website allows readers to request autographs from over 7,000 authors, including E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Gray. The signatures can be personalized and will appear in the e-reader on a page that includes an image of the book cover.

Another company that is known for their virtual autographs is Fanado which was launched by Margaret Atwood. It’s an app that allows fans to interact and curate signatures from a wide variety of celebrities, including athletes, musicians, and authors. A reader can speak with an author while watching them make a doodle or sign their e-book all done virtually. Atwood seems to have a promising app that will do much more than spread e-signatures, it has the potential for a variety of virtual events, too.

Authorgraph is very similar to Authorgraph, but they have developed technology that allows authors to sign the actual e-book and not simply an added page or file to the e-reader. This also enables the author to sign the e-books in person. The one standout for this company is that they have found a way to allow the reader to share images of the signed books on the many social media sites.

This brings up the question of the value of these signatures. E-books are for one person only; you can’t sell them, give them away, or even give a signed e-book as a gift. What point do they serve when no one but the owner knows the signatures are there? Are they really worth anything, monetary or emotionally, when they’re sometimes just a copy of a signature and not the real thing? Autograph hunters and collectors will probably never have any interest in obtaining and dealing in e-book signatures.

A lot of the options available today are missing one important factor and that is the interaction inherent in attending a real life event where people have their books personally signed. Fanado is getting close to offering that experience virtually, but it’s still too early to see how it will work out. Perhaps we will soon see a company that manages to mix the best of both worlds. Someone attends a real life book reading and, after showing that the author’s books are on their e-reader, they are given a special QR code or download code where they can request a signature. The author would then receive the request and additional information such as the name of the person, which books of the author’s that person owns (both physical and electronic), what event the person attended, etc. The extra information assists the author in making a truly personalized signature that is then downloaded to the e-reader and shareable via social media.

At this time, a signed e-book remains a novelty while a signed first edition printed book has the potential to have monetary value for years to come. Money and bragging rights are not the only reasons why a person gets a book signed; oftentimes they are used to remember attending a reading or meeting an author. This personal interaction and experience doesn’t currently exist with e-book signatures. The debate ultimately comes down to preference, but it seems the technology is too new and the options are too spread out for readers to really know where to turn to obtain e-book signatures. I personally prefer to have my printed books signed. But I don’t necessarily want to buy both physical and virtual copies of the same book, so you might just spot me at an event awkwardly requesting an author sign the back of my Kindle once again.

Image by Robert Ventre. Used with permission under Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Leave a Reply