Sitting at a table in a Barnes & Noble in St. Petersburg, Florida, T.J. Waters was signing copies of his book Hyperformance when a fan standing in line with the eBook version walked up and said, “It’s too bad you can’t sign my Kindle.”
Waters, a senior consultant for United States Special Operations Command Headquarters, suddenly found himself wondering, “How come the tech world can put a man on the moon and I can’t sign an eBook?”
With consumers now accustomed to experiencing music and movies on Lilliputian devices, they’re also increasingly reading Tina Fey, Scott Turow and Suzanne Collins on Kindles, Nooks and iPads. You can be a die-hard Haruki Murakami fan and not have a single novel of his on your bookshelf.
And that’s only going to become more common. By 2015, sales of eBooks in the United States are expected to triple to nearly $3 billion, according to Forrester Research. But the sea change has created a dilemma: what, then, do authors autograph at book signings?
Some readers have resorted to asking authors to sign the backs of their iPads and the cases of their Kindles. But the growing demand for more-elegant solutions has software and marketing companies scrambling to propel book signing into the digital age.
Autography to debut
Waters is in the vanguard. At the BookExpo America in New York in May, he and Robert Barrett, an information technology executive, plan to debut Autography. Here’s how an Autography eBook ‘signing’ will work: a reader poses with the author for a photograph, which can be taken with an iPad camera or an external camera. The image immediately appears on the author’s iPad (if it’s shot with an external camera, it’s sent to the iPad via Bluetooth). Then the author uses a stylus to scrawl a digital message below the photo. When finished, the author taps a button on the iPad that sends the fan an e-mail with a link to the image, which can then be downloaded into the eBook.
Wait time? About two-and-a-half minutes. Bragging potential? Endless: Readers can post the personalised photo to their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Autography has been tested at book signings in the United States and abroad, including on visits to Army troops, when Waters signed an eBook in a plane some 36,000 feet over Iraq. (Mr. Waters said soldiers opt for Kindles because they fit perfectly into the pants pocket of their uniforms.)
Recently, he signed eBooks for fans in Dublin while on a radio show in Florida by sending callers an email with a link to his autograph.
Rachel Chou, chief marketing officer for Open Road Integrated Media, a publishing and marketing company that has organised e-signings, said that within the year consumers should expect to see a variety of advances in digital signing, including eBooks that are sold with blank pages for that purpose. Some devices already have their own solutions, like Sony’s Reader, which enables authors to use a stylus to sign a page on its screen.
Even so, Chou suggested that not all readers care about autographs. “We’re struggling with the idea: is it about the autograph or is it about the takeaway that you met that person?” she said. In an age of “look at me!” status updates, she thinks it’s the latter. Last year, Open Road organised an e-signing in San Francisco for Jonathon King’s Midnight Guardians at Bouchercon by the Bay, an annual mystery convention. Instead of signing his name over and over, Mr. King posed with fans for photographs, which were given to them on USB memory sticks loaded with exclusive information, like video interviews.
In the end, readers will get more for their money. Then again, they’ll have to strike a pose at book signings.