No More Book Signings?

by Peta Jinnath Andersen

26 April 2010


Book tours and author visits are a large part of publishing’s promotional band wagon. With author visits new titles get a top spot in stores and fans get to see their favorite writers up close and personal. More popular than simple author appearances, though, are book signings. They offer a chance to chat, but also to own a personalized piece of a given author’s work. Yet, despite their popularity, book signings may soon be going the way of the dodo.

The proliferation of e-books and e-readers over the past two years (e-book sales have jumped 177% in the past year, and now make up 3-5% of the market) suggests that e-books are here to stay. E-books are easy and immediate. If you can’t find the title you’re after in the bookstore, it’s just a hop, skip, and a click over to Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, or Apple’s new iBookstore. But e-books are lacking in personalization. Few e-books have funky covers. Worse, they can’t be signed.
Do author signatures matter? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. But getting a book signed gives an author and their readers a way to connect. Author signatures are a way for the author to give back and for the reader to say I appreciate your work. (A phrase few writers hear as often as they should.) Mutual lovefest aside, though, signings are also good business, a big promotional draw for bookstores and universities. Without signings, most author visits lack the personal interaction that makes the trip to the bookstore worthwhile.

Although author-reader interaction can’t be replaced, book personalization may be a promising and profitable alternative. A template has been created by Nintendo in their promotion of Pokemon. Hosting events in stores all around the world, the video game giant offers fans a chance to download exclusive content only available at said event for a limited time. Similarly, readers could attend events at their local bookstore (or Apple store) to download exclusive content such as interviews, annotations, or commentaries.

Today’s author signings aren’t without fault, though. Long queues and rushed greetings are the norm for popular authors and event tickets are often sold out within days of release. Margaret Atwood, an award-winning Canadian literary author, may have a solution. In 2006, she debuted the Long Pen, created with Unochit Technologies, a digital signing device that allows her to attend signings via webcam and “sign” copies of her novels with its two spindly metal arms. Although the Long Pen and web chats haven’t become the norm for authors reluctant or unable to attend events in person, it may offer a glimpse into the future of book tours and author events. Instead of an author appearing in one space, he or she could be hosted in dozen of bookstores within the same time zone. And yet, if the ease of the Long Pen and web chats do become the norm, personal interaction will be the trade-off.


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