Open Road, Autography Offer Novel Solutions to Personalizing and Signing E-books

In Europe by Edward Nawotka

• In lieu of having a book signed at author events, Open Road Integrated Media offers readers the chance to have their photo taken with the author.

• Computer app Autography allows authors and content creators to digitally sign their work by inserting a page behind the title page of an e-book.

Autograpy e-signature on a Kindle

By Edward Nawotka

E-books, for all their utility, currently lack one particular feature: the ability to get them signed by an author. There are, however, options and strategies emerging that offer options to readers who want their e-books personalized and for publishers hosting events.

“When you don’t have a physical book, you really have to think about what kind of an event to do,” says Rachel Chou, Chief Marketing Officer of digital publisher Open Road Integrated Media. The company faced this question when it published its first e-original work, Negotiating With Evil by Mitchell B. Reiss this past September.

For its first event with Reiss, held at New York’s Cooper Union, Open Road showed a variety of videos produced about the book and sold copies of the non-DRM e-book on a USB flash drive. Anyone purchasing the book, as well as those who had already downloaded a copy onto their e-reader (provided they had it with them) were invited to have their photo taken with the Reiss, which was then downloaded to the drive.

“With the photo, the signature became less important,” says Chou, who says they are still experimenting with ideas for events and even touring authors. “The photo is a good ‘take away’ for the reader and for us, since it can be sent out on social media ad it becomes part of our event photos.”

Authography e-signature on a Nook

Autography e-signature on a Nook

She adds, “The event was a really good beginning. Personally, I don’t believe in the notion of the tour being dead. But working with e-books is a process of education and people have raised the question of whether or not doing events like this, we’re cutting out the retailer. I think our model works with retailers who want to host events and we’re talking with everyone and anyone who is interested in figuring this out.”

One thing Open Road might consider is using a digital tablet to allow the writer to personalize the photos with his signature after they take them.

To this end, author Tom Waters has developed his own solution for allowing authors to sign e-books. Dubbed, Autography, it’s a computer application that allows writers using a stylus to sign a blank page which is then delivered via e-mail and can then be inserted behind the title page of almost any e-book. Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, though Waters says the final service will be device and format agnostic.

Waters launched the project after publishing his first book, Hyperperformance (Wiley), in March and touring US military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Authography e-signature on an iPad

Autography e-signature on an iPad

He explains: “Hyperperformance is about business intelligence, but I had a lot of supplementary material about how NFL teams spy on each other than I then published as a e-book called Prior to the Snap. I do a lot of military consulting and asked to do a USO tour with college football coaches. When I was on the tour, I was surprised just how many troops out there have Kindles and can download books directly and wanted the ‘book’ signed. I enlisted a friend from grad school who was an IT contractor with NASA and we developed the software.”

Currently, the product is still in development, but Waters and his business partner Robert Barrett has filed a provisional patent application.

Waters hopes to have developed the project closer to commercial release by the time his first novel, the political thriller, Secret Signs, is published by Gallaudet University Press next month. He’s also working with authors, among them mystery novelist Jim Swain, to test the system in real world applications.

Autography, as Waters envisions it, is adaptable enough to work across a variety of media, from graphic novels and comic books to athletic cards, celebrity photographs and even music/movie/video game cover art. What’s more, since all signatures and salutations are stored on the company’s servers (allowing customers to download them in the event that an e-reader is replaced) it offers the opportunity for authors to conduct de-facto “market research” and to know something about who is buying their books.

“We are creating methodologies for people to do more personalized interaction with e-books and for authors to take advantage of that,” says Waters. “There are fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores, very expensive to do a traditional book signing. Then you kill a day for a signing if you find enough people. As I talk to more an more writers who have an interest in this whole system.”

Whether you prefer Open Road’s photo souvenir or Autography’s digital signature, either way, it sure beats handing an author your Sharpie and asking them to sign the back of Kindle.

DISCUSS: In the Age of E-books, How Should Publishers Handle Author Events?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.