Does It Make Sense To Autograph Ebooks?

from the does-it-make-them-special? dept

One of the things we've seen that has been used, quite frequently, by content creators in offering "premium" packages, is getting something physical "signed" by the content creator -- a CD case, a book, etc. In fact, we've made use of this ourselves, and sold a bunch of signed books. However, in a world where so much goes purely digital, is there still a way to do a signature? And if you can, is it still valuable? It seems that some are starting to experiment with the idea. Famed best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame) is trying out a new offering in which he'll digitally autograph some ebooks. Basically, readers who get this ebook will get an extra digital page inserted in their copies, which will have his signature. And each signature is unique -- he can even add personalized messages.

There are some limitations. It's only available on one day and only via a live online chat. Also, it only works on the Kindle, which raises questions concerning just how "future proof" it will really be.

I'm certainly intrigued by the idea, but I can't see it really catching on to quite the same level. I would bet, for many, that it doesn't seem nearly as "real" or "authentic" to make it valuable. Perhaps I'm wrong and some will find it really compelling. I guess we'll see.

What I find much more interesting is the overall technology behind this. While we all knew it was coming, we're finally starting to see the technology put into place that can create customized and interactive books, rather than limiting them solely to the static word (not that there's anything wrong with that in many cases, but I like to look at what new and innovative ideas can come out of these things). If you can personalize content in an ebook, it seems that builds up a range of possibilities. Perhaps, rather than a signature, some people wouldn't mind an eBook that comes with a personalized message of the day, or via which the author can respond to questions. On top of that, it suggests a day when it will be more common to create more customized books, and even allowing for updating books that continue to evolve. We're really just on the cusp of what the technology will allow, and I don't think doing digital autographs is really the key killer app here.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 1:38am

    There's likely a future for personalized messages, but just a digital copy of the signature likely wouldn't sell as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    mdpopescu (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 1:39am

    You need to read Konrath's latest blog, at - he talks about creating some interactive books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Scote, May 20th, 2011 @ 1:43am

    What good is it if you can't resell it?

    One of the reasons people seek out author's signatures on books is because it makes the book more valuable when re-sold. If e-books can't be re-sold, what good is the allegedly unique signature?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 2:37am

    How long until everyone can get the copy signed "To my fan 'insert name here'"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 3:20am

    The author could digitally sign (with PGP or something) the copy of the ebook + some special dedication (like: "To my biggest fan "someone"") with his private key and time-stamp it.

    That would be truly unique and impossible to copy. Of course it could make it a much "colder" and impersonal process. It's a machine doing the signing, not the autho. That could negatively affect the value.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Paul Renault (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 3:24am

    Well, it can be done...

    My iLiad, from the now-defunct iRex Technologies, has a built-in Wacom tablet and allows you to overlay hand-writen notes onto PDFs. So an author could literally sign a (DRM-free) PDF version of his/her book.

    It brings a new meaning to the phrase digital signature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    asherp, May 20th, 2011 @ 3:49am

    A modified bitcoin protocol for signing digital work: introducing ArtCoin

    Here's an idea that borrowing a lot from the unique properties of bitcoin: The way bitcoins are transferred from one owner to the next is by verifying the chain of ownership all the way up to the first owner. The same can be done with any piece of data. For instance, a band like Radiohead could "release" their next song by posting it as the genesis block on the market (for a very high price). This "original" song can then be transferred from one owner to the next just as bitcoins are (or any original work of art). The only difference would be that each owner would be able to spawn subsequent generations of the song: ideally, the protocol should insure that exactly two copies exist for the second print (for half the price), while the third print has four copies, etc. This way the number of "legit" copies expands geometrically, to be sold on the market at proportionally lower prices. Initially there is no incentive to torrent your version because yours is unique and will appreciate in value if you don't. Fans will want to buy earlier generations, while others can buy later generations for a reduced price. This way the author makes all their money off the originals, while the used market takes the rest. What do you think?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 4:03am


    No it wouldn't. Re-rip without PGP, and distribute. It's completely pointless to "protect" it, as proven by the past 30 years of releases.

    Though I agree it could even remove some value... to some extent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 4:38am

    Customised content

    like, say, a web page?

    Let's not lose sight of the fact that the whole idea of an "e-book" is an elaborate infrastructure for DRM. Otherwise an e-book would just be a large html file or series of same, as some free books are.

    And once we require DRM, all these commonplace features have to be reinvented to fit into the restriction infrastructure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Kingster (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 5:10am

    "Future Proof"? Not even close.

    Hit the brakes...
    There are some limitations. It's only available on one day and only via a live online chat. Also, it only works on the Kindle, which raises questions concerning just how "future proof" it will really be.

    That right there will make this useless. Hell, the next thing I know, Amazon and the publisher will get into some stupid fight, pull the "signed" book, and it's gone. Even if they resolve their differences, what are the odds that I can get my special page back? Slim to none, with slim stepping out of town, I would bet.

    Scote is right - If I have the opportunity to get a signature, I'm getting a physical one. Even if it is on a separate sheet of paper. The author can even sign my back while my friends take pictures, or a shirt... Anything that doesn't have DRM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, May 20th, 2011 @ 5:51am

    {arched eyebrow} This idea again?

    Sorry, but it is a digital item - and not in a tightly monitored environment (i.e. World of Warcraft), it will be copied, and copied hard.

    This is starting to remind me of some of things that stamp/card/comic/coin collectors and sellers have had to do to avoid getting ripped off with counterfeit items (i.e. holograms, special print techniques, etc. etc. etc.).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Joel Lucsy, May 20th, 2011 @ 5:53am

    Better idea

    Have the physical e-reader signed. What better than reading a e-book on a signed e-reader. I imagine the back of the e-reader with a bunch of signatures all penned in permanent ink. Signed electronic content means nothing. If you die, your content goes with you. Your reader, tho, could be sold.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    One_of_the_Norm (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 6:26am

    I don't see the concept of a digital signature by itself adding an significant value to digital media. In general, anything that is digital can be replicated to infinity both legally and illegally. So any uniqueness due to signatures, as with physical book signings, is lost.

    However I do like the idea of personalized messages. If the messages are somewhat unique (not just all "to my best fan 'insert name'") then it does add a personal feel for that buyer. And isn't that one of the various reasons people buy premium items, so that they can own something unique that connects them to the creator somehow?

    While a novel idea, being digital it probably won't add any real perceived value past the original buyer. Thus while it will allow for a few higher priced books/albums/etc to sell to some, it probably won't ever become a ground breaking concept that everyone embraces.

    I see this as a nice "add-on" to more traditional digital avenues when marketing and selling items. A good additional option to help connect with fans, but nothing that would stand purely by itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 6:29am

    Re: Re:

    I did not mean to use digital signatures as a means of protection. I meant to use it merely for what it is: a signature. An autograph, which cannot be tampered with and is bound to the author's GPG key + the ebook + a (hopefully unique) dedication.

    You can still copy any of those individually (and enjoy full use of all of them), of course. But they are meaningless when broken apart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Raphael (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 6:50am


    Exactly. What makes a customer who's torrented a perfect copy of your product WANT to pay for another one? The connection the customer feels to you as an artist/artisan.

    It is, as always, a matter of respect: the willingness to share ideas demonstrates respect for your audience. It is then a simple economic question: are there enough people willing to support a respectful ecosystem to keep it afloat? The truth is that there are enough, as examples here show repeatedly, but the maximalists are insufficiently respectful to believe it.

    As someone pointed out on an earlier post, we're good at recognizing people of the copyright-maximalist type in our daily lives. They're the people who take and don't give, and because they operate that way, their decisions are based on their fear that everyone else does, too. That attitude should be regarded as a lamentable social disability, not allowed to control policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Raphael (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re:

    Giving credit: the person who pointed out what I mentioned earlier was Capitalist Lion Tamer, who said it here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Bill (profile), May 20th, 2011 @ 7:46am

    Re: What good is it if you can't resell it?

    Exactly the point I was going to make. There is no added value to a unsellable e-book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    DogBreath, May 20th, 2011 @ 7:57am


    Your explanation nailed it. This is all about attempting to maximize profit for no real increased value, which is what so many businesses are doing these days, and why so many are miserably failing. Taking more from people while giving less value has only one final result: Customers go bye-bye, business dies.

    The 1-2-3 model always applies:

    1. Author signs one time.

    2. Signature electronically duplicated as many times as needed to separate gullible public from their money, while saving author from writers cramp.

    3. Need I say: Cha-Ching! Profit!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2011 @ 9:53am


    For signatures to have specific names addressing them to specific people devalues those signatures (makes them practically worthless). People want their items generally autographed to increase their re-sale price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    stevepoling (profile), May 21st, 2011 @ 1:52pm

    i think another form of personalization is needed

    I think that the ebook should be publishable in multiple editions. For instance, my short story on Amazon, The Aristotelian, has a nice cover. But I would have preferred to include several illustrations inside. Yeah, maybe it would have a facsimile of my signature, or even a personalized message, but what would really be nice would be a number of beautiful illustrations of the English countryside, an embarrassed Holmes brother, dangling feet of the body hanging in the locked room, and so on.

    ebooks enable the production of "coffee table" editions that can be as richly illustrated as a web page. In a perfect world, I'd like to sell a Kindle ebook edition at $0.99, a richly illustrated edition for more, another edition with personalized message for more, and a paper version printed on glossy stock with hardback covers for an even higher price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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