Do Authors Dream of Electric Book Signings? Kindlegraph Hopes So

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As ebook sales continue to trounce those of print books, and now with the demise of Borders, surely it’s only a matter of days until someone — probably a guest poster on this very blog — declares the death of the physical book.

(They’d be wrong, of course — moronically so — to the point where you might ask who on earth is responsible for approving guest posters on TechCrunch, and whether they have so much as a microgram of shame or professional pride. But it’d certainly make for a pseudo-controversial, traffic-grabbing post.)

Still, the fact remains that there are certain aspects of physical books that ebooks will struggle to replicate. The buzz of starting a conversation with an attractive stranger who’s reading your favourite book. The joy of a beautifully designed cover. The voyeuristic thrill of examining a friend’s bookshelves. Paper cuts.

For authors — and for readers, too, I suspect — another significant pleasure afforded by physical books is the book signing; an opportunity for writers to meet (and thank) the people who let them keep doing the job they love, and for readers to interact with their favourite authors, and complain about the unsatisfactory endings of their best-known books. Yes, Charlotte Brontë, I’m talking to you.

All of those joys might be lost if ebooks really do succeed in replacing their dead tree counterparts. Imagine my delight, then, at discovering “Kindlegraph“, a service which aims — with at least modest success – to recreate the experience of book signing, on the Kindle.

The technology is straightforward enough — readers sign in using Twitter, and select the book which they would like ‘signed’ (authors, or their publishers, have to opt in to have their books featured). The request is then forwarded to the author who — using Docusign‘s API — can write a short message and digitally sign it. The signed message is then forwarded to the reader’s Kindle, as a separate file.

Yeah. Ok. So it’s not quite the same as having an author sign your physical copy of his or her book. Like Margaret Atwood’s Longpen, it loses a lot of the personal connection that makes book signings popular — and at least with the Longpen there was a videoconferencing element so the reader could at least see the author “signing” the book. With Kindlegraph, there’s nothing to prove that the author is even the one doing the signing, nor anything to prevent people requesting Kindlegraphs for books they don’t own — something which might discourage busy authors, and their publicists, from taking part.

Still, as ways to connect with new readers go, a Kindlegraph signing is certainly a lot less effort than setting up a book event , while offering some fun possibilities (to test out the service, I offered to write haiku Kindlegraphs for buyers of my book). And for Kindle readers who might have no other meaningful way to connect with authors they like, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.