Whenever my father gives a book as a gift, especially if the book’s recipient is a fan of the author, he will write something funny on the book’s title page and sign it as if it is from the author. While no one who receives these books is fooled by my father’s joke, the recipient still appreciates the idea of the author signing the book (especially if the author has been dead for fifty years). If my father were to gift ebooks, however, autographing would prove difficult. Likewise, autographing ebooks would be tricky for the actual authors; that is, unless someone comes up with a way for authors to electronically sign ebook copies of their work.

Recently, Apple has drafted plans for a patent that will allow authors to embed their signatures into ebooks. With some people opting to forgo the paper book in favor of electronic text, this may be a way for those readers to join in on the fun of having their favorite author personalize their ebooks. And with a rise in ebook readership it is no wonder Apple is looking into this patent.

While this may be an interesting innovation, it lacks the personal (and potentially monetary) value face-to-face contact with an author typically guarantees. According to the Apple patent outline, the reader and the device need to be within the vicinity of the author. This indicates that there is the potential for face-to-face interaction, but will the signatures really be unique? The ebook is never touched by the author’s hands like a real book being signed would be. Another question raised has to do with the value of the ebook itself after it has been signed. A physical book can be traded or sold, or given away as a unique gift, but an ebook is much more difficult to give away, let alone sell. And if you delete the book from your e-reader does that mean that the autograph is gone forever?
Another issue Slate writer Ariel Bogle touches on is the fact that these e-readers are one of the reasons so many brick-and-mortar stores are going out of business. Yet, readers who want their ebooks signed would have to go to the places where authors are holding book signings: typically in these brick-and-mortar bookstores.

However, the biggest issue here seems to be that ebooks are still not really bringing anything new to the table. Autographs are part of the physical world paper books belong to, and the modern ebook is still trying to emulate everything real books are. This could be hurting the evolution of ebooks. The Apple patent, while maybe not initially bringing anything new, could open the door for more interesting developments. The Apple patent outlines ways in which the author can customize his or her signature, going so far as to speculatively include, “text, audio clips, images, photo albums, videos, or other media items that can be received by a user through senses such as sight, sound, touch, and taste.” By implementing new and interesting ways to design and personalize electronic signatures, ebooks could finally begin to separate themselves from paper books and create a unique reading experience.

Did You Know?
In a blog entry back in mid-2013, we discussed Barnes & Noble’s decision to discontinue in-house manufacturing of Nook tablets. After the press release, the warnings of “don’t buy a Nook; they won’t be around much longer” more than likely spread like wildfire across the bibliophilic world. However, it seems like whenever you set foot in a Barnes & Noble store these days, there’s the Nook kiosk, complete with tablets.

So what’s the truth? Well, according to a Michael Huseby, president of the company and CEO of Nook Media, a couple months after the initial announcement, the company decided not to pull the plug on the Nook tablets after all. So that would explain why the HD version of the tablet is still alive and kicking in brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Only time will tell how the Nook will fare in the long-term against the iPad, Kindle and the countless other e-readers. But this extension, however temporary, is great news for Nook buyers, Nook owners and those of us who love the proliferation of books, no matter what their format may be.