Thursday, December 4, 2014

Authors can sign paper books, but not e-books

The rise of digital books could spell the end of book signings.
Author meet-and-greets have been a staple of the publishing industry. They establish good will between book writers and readers. Plus, they’re a good way to sell books.
Book lovers get a hand-signed memento from their meeting with an author. But with the rise of e-readers and tablets, physical books might be headed for the dust bin of history.
In 1985, I had dinner with author-historian-broadcaster Studs Terkel at a Chicago restaurant. My brother Paul, a doctor at a Chicago hospital, was treating his wife at the time. At the end of our dinner, Studs signed a copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction book “The Good War” for me.
The inscription reads, “For Pat – What a delightful companion – and I’m sure, a splendid journalist. Studs Terkel.” I still have the book and the memories.
For Black Friday this year, Barnes & Noble, nation’s largest retail bookseller, organized a massive signed-book sales event.
It offered 500,000 signed editions from more than 100 of today’s biggest authors. It made a selection available in every Barnes & Noble store nationwide. The authors included James Ellroy, Dan Brown, Rick Riordan, Clive Cussler, Jodi Picoult, Donna Tartt, David Baldacci, Ann Rice, Amy Poehler, George W. Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Is this a last gasp from a dying business or will physical books have many years left?
We shall see.
The answer has implications not just for the tradition of book signings, but all areas of our lives touched by books.
For instance, what’s to become of book shelves? Will people start putting other things to display on those shelves?
What about the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? That could become as archaic as saying something sounds like a broken record. (The New York Times wrote about this issue back in 2010.)

Photo: A before and after photo of Stephan Pastis, author of “Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done,” signing more than 5,000 copies of his book as part of Barnes & Noble’s Black Friday signed editions offering. 

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