THE BLOG
01/22/2015 10:48 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Hey, Buddy. Shh. Want a Signed Ebook?

When I was a kid, a famous circus came to town. My mother arranged for me to meet The Human Cannonball behind the tent, after his show. I couldn't believe my luck. He was truly impressive, almost a god among men to a young, small town boy like me.

I happened to have in my hand a toy Arabic sword, a cheap souvenir I had just bought, a play version of the cinematic, old-fashioned shape with a wide, exaggeratedly curved blade, four inches across and made of smooth flat white plastic. The equally flat handle was a snazzy bright red. The Cannonball shook hands with me and then graciously offered to sign my sword. Wait. I could actually get his autograph? Cool! Unbelievable. I handed him the weapon, and he pulled out a pen with some sort of wide black ink flow and scrawled his name big across the pristine blade and then gave it back to me with a smile. Wow. It was my first autograph from a celebrity! I was thrilled.

Until I got home and realized that the sword would look better with the autograph on the handle, not the blade. So, I went back into my room, got out a variety of erasers and some soap and several washcloths, and I went to work on the signature. Within an hour, I had completely removed it from the blade. I then meticulously redid what the man had written, but now, in a much smaller size, onto the handle, even tracing out carefully the sort of flamboyant cursive script he had used. I was so excited when I ran into the kitchen to show my mom how I had moved the man's autograph to a better position!

I clearly didn't grasp fully enough the concept of an autograph. And, now I realize that, maybe, many decades later, I still don't.

My mother managed somehow not to laugh too loudly. She carefully explained that the only autograph was when the man's own hand held the pen that put the ink onto the surface being signed. When I erased that ink, I destroyed the autograph. It was gone. I then had just written his name on the handle, exactly as I could have done had I never met him at all.

Oh. Gee.

My shock at this realization was visceral and complete. I reeled with disappointment and intense regret. So, to be a real autograph, the famous man (or lady) has to hold the pen (or pencil, or paint brush -- I got the extension of the pen idea, just fine -- I thought) and actually use it to touch the object being signed. That's what makes for an autograph.

Or: perhaps not.

Have you ever heard of a signed ebook? It's being done. When ebooks first became available, I wondered what would happen to the time honored custom of author autographs. Of course, we all had dancing in our heads visions of iPads and Kindles and Nooks whose backs would be absolutely covered with tiny little author signings, presumably in permanent, indelible ink, as the closest available possibility. But that's clearly a very limited piece of real estate. So you'd have to be extremely particular about asking for a signature.

Nope. Wrong again.

One of the most innovative companies now publishing and selling ebooks, ZolaBooks.com, is currently making signed ebooks available, on the books, not the reading devices, and I can tell you that it's no mass produced, fake signature thing just inserted onto everyone's first page. My mother, if she had lived to see such a universally produced signature, could have told you in a second that it could not count as an autograph. And the people at Zola know that. So, they've solved the problem. They recently sent me an iPad loaded with specialized tech and apps, so that I could help test a new way of doing personalized author signatures for ebooks.

Zola is an innovative publisher, seller and community of readers that's pioneering new dimensions for the experience of literature in our digital world. They approached me a while back and asked me to join an amazing group of, otherwise, best selling and highly respected authors to offer them exclusive ebook rights on a few of my own titles. So I gave them a few books, and now I have an opportunity that's just as unexpected as my chance to meet The Human Cannonball.

If a guy comes up to me in an airport, and I happen to have my new iPad with me, something unprecedented can happen.

"Hey, Dr. Morris, good to see you! I've been wanting to get one of your books, and I'd love a signed copy, but I usually read ebooks."

"Not a problem." I can pull out the iPad, plug in a little square credit card reader, swipe his card through it right there, and in seconds, he's just bought one of my ebooks from Zola. Now, sitting there together in the gate area, I can open an app, sign his ebook and send him on his way with a handshake and a smile.

Or, people who may or may not ever meet me in person can now buy my ebooks online and click a button that says they want a signed copy. Their message comes to me on my iPad at home, at my office, on a plane, or in a Vegas hotel, and when I have a second, I can open an app and use a finger to personalize my signature -- "To Dave! I hope you enjoy this book! Good Wishes, Tom Morris." Or: "To Mary, May Wisdom Always Be Your Companion! Tom" -- the possibilities, of course, are endless. I then hit a virtual button, and Zap! My autograph appears on the right page, the front page, of Dave's ebook, or Mary's, right where it's supposed to be, and "straight from my hand."

But I should also urge any Dave or Mary out there: Please don't figure out how to erase that electronic signature and move it to another place in your book. I just don't know enough right now to be able to guarantee that it would still be my autograph.

Best wishes. Tom