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Three New Signs That Paper Books Are Almost Dead

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This week has so far brought three bad omens about the fate of paper books as we've known them.

1. Barnes & Noble announced that the upgraded Color Nook will include a page for digital author signatures. Authors will be able to write directly on the touch screen where the signature will be store for posterity. The first author e-signing is scheduled for next week.

From appearances, B&N has jumped ahead of another e-signature product with the new feature. A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported that a software maker in Florida was set to debut an app called Autography, which will allow users to add a digital signature page to e-books. The page could include a photograph with the author taken on the spot then sent to a reader within two minutes. Autography is going to be released next month.

The obvious unknown here: how will authors will adjust to e-signature requests? Two years ago, David Sedaris was asked to sign a Kindle after a reading and he didn't take it very well. Here was the result:

This second piece of bad news was more horrifying, unless you happen to be in ad sales. Gawker framed it best: "The 'Advertising in Books Wall' Has Been Breached."

The story referred to a Wall Street Journal article about a new memoir by Harry Hurt III, a Manhattan writer whose forthcoming self-published book will include product placement sponsorship and display ads.

"Our economy is down and the traditional book publishing industry is down, so it's either cry in a corner, or do something about it," Hurt told the Journal.

The something Hurt did was convince several companies to donate products and free hotel stays in exchange for both ads and a mention in his narrative about a cross-country road trip. Readers will learn about the remarkable engineering of Coleman tents, for example. He also made deals with cigar maker La Gloria Cubana, Briggs & Riley Travelware and Plain & Fancy Farm, a restaurant in Pennsylvania. In exchange for the ads, the companies will tweet about the book and post status updates about it on Facebook.

The well-connected New Yorker may have beat the nation's big publishers to this milestone in a significant manner, but he's not the first author to accept such direct sponsorship. Large companies like Bulgari and Cover Girl have purchased product placement in books before. This year a Canadian writer named Shane Rhodes sought outside support -- in the form of free product -- from various craft beer, wine and liquor makers in exchange for mentions in his book of poetry, Err.

Said one report: The writer and his pals were out having a drink when they started discussing how little authors earn. Wouldn't it be nice if they could write a book that would sell enough to cover bar tabs for a while. “It occurred to me one night, why don’t we just take out the middle man?" said Rhodes.

3. Yesterday we learned of Al Gore's latest, er, release, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. Created with a tricked out multimedia app called Push Pop Press, invented by a couple of ex-Apple engineers, Our Choice is being heralded as the bomb that will "blow up the concept of the book."

Now we can look forward to the inevitable backlash.

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.