Unhappy Bob Dylan fans who spent $599 to buy 900 personally “hand-signed” copies of his new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” are set to receive refunds, after the publisher, Simon & Schuster, acknowledged Sunday afternoon that complaints pouring in about the signatures actually being mechanical duplicates were valid.
“To those who purchased the ‘Philosophy of Modern Song’ limited edition, we want to apologize,” said a tweet from Simon & Schuster, which had offered the books for sale on its website. “As it turns out, the limited edition books do contain Bob’s original signature, but in a penned replica form. We are addressing this information by providing each purchaser with an immediate refund.”
The books began arriving in purchasers’ mailboxes Friday, and buyers quickly began comparing notes — or, more importantly, photographs — and coming to realize that the tomes had apparently been signed using “autopen,” which captures a real signature and reproduces it using a machine-powered pen. Buyers sharing photos in public forums had been able to identify what they believed was 17 different signature variations that were being used, as of early Sunday afternoon, before the publisher acknowledged that things were not as advertised.
On Friday, the publisher had been refusing requests that came in for refunds of the $599 price, still contending that the books were hand-signed, as avowed in a letter from the head of the company that came along with each volume, attesting to its authenticity. Those initial responses read: “We certainly understand any concerns you may have, however – Each individual copy of the limited signed edition of Bob Dylan’s THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG was personally signed by the author and is accompanied by a letter of authenticity from the publisher of Simon & Schuster.”
Everyone receiving the purchase had received a letter signed by Jonathan Karp, the president-CEO, saying, “You hold in your hands something very special, one of just 900 copies available in the U.S.” of the signed book. “This letter is confirmation that the copy of the book you hold in your hand has been hand-signed by Bob Dylan.”
But within 48 hours, as photographic evidence mounted that the claim was unlikely to be true, the company had changed its tune. Emails that began going out early Sunday afternoon to complaining customers referred to a “mistake”: “We apologize for the mistake that was made and are offering a full refund of your purchase. Please keep your copy of ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song’ at no cost. We hope you will enjoy reading it,” read the email, also signed by Karp.
The use of autopen is often looked for — and obviously universally frowned upon — in the collectors’ world, with many celebrities accused of using it, albeit rarely in instances where the signed items are being sold for $600 or upwards.
With Simon & Schuster unlikely to have been looking to deliberately deceive buyers when the duplications were so likely to be easily spotted, speculation will ensue as to how the company came to believe the books were individually signed. In the past, Dylan has very occasionally offered limited-edition autographed copies of his artwork or his “Chronicles” book, and fans with eagle eyes generally continue to believe that most or all those earlier items were, in fact, hand-signed.
Reps for the publisher did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
On eBay, vendors had been offering the “signed” book for resale for as much as $6,000 over the weekend. Most of those listings have been removed, either by the sellers or eBay itself. But some are holding out hope that the book will still be collectible: Soon after the notice went out from Simon & Schuster, one eBay seller was advertising the “autopen hardcover” for the bargain price of $725.
A page at Autograph Live provided one of several gathering spots for collectors to compare notes on the Dylan signatures as books arrived in the mail, including photos of the 17 variations buyers had spotted by Sunday.
“Philosophy of Modern Song” has received mostly high praise since being published early this month, including Variety‘s rave review, which called the book “a blast.”