Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The LongPen

Book signing tours must be a huge drag for authors. I mean, sure they're grateful for the fan support and the personal connections they can make with their stalkers - err, dedicated readers. It certainly doesn't hurt sales to put yourself out there with the public, but it must suck to have to trounce around the country signing endless autographs and dedications, at times hitting several cities in one day.

It seems that author Margaret Atwood has had enough. And she's doing something about it. She's founded a company, Unotchit (pronounced You No Touch It), to push her solution to the whole book tour hassle:

As I - Margaret Atwood speaking here - was whizzing around the United States on yet another demented book tour, getting up at four in the morning to catch planes, doing two cities a day, eating the Pringle food object out of the mini-bar at night as I crawled around on the hotel room floor, too tired even to phone Room Service (I am not alone in such practices), I thought: "There must be a better way of doing this. Or of doing some of it."

So I talked to a few people, then put together a team to find out whether anything like it existed (no), and whether it could be done (yes).
Pictured above and to the left is Atwood's idea come to life, The LongPen. This contraption allows her to sign books remotely using a tablet interface and a camera [above]. The breathless fan at Bookstore X (soon to be run into the ground by Barnes & Noble, no doubt) stands in front of a mechanical arm grasping a pen [right] and gets his book signed while chatting with the author via video conference. As the author scribbles the dedication onto the tablet in front of her, the robotic arm mimics her movements onto the real book.

Some would argue that The Long Pen is impersonal, and maybe they're right. But let's not kid ourselves that these face-to-face signings are deep exchanges. Atwood makes the point that these remote signing won't really be all that different than the real thing; in fact she says that it's better this way because fans can take home an electronic copy of their conversation with her. She goes on to mention that bookstores could take advantage of the technology and have several authors signing books simultaneously at one large event without ever displacing anyone. Brilliant! All of the interaction, none of the bacteria.

gizmag Article: The LongPen


Jay Pea Are said...

When a person puts themselves into a public arena like being an author, or actor or politician there are benifits and draw backs to that choice. One of the draw backs is having creepy fans that you have to go and meet becasue they are the ones that will stand by when ypu are no longer famous. This pen reminds me of a little machine that was inveted a while ago called a printer. What makes an autograph special is the face to face meeting and the fact that you met the person signing the item. Even if you can't meet the celebrity you at least have something that your idol has touched. I have no problem with teleconferencing but a mechanical autograph takes the personalness away from the keep sake that an autograph is.

Alex said...

I'm of two minds on this subject. I think that the personal face-to-face is more personal, but the LongPen isn't really that different an experience. It's not like a printer in that it really reflects what the author is writing, exactly the way the author would have written it if she was sitting in front of you. If this allows more people to "meet" their favorite authors, then bully for the LongPen.