Thursday, August 16, 2007

Margaret Atwood's autograph gadget helped by 'green factor' - Yahoo! Canada News

In case any of our customers don't know, we are involved in this project, and it is generating quite some interest (as well as sales):

Wed Aug 15, 2:48 PM

By Cassandra Szklarski

TORONTO (CP) - Forget the posh downtown hotels or the chic restos. The best bet for celebrity sightings could soon be a humble bookstore or CD shop.

Author Margaret Atwood's unlikely invention, the LongPen, is moving into a record store and several bookstores in Canada, the United States and England for a trial run that could bring fans and their idols closer together.

Its makers are courting notables in the world of music, sports and film to start using the remote-controlled pen, which allows people to sign autographs from anywhere in the world and chat with others via videoconferencing.

Spokesman Bruce Walsh says shops with a LongPen kiosk could soon become hubs for celebrity sightings of a new kind.

"You could potentially see the talent in their dressing room, somewhere, and they could actually sign into a bookstore," says Walsh.

"It doesn't really matter, if there's a kiosk set up, you can sign all kinds of different kinds of talent into wherever the kiosk happens to be."

Kiosks will be set up at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, Barnes & Noble in New York and Waterstone's in London beginning after Labour Day, and could expand elsewhere if successful, he says. One machine will be in HMV's flagship record store in Toronto by the end of August.

The device - built by Atwood's Toronto-based company Unotchit - comprises a video screen and digital writing pad at one location and a video screen and automated pen at another.

Until now it has only been used by authors trying to reduce the rigours of book tours.

In recent days, U.S. author Norman Mailer and Ontario writer Alice Munro used it to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland, while staying on this side of the Atlantic.

Neither would have been able to appear at the festival had it not been for the LongPen, says Walsh, noting that Mailer is 84 years old and finds long flights difficult.

Tech observer Richard Worzel of Toronto was skeptical the device - with a fee of roughly $2,000 in Canada and the U.S. and $4,000 in England - would be worth it to a publisher promoting a new artist.

"Something like this, you'd have to show quite a lot of demand," said Worzel.

Still, he could see the potential.

"If you're having a film festival and Julia Roberts can't come...but she's willing to help promote the movie by signing autographs, great idea. She can stay in Hollywood and people here in Toronto can talk to her and get her to sign an autograph and so on."

But its biggest selling-point could well be the green factor, said Worzel, noting that a celebrity-driven campaign to reduce carbon emissions could find the LongPen some adherents.

The LongPen's makers say the device has already saved more than 40 tonnes of carbon emissions by cutting down on celebrity jet-setting.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and the Barenaked Ladies are just some of the big names who have helped make the phrase "carbon footprint" a household expression.

"(The LongPen) could be assisted by the public's desire to be carbon neutral," Worzel says. "Nobody wants to be seen as environmentally unfriendly."

Walsh says Atwood is surprised by the possibilities that have emerged since she came up with the LongPen several years ago to help her cut down on travel.

Her company has also been looking for ways to position the LongPen in businesses like banking or real estate, says Walsh.

"A lot of different sectors are getting to see what it is that the LongPen can deliver and are extremely excited about it," Walsh says.

"It's way more than what Margaret Atwood thought when she started."


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