17 June 2007

The Future of the LongPen

Having read over at Book Patrol that 84 year old Norman Mailer doesn't fancy the journey to Edinburgh and will be signing books by the LongPen from New York, I decided to see how the thing works.

It was invented by Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood but presumably the thing itself was engineered by geeks and boffins at the Unotchit company that she formed to market this marvel. There is a video at Unotchit showing the thing in action.

The author faces the person who wants the signature on a video / internet link and asks them how they want the book signed, the author then signs it, chats a little to the fan and the fan sees the intended inscription and approves it - it is then sent over to the robotic inking arm at the other end. This process can be abbreviated depending on time and the length of the queue. Margaret says that, in fact, it is a more intimate experience than actual real life signings. It probably takes longer but the author hardly needs to leave home--no more lousy hotel rooms, long haul flights and jet lag. Baseball bats and hockey sticks can be signed, also CDs, checks, contracts and presumably prints and lithographs--Salvador Dali would have loved it.

What value do longpen signatures have and are they detectable if not declared? I looked up 'longpen' on ABE as a keyword --it brings up 4 entries, all signed Atwood books and all pushing the signatures as having been done long before the LongPen--so straightaway a virtue is being made of the real over the virtual--rather like the unrestored jacket being preferred to the restored or a signature in a book being better than on a pasted in bookplate. One Chicago dealer (www.modernrare.com) even holds forth on the subject in an entry for a signed proof of her 1991 novel 'Wilderness Tips which he lists at a modest $55:
'This copy is prominently and beautifully signed in black pen on the title page by Margaret Atwood. Atwood's penmanship is among the most beautiful among writers: Clean, flowing, and elegant. Laid-in is a copy of the Souvenir Program at which the signing was held. This signature was obtained in person, not through the author's "high-tech" invention called the LongPen. Copies "signed" in the latter manner must be identified as such because they have no collectible value. The point of a signed copy is that it unmistakably indicates that the author held the copy of the book and left his or her trace on it. '
Point taken, but will sellers identify LongPen signatures as such and will wily autograph dealers be able to pronounce on the matter -'Sorry this was signed with a LongPen - $5 is all we can give...'? Looking at the video they seem pretty good, possibly slightly scrawly but hard to distinguish from a face to face signing. They are quite similar to a cyclostyle signature--an old technology' device to reproduce the signatures of famous men--Churchill had one. These are distinguishable as fakes because they are always exactly the same.

So far Margaret Atwood, Dean Koontz and Robert Kennedy Jnr., have used it, and now Norman Mailer. I guess you have to know the names of the LongPen authors and the books they signed to be ahead of the game but it is possible in an increasingly virtual world that a remote signature will be considered pretty much as good as the real thing, or no one will really care anyway. It will also be useful to old and infirm authors + its use in business is likely to grow. The word itself reminds me of the cannibal word for humans- 'long pig' - and someone has suggested the alternative 'Roboscrawl'...


Lew Jaffe said...

I saw a demonstration of this obscene device at the Book Expo in New York City several weeks ago.Not my cup of tea.
Lew Jaffe

Anonymous said...

"The point of a signed copy is that it unmistakably indicates that the author held the copy of the book and left his or her trace on it."

Is this even true? I thought in many cases with signed limited editions the publisher only send the author the individual pages to sign. The author signs a stack of title or limitation pages, sends them back, and the pages are bound with the rest of the book... Therefore according to the modernrare.com way of thinking the author never handled the book, and it shouldn't be collectible? Hardly.

Clearly the real issue, is whether an expert can tell that the LongPen was used. This comes down to whether the pen exerts even pressure on the page, whether the pen writes every part of every word at the same speed, whether the pen pushes down at the ends of words causing ink to pool, and so on... If no one can tell, then the longpen signatures will be just as good as in-person ones, but if they're technically distinguishable then they probably won't be collectible.
Either way, it's a brave new world out there.

Anonymous said...

While I certainly will not comment on personal preference, I might suggest that if readers wish to see the latest version of the device so that an educated comment on the technology can be made, consider this link which will take you to the most recent version of our video.


The original posted link references the first production prototype – which we agree was a bit “scrawly”.

Thanks for all the dynamic interaction on the subject.

Matthew, VP Operations, Unotchit

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether that technology will be pushed further, i.e. unattended signing. As far as I understand the "signature" can be saved and reproduced by a device later. Can one envision a LongPen kiosk in your neighbourhood Walmart that can sign your Atwood library for a couple of bucks per book?