Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

FedEx Should be Scared–and Intrigued

…And they should be trying to invest in this.

In three days at Book Expo America, I saw one technology that could really alter the world.

Because FedEx’s whole model is based on the need to transport paper around the world quickly–in situations where fax or e-mail isn’t practical for one reason or another. Situations that require a physical signature on an original document. FedEx, DHL, UPS, USPS, and all the other courier services need to know that the real business they are in at least as much about transporting signatures as in transporting large documents that would be unwieldy via electronic technologies.

Frustrated by the demands of wearying multicity author tours, acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood was signing for a package on an electronic tablet. I’m sure you’ve done it. Mistakenly, she believed that she was actually creating a physical signature on a piece of paper, remotely–so, she thought, why can’t I sign a book in my house? After all, it’s been possible for years to do author events by video or audio, remotely. Why not a long-distance book signing?

And now she can. Using two-way videoconferencing, she can interact with a fan or group of fans anywhere in the world, and when a bookstore staffer puts a book under the pen at the other end, she can inscribe and personalize the book.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the company’s promotional material focuses on the “Green” feature: the amount of carbon saved in not flying. Of course, the author who doesn’t have to slog through international border crossings, airports, hotel rooms, and the rest of the grind may or may not be thinking about carbon offsets. And, of course, it’s going to be waaaay cheaper than a year’s worth of book tours–though once the novelty wears off, readers/fans may not find it as satisfying as a real in-person appearance.

Atwood’s company is called Unotchit and the product is Long Pen ™. I couldn’t find any pricing information on the site but I’m sure that in most cases, a bookstore or other venue will install the device and then loan out the writing tablet (and, if necessary, the video cam) to the author, so the equipment cost will be relatively manageable. And I’m guessing, ironically enough, that a lot of those tablets and cams will be shipped by FedEx

This has huge implications–not only in publishing but in sports, finance, real estate (think about closings with absentee owners), music, international business, and probably dozens of other industries.

You heard it here first.


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