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Book biz gets helping hand

New device allows writers to inexpensively, easily meet the public

Hollywood has digital cinema, the music biz has iTunes and the book business has … a robotic arm?

The publishing industry, which for three decades has had the honored (if not always honorable) tradition of the book tour, has a new technology that could boost sales, or at least the novelty factor.

Canadian scribe Margaret Atwood (“Alias Grace,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) last week unveiled her invention LongPen, an automatic-autographing device in which a robotic arm replicates the signing motion of a user from many miles away.

If it catches on, some in the biz think it could increase sales by allowing authors to inexpensively and easily meet their public — with the help of a video link — without ever getting near a lonely freeway or dubious motel. (If it really catches on, perhaps publishers can emulate the movie biz and throw day-and-date release parties.)

Atwood will debut the contraption at the London Book Fair this week (she’ll be in Canada, of course).

She may be on to something: At least one large New York house has complained that book tours have become so common they don’t move copies, and in many cases aren’t cost-effective.

Now if only someone could invent a machine that orders up sales….