GPO expands its e-books to the Nook reader

The Government Printing Office has signed an agreement with Barnes & Noble to make its e-books available for the chain’s Nook e-reader, expanding the market for GPO’s small but growing catalog of electronic books.

“Getting into Barnes & Noble is a win for us,” said Herbert Jackson, GPO’s managing director of business products and services. GPO has been publishing federal documents for 150 years in a variety of formats, beginning with ink on paper and moving into the digital world. “It’s important that we continue to do that regardless of the format.”

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GPO has about 30 titles now available in a variety of electronic formats, through Google’s eBookstore, OverDrive, Ingram, Zinio and other vendors. Availability on the Nook represents a major step for GPO into the growing market for electronic books. According to figures from International Data Corp. and Pew Research, the Amazon Kindle remained the dominant reader with an estimated 48 percent of the market as of April, but the Nook came in third with a 17 percent market share.

“We began doing e-books in 2010,” Jackson said. GPO acts as a contract publisher for federal agencies, and agencies had been asking for the electronic option. “We did it because we needed to be in the business of providing the public information in the format it wants.”

Each of the publications in the electronic catalog also is available in print. GPO also makes many of its products, such as the federal budget and legislation, available for download in PDF format at the Federal Digital System, verifying the authenticity of the documents with digital signatures.

Print editions are not going away in the foreseeable future, Jackson said, but he believes digital formats will become more important and that documents eventually would appear in electronic form only. “A lot of that will depend on the agencies and what their need is,” he said.

Because different readers use different proprietary formats, each title has to be formatted for each reader. Almost all documents handled by GPO are received and readied for publication as electronic files, so formatting for e-reading is not a difficult process, Jackson said.

Publications currently available in e-book formats include the "Public Papers of the President-Barack Obama," "Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster And The Future Of Offshore Drilling’"(the BP Oil Spill Commission Report), the "Financial Crisis Inquiry Report," and the newly released "Basic Guide to Exporting” from the Commerce Department.

Older titles will be considered for e-book editions as they come up for reprinting. One popular older e-book title is the tenth anniversary edition of the 9-11 Commission report.

Because the market is new, GPO has few figures on sales or popularity of e-books, Jackson said.

“It’s early now,” he said. But the market is growing, and “I believe as we expand our relationships we’ll see more interest.”

Although there is little information to back it up at this point, Jackson said scientific publications are likely to be the big sellers in the e-book formats because people would rather not carry around 400-page reference books. “We believe it is the more technical kind of digital content people are looking for,” he said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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