The Apple deal is the latest in a string of e-book partnerships that the Government Printing Office--the official federal government printer--has struck since December 2010 with the likes of Google, Barnes & Noble, and smaller companies like OverDrive, Ingram, and ZInio.
"We need to be able to provide the American people with publications in whatever format they want," Herb Jackson, the Government Printing Office's managing director of business products and services, said in an interview. "We want to be relevant, we want to get into as many channels as we can and with e-books we have been able to provide the public with titles they want."
The Government Printing Office struck its first e-book deal with Google in December 2010, announcing at the time that it would place 100 titles in what was then known as Google eBookstore, which is now part of Google Play. About 250 titles are available from the different e-book sellers today.
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In addition to the e-book deals being struck, the agency is also working to develop an e-reader friendly version of the Federal Digital System website, also known as FDsys, which hosts about 380,000 government documents, including the federal budget, some federal court decisions, the Code of Federal Regulations, Congressional documents, and more.
The Government Printing Office has also begun developing mobile applications to facilitate the dissemination of federal government documents. The President's fiscal 2013 budget was viewed about 100,000 times in the first few days after its release on a budget application developed by the agency, and other Government Printing Office apps include a mobile Congressional member guide and a Congressional Record application.
While author J.K. Rowling likely won't be seeing a dent in her own book sales because of the government's entrance into the e-book market--the Government Printing Office's fiscal 2013 budget justification indicates that only about 300 e-books had been sold as of January 2012--GPO still sees e-books as a good way to address its goal of being more open and transparent. In its 2012-2016 Strategic Plan, for example, the agency touts the use of e-books as a way to "maximize information dissemination."
Despite the slow start, interest has begun picking up, Jackson said. ""We are seeing more interest, though of course it takes time." he said.
Beyond the Government Printing Office, government agencies are beginning to see potential benefit in e-readers and tablets. Jackson's office is in frequent talks with other agencies that want to convert their documents into e-reader format, and the State Department is moving toward a purchase of a large number of e-readers after scrapping an earlier purchase of 2,500 Amazon Kindles.
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