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U.S. Public Printer Bob Tapella reveals e-book store and remodeled brick and mortar in D.C.

Published on October 28, 2010

Cary Sherburne:  Hi, I’m Cary Sherburne, and Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and it’s my great pleasure to be here with Bob Tapella, who is the United States Public Printer, runs the government printing office.  And we always think about the Federal Register, the Congressional Record, I always, can never remember all the names of the things you do, the 15 key publications.

Bob Tapella:  13 core publications.

Cary Sherburne:  And passports. 

Bob Tapella:  And passports.

Cary Sherburne:  And passports.  But I understand that you’re doing some very interesting things with books these days.

Bob Tapella:  Correct.  We’ve just remodeled our one remaining bricks and mortar bookstore, which is located in Washington, D.C., we’ve turned it into a browsing bookstore.

Cary Sherburne:  Okay.

Bob Tapella:  For those that like to wander and thumb through publications.  And for people that like bricks and mortar, I think it’s pretty exciting, but I think what is more exciting is within the next 60 days, we’ll be announcing our foray into digital books.

Cary Sherburne:  Okay!  Like digital books like Kindle.

Bob Tapella:  That can be downloaded onto a Kindle, onto an iPad, you know, Barnes & Noble Nook, whatever the product is.  And at present, it runs approximately $750 to do an e-pop, to do a conversion to it.  And we decided that it would be very important for us to do conversions of federal government books in particular and we’re going to be putting together a very competitive offer for our customers that would make it significantly better and easier for the government publications to end up on e-readers.

Cary Sherburne:  Now, normally when you say our customers, normally you refer to Congress and the agencies.

Bob Tapella:  Correct, that’s exactly who I’m referring to.

Cary Sherburne:  But not me, huh?  Just as a citizen?

Bob Tapella:  Well, to the American, as an American citizen, you’re the one buying these books, to a large degree.

Cary Sherburne:  Okay, there we go.

Bob Tapella:  And right now, like the traditional bookseller, the books that we have for sale in our online bookstore, as well as our bricks and mortar bookstore, we have written the print order and they are sitting in a warehouse.

Cary Sherburne:  Right.

Bob Tapella:  In rural Maryland.  And I’m using some of our retained earnings to buy those publications and store them until you buy them.  And what we’re looking at doing is trying to significantly increase the number of government publications that would be available to the average citizen by offering them in an electronic format.

Cary Sherburne:  And so the most sort of efficient way for me to find out what is available is to go to your online bookstore?

Bob Tapella:  Correct.

Cary Sherburne:  And then it wouldn’t matter whether I bought it there, or bought it on Amazon, or I bought it wherever.

Bob Tapella:  Or through Google, or whomever, correct.

Cary Sherburne:  Yeah.  Okay, that’s very exciting.  And so, what, let’s see, before Halloween I should be able to do that, right?

Bob Tapella:  I’m hoping that it’s before Halloween, yes.  We just signed some contracts this week.

Cary Sherburne:  And so are you hiring new staff to do this conversion?  Because we, what they think we have, you know, Dr. Joe Webb’s Disrupting The Future book and we’ve been experimenting with converting it to various types, and it’s not that straightforward.

Bob Tapella:  No.  And part of what we’ve done is we’re going to be working with some outside vendors to do that.

Cary Sherburne:  Okay. 

Bob Tapella:  Because there is expertise in it.  And what we have is we have access to the content.

Cary Sherburne:  Right.

Bob Tapella:  And so why reinvent the wheel that’s already being done by professionals in the private sector.  What we have is the content and what we want to do is allow our customers to get their content out to a much broader audience.

Cary Sherburne:  And are you going to be able to do it for less than $750 a book or is it still—

Bob Tapella:  Absolutely.

Cary Sherburne:  Okay, that’s great.  Well, we will look forward to that.  I’m going to be riveted by all, I mean, I’ve seen some of the books in the bookstore, some of them I would want in print, because they’re beautiful.

Bob Tapella:  Correct.  I mean, obviously the coffee table books are not necessarily the ones that going to, that are good for this.

Cary Sherburne:  Yeah.

Bob Tapella:  But for example, the US Government manual that lists all the government organizations and how they’re set up, if you’re somebody that is either trying to do business with the government or need help from the government, it is a very good publication, but it’s, you know, 3 inches thick and costs a small fortune.  Be much nicer if you could just download it onto your e-reader and have it searchable and find exactly what you need when you need it.

Cary Sherburne:  And will it have in there the actual numbers you have to push on the voice-activated phones to get to a real person?

Bob Tapella:  No.  I can’t necessarily say that that will be in the first rendition of these, but what I would really like to have is interactive business.

Cary Sherburne:  Right.

Bob Tapella:  And this is, we just finished our fiscal year, we’ve had our seventh consecutive year in the black.

Cary Sherburne: Wow, that’s, congratulations.

Bob Tapella:  And for the past three years, our publication information sales business has been in the black as a separate unit.  And I believe the future of that business unit is in electronic books.  And so the first foray is into simple electronic readers for publications for electronic readers, and then we’ll see how we can get into interactive and perhaps subscription services.

Cary Sherburne:  That’ll be great, I’ll be looking forward to it.  Thank you.

Bob Tapella:  Thank you.

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