NTIS, Kinko's join forces for on-demand printing

Getting copies of government documents can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but it could soon be as simple as going to the local copy store.

By the end of this year, copying services company Kinko's Inc. will offer on-demand printing of National Technical Information Service publications at 300 of its 847 branches worldwide that are connected to the company's computer network, Kinkonet.

Because Kinko's operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, customers will be able to order up documents anytime, said Sandy Waters, NTIS' director of strategic planning.

NTIS is also exploring "hypothetically" with some other agencies—which Waters did not name—arrangements under which individuals could order government forms and have them printed at a Kinko's store.

"It is a fantastic vehicle for allowing for remote printing of information that clients want delivered," Waters added. "FedEx is fast, but it's still not as fast as you can do it electronically."

"We're excited about the opportunity that Kinkonet and electronic distribution of documents presents to us," said Lee Kennedy, Kinko's vice president for information technology.

Kennedy said he expects a lot of competition in the market, although he said the firm had not specifically studied the potential of the market for the distribution of government documents.

The agreement appears to be the first between the government and a vendor for on-demand printing services for the public.

"On the face of it, it sounds like an interesting and innovative arrangement," said Patrice McDermott, an information policy analyst with OMB Watch, a public interest group.

"If it is an efficient and affordable way for the public to get information, then it's a model other government information providers might want to look at, especially since it is coming through a centralized distribution center," she added.

McDermott cautioned, however, that if individual agencies offered such services, it would be hard to keep track of what the government was publishing.

Judy Russell, director for electronic dissemination services with the Government Printing Office, said GPO's depository library works much like NTIS' arrangement with Kinko's.

Through its Federal Depository Library program, GPO distributes its electronic and paper-based documents to 1,400 libraries nationwide, all of which are available for copying. GPO is studying ways to make more federal documents available to the public electronically.

But McDermott observed that many depository libraries are at universities that limit public access to their collections. In addition, she said, reproduction costs at libraries are often higher than in a copy store, and individuals are more likely to know where their local copy store is than the nearest depository library.

How NTIS Picked Kinko's

NTIS chose to work with Kinko's in the new venture after considering "three or four" other proposals from vendors who responded to a Commerce Business Daily notice almost a year ago, Waters said.

NTIS decided to work with Kinko's because the firm's offices never close, it has branches nationwide and in foreign countries, and it was installing a network to offer electronic document distribution services, Waters said.

Asked whether NTIS had plans to make distribution arrangements with other vendors, Waters said, "The Kinko's service model really works best in this."

Under the agreement, NTIS is installing a dedicated high-speed telephone line that will be connected with the Kinkonet server. NTIS will send documents to this server, and Kinko's will route the information to whichever store the customer requests.

Within the next two to four months, Waters said, NTIS will launch an upgraded on-line ordering system that will collect orders 24 hours a day. Customers will also be able to use a computer at a Kinko's store to place their orders, or they can make requests by fax or telephone.

Waters said the new service is expected to bring NTIS new customers, particularly people who want to get information while they are on the road.

According to the terms of the joint-venture agreement, NTIS and Kinko's will share any profits from the service. Neither NTIS nor Kinko's would discuss how much the deal might be worth.

Unlike other agencies, such as GPO, that distribute federal documents, NTIS is required by law to cover all its expenses. NTIS has been criticized in the past by advocates for public access to government data for what they view as excessive charges for information produced at taxpayer expense.

It is not clear whether the new service will result in any changes in what NTIS customers pay for documents. Charges for NTIS publications vary, and the agency charges a handling fee of $2 to $8 for documents that are not downloaded directly from FedWorld, its on-line information service.

Customers who request delivery from Kinko's will pay the company a $3 handling fee, which is the charge for using Kinkonet. In addition, they would pay the cost of whatever printing and binding services Kinko's performs.

Payment for the information itself would continue to be made to NTIS.

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