Internet site boosts bookstore's federal biz

Computer Literacy (Bookshops + Online) an online and retail bookstore for computer professionals has added purchasing options to its online site to make it easier for large government buyers to use the store.

The Sunnyvale Calif.-based bookseller has more than 20 000 books and technical manuals available to computer professionals on topics ranging from doctoring a World Wide Web site to complex Unix programming.

The new corporate accounts program was built on the premise that the federal government along with libraries and large companies buys books much differently than the average person. Instead of browsing leisurely through titles government personnel act as purchasing agents to buy technical books in bulk for many departments or agency organizations.

To be sure those mass decisions meet the specific needs of individual MIS employees federal buyers can now visit the Computer Literacy site at and in minutes create multiple purchasing profiles for groups of users. Those profiles would then allow individuals to make their own book-buying decisions but factor in the sometimes multiple levels of authorization that federal MIS personnel must have before spending government money. "We can do things like send the books out to several federal locations and bill that order to one address " said Manny Brown Computer Literacy's East Coast corporate accounts manager.

"A lot of government transactions are submitted to us by purchasing folks but behind that our constituents are often members of a federal training department or librarians [at federal agencies] or those who might need access to specific technical information on how to complete an upgrade " said Dennis Capovilla the vice president of customer sales and strategy at Computer Literacy. The company includes among its customers civilian agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and several DOD and intelligence organizations.

To service organizations as large as those federal agencies Computer Literacy turned its attention to its company Web site.

"We felt it was important that government personnel be able to open a government account online. Through the corporate accounts program they can now apply online and submit the application online. We are not aware of other companies that have an online program and an approval process to make that happen " said marketing vice president Tom Blaisdell. Computer Literacy also accepts the International Merchant Purchasing Authorization Card (IMPAC) for those purchases.

The Computer Literacy site is a popular spot for computer specialist Sarah Ward a book buyer supporting 25 computer researchers working at the National Library of Medicine's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications. "There are books everywhere " she said. "But it is convenient having all of the technical offerings in one source." Ward said NLM researchers buy a significant amount of manuals dedicated to different programming manuals and probably would be drawn to Computer Literacy's offer to accept the IMPAC.

Computer Literacy's federal book sales are also being funneled through integrators according to Brown whose territory spans the greater Washington D.C. region. "We are dealing with a lot of what I call middlemen between us and federal agencies " he said recounting a deal last winter with OAO Corp. which provided technical manuals from Computer Literacy to 15 Occupational Safety and Health Administration sites.

"OAO had been asked for a list of books on seven subject areas and - within each - the inclusion of books at the beginning intermediate and advanced levels." Brown compiled that list underscoring another service the company wants to provide to feds in addition to a virtual bibliography: a reference desk manned by humans.

"There are many situations in which government or corporate customers would prefer to talk to someone on the phone in order to make a selection " Capovilla said. With the corporate accounts program an agency representative would be provided with a single point of contact at Computer Literacy to serve as a reference for individual staffs.

Computer Literacy competes with large bookchains such as Barnes & Noble and it has a retail store located near one of the nation's larger shopping malls Tysons Corner Center in McLean Va. But the company points to its book selection to distinguish itself from the bookselling pack. "For the person who wants to jazz up a Web site and goes to a general bookstore online for help they will come up with over 500 titles with the word `Java' in them. Included in that list would be books like The Coffee Lover's Guide to Chicago " Blaisdell said.

Federal computer professionals will not find such diversionary topics on the Computer Literacy site Blaisdell continued but what they will find are answers. "We are focused on the professional. We assume the professional needs a book right away and is not worried about browsing."


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