GPO goes Amazon route

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The Government Printing Office will close the last of its bricks-and-mortar bookstores by Sept. 30 in a push to have all its customers retrieve information electronically.

GPO is encouraging customers to make use of its online bookstore, which offers all available government publications and titles. Mail, phone and fax orders will still be processed as before.

"GPO is remaking itself as an agency committed to using new technologies to meet the information demands of the 21st century," said Bruce James, public printer of the United States. "In the past, our bookstores provided a great service, but the business of government information production and delivery is changing, and we are not only changing with it, we will help lead the change."

GPO is responsible for the production and distribution of services and information for all three government branches. Through its own facilities, as well as with the help of private-sector vendors, the organization works to produce information products for the federal government "ranging from Supreme Court decisions to IRS tax forms and crop reports for the Department of Agriculture," according to GPO.

The process of shutting down bookstores began in 2001 with the closure of branches in Boston; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago; Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. By July 1, bookstores in Kansas City, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle and New York will be closed. In September, the only remaining store will be GPO's headquarters, which will be reconfigured.

Federal Depository Libraries will continue to offer citizens access to tangible information, however GPO is working to shift the program to a predominately electronic service.

The elimination of bookstores will save the GPO an estimated $1.5 million annually by eliminating rent and personnel costs, according to Judy Russell, superintendent of documents. Until the bookstores close, every attempt will be made to sell remaining documents at significantly reduced prices, but remaining books will be returned to inventory.

According to GPO officials, the bookstores lost their walk-in traffic to the ease of online ordering, and maintaining personal service is no longer cost-effective. GPO projects that in the future 85 percent of orders will come through the online bookstore.

"The trend is very clear that Amazon.com has trained everybody to buy books online," Russell said.

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