by Gary Price

Editor’s note: The following post was originally published on the Library Journal’s infoDOCKET blog, in a slightly different format.

Back on August 16, the Library Journal’s infoDOCKET blog reported that the State Dept. had formally withdrawn/cancelled its plan to sole source a contract to for Kindle devices and management. The planned deal raised a bunch of eyebrows since it was first announced in June and an event to announce the State Dept. Learning Initiative was announced an cancelled within a few days.

Just two days later, infoDOCKET learned that the State Department had released an RFI (Request for Information) to learn about vendors who can, “provide e-reader devices and a secure, comprehensive and continuous content management and distribution platform.”

You can read the complete RFI here.

We’ve embedded two supporting documents below.

Those wanting to respond to the RFI have until 5pm Eastern Time on September 21, 2012.


Over the past decade, the DoS has produced, procured and/or curated increasing amounts of digital content to meet the changing consumption patterns of citizens around the world. As citizens increasingly receive news and information via digital platforms it is imperative that the DoS continue to evolve its content distribution infrastructure.

This platform must provide the ability to centrally manage, procure, and wirelessly distribute USG and 3rd party content across a multitude of devices located in over 190 countries. The platform must support the registration of new devices as well as provide continuing support for existing DoS devices, which number over 6,000. The more than 6,000 existing devices include multiple Amazon Kindle models, multiple Apple iPad models, and a variety of Android devices currently in use at over 800 embassies, consulates, American Spaces and schools overseas.

The vendor must provide 3G services to download content globally, including all costs associated with content delivery via 3G services globally.

The vendor must provide a large and comprehensive public-facing, online bookstore of third party content.

When third-party content providers have granted the vendor the right to distribute their content at a specific price to the DoS, the vendor shall distribute that content to DoS at said price via 3G or Wi-Fi to the locations listed in the attachment entitled “Deployment Locations”. The vendor should also reduce its commission charged to the third party content providers by an equitable percentage.

The vendor must wirelessly disseminate content to the DoS’s existing devices, including Amazon Kindles, Apple iOS, Android, PC, and MAC.

. The vendor must provide centralized content purchases, management and dissemination for all numbers of or subsets of DoS devices (e.g., Apple iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle, PC, and MAC) deployed around the world.

The vendor shall deliver devices meeting the following specifications: must provide at least a 6″ diagonal display; must hold up to 1,400 books or have at least 2GB of internal memory; must be accessible to public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use the 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n standard with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication or Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS); must not connect to WPA and WPA2 secured networks using 802.1X authentication methods; must not connect to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks; and must include a front light feature or include backlight technology.

The device shall have a text-to-speech capability in English so that users are able to listen to content on the device.

The device shall support the display of a variety of file formats, including PDF, TXT, MOBI, PRC, HTML, DOC(X), JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP.

Read the complete RFI.

Section 508 Compliance Table (E-Reader Devices)


  1. Doesn’t this like only Amazon can apply?

    “The vendor must wirelessly disseminate content to the DoS’s existing devices, including Amazon Kindles, Apple iOS, Android, PC, and MAC.”

    Since epub (especially encrypted) isn’t compatible w/ Amazon’s .mobi.

  2. @Anthony; No, others than Amazon can disseminate content to Kindles. All they have to do is use one of the supported DRM-free formats (Mobi, .Doc, HTML, PDF, etc).
    (Quite a few publishers do it right now.)
    Of course, if epub is all they know how to do…

    What the Dept of State is doing is giving the protestors of the Amazon service contract a chance to say how *they* would meet their needs. If they’re not convincing, it clears the way for the contract they really want to do. (Path of least resistance is to keep on using what they’ve been using.)

  3. Yep, I think Felix is probably right. It’s similar to the sort of situation employers find themselves in when they have an open position to fill, and they already know exactly who they want to hire. Nevertheless, they’re required (by law, I think; maybe to discourage nepotism?) to advertise the position to the general public for a certain amount of time.

    In this particular situation, though, I’m sure the government’s just covering its bases. They don’t want to give anyone the impression that they’ve already settled on a particular contractor, when in fact they probably already have.

  4. Yes, the DOJ is already developing a reputation for tilting very heavily toward Amazon. The U.S. State Department appears to have started down the same path, but been forced to beat a quick retreat–or at least the appearance of one. I still get the impression that the requirements are tilted to favor Amazon.

    Is there something about the water inside the Beltway than makes the feds lean so heavily toward Amazon? I doubt that. It’s probably the same centralizing, our-way-or-the-highway bullying that now dominates all our regulatory agencies. In behavior, the two could not be more alike.

    And if you look at federal salaries, benefits and job security, it’s a very comfortable POV to have. It’s also one reason why we’re stuck in the longest recession in seventy years. Expanding a business and hiring more people has never been more difficult or risky.

    I live in Seattle only about three miles from Amazon’s growing complex in South Lake Union just north of downtown. Every time the local news covers Amazon expanding corporate footprint here, I think of all the lost jobs in the rest of our country–that is, other than low paying, sweatshop work. We get the skilled, high-paying technical jobs. I meet someone doing that every few weeks. The rest of the country gets to stuff boxes bearing the Amazon smile for a pittance. The federal government is doing much the same thing in the D.C. According to Wikipedia, the three wealthiest counties in the U.S. are DC suburbs. That’s money sucked out of the rest of the country.

    Amazon and the federal government are two birds of a feather. That’s why they are so often seen flying together.

  5. I should add that Amazon has a fascinating–and I assume regularly updated page–called Amazon Election Heat Map 2012. It maps the sales of popular ‘blue’ books (i.e. liberal) against their ‘red’ (conservative) counterparts. Click on a state to get the ratio for that state and the top five bestsellers in each category.

    Currently the country as a whole is running 44% blue to 56% red with most states being either red or pink. Even California is 49% to 51%. Swing states such as Ohio and Florida are significantly in the pink, which may mean something come November 7.

    The outlier is DC, which is 76% blue to 24% red. Even stranger, the two top-sellers there are Obama’s two autobiographies, Dreams of my Father and The Audacity of Hope. I would have thought that anyone who was interested in them would have bought a copy years ago. Now they’re rather passé. They sit unsold in the used bookstores I visit.

    In every state I checked, Edward Klien’s The Amateur, a critical look at the Obama administration from inside leaks, is the red bestseller. Among the blues, The Price of Inequality and The New New Deal seem always near the top. Liberals seem uninterested in any book that looks at Obama himself . Most of their books seem to be more Doom and Gloom than Hope and Change. That’s a major change from January of 2009.

    There’s also a ranking of the sales of Pres/VP books. Obama’s Audacity is outselling Romney’s No Apology 63% to 37% (maybe due to all those belated DC buyers), but Ryan’s Young Guns is utterly stomping Biden’s Promises to Keep, 95% to 5%.

    You can find the map here:

    I’m thinking of bookmarking the page and checking it daily. It should provide an interesting window into this election.

    –Michael W. Perry, Seattle

  6. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up.

    The text in your post seem to be running off the screen
    in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue solved soon.

  7. Conspiracy theories aside: The Department of State made it clear the new contract is a direct follow-up to a previous test effort. Those 6000 Kindles didn’t just magically appear overnight. (Especially not the K1’s.) Rather, they’ve been using mobi format since before the Kindle launched. Which means before there was an annointed standard called… (cue the Hallelujah Chorus)… epub.
    Government procurement operations tend to run slow and even slower when they try to undo something they’ve already committed do. Their choice is either go down the path they’re on or throw away five years-plus of effort and start from scratch. Which would probably kill the effort or, worse, land them before a congressional committee.
    aving read the original proposal, I seriously doubt any eink gadget can meet their needs. Mostv any smartphone could by the hardware costs would go through the roof and the back end services would be iffy.
    I’d guess they either go with Amazon or kill the whole project.
    Considering how little money is involved, Bezos won’t care: The bragging rights would be nice but the money isn’t enough to raise a ruckus over.

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