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State Department offers Amazon up to $16.5M to hand out Kindles

The U.S. State Department disses the iPad and Nook in favor of the Kindle Touch -- offering the e-reader-maker a multi-million dollar no-bid contract to ship the device overseas.

The U.S. State Department looks to partner with Amazon to ship Kindle Touches overseas.
Sarah Tew/CNET

The only e-reader fit enough to meet the U.S. State Department's needs is the Kindle Touch. The iPad and Nook simply won't do. The government has asked Amazon to negotiate a no-bid contract of up to $16.5 million to pass out Kindles to the country's embassies overseas. This was first reported by Nextgov.

If Amazon proposes a contract based on the State Department's needs, it would theoretically provide at least 2,500 Kindle Touches preloaded with 50 titles each to the State Department; but this number could grow because the government is looking to negotiate a contract that could last up to five years.

To start, however, the government would only guarantee one year with a minimum of 2,500 units plus content and shipping at no more than $2.29 million, which would cost in the ballpark of $163 per e-reader, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's press aide Philippe Reines.

"In general, for many years, the State Department has had a program where we send hardcopy books overseas to our embassies," Reines told CNET.

Over the last year, the State Department bought 6,000 Kindles costing roughly $985,000 in a pilot program to see how e-readers would work in lieu of hardcopy books, Reines said. The program was a success because e-readers turned out to be more flexible, provide more content, and ultimately were cheaper. So, the government decided to expand the program and believes that Amazon is the best option.

"The DoS has identified the Amazon Kindle as the only e-Reader on the market that meets the Government's needs," reads a government document (pdf) about the proposed contract, "and Amazon as the only company possessing the essential capabilities required by the Government."

The government specifies a list of "essential requirements" that it needs for its e-reader program and says that the Kindle Touch is the only device able to fulfill those requirements. Some requirements listed in the State Department document include a central management system, at least a 6-inch diagonal display, international 3G services, text to speech capabilities, long battery life, portable and light, foreign language script, continuous updates, 24/7 help desk support, and free shipping.

The government also requires that "the Contractor must be able to disable certain standard features for the e-Reader," and that "the Contractor must provide data on how content is accessed on the e-reader. The information will include content accessed, content not accessed, length of time that content is viewed, e-reader features used and content downloaded."

According to the State Department, Apple's iPad doesn't meet all of the requirements. Here's the reason the government gave in the document about the contract:

Although the Apple iPad offers features that meet many of the requirements of this project it falls under the tablet/computer segment versus a single function e-reader device. The additional features are not only unnecessary, but also present unacceptable security and usability risks for the government's needs in this particular project. Critically, the Apple iPad falls short on two requirements: the centrally managed platform for registration and content delivery, and battery life.

Also, "the iPad has more functionality than we needed," Reines said.

Currently, the State Department is waiting for Amazon to come back with a proposal to the government's offer. According to Reines, there is no scheduled timeline for this.