Over the past year, A1Books.com in Fairfield, N.J., part of the N.Y. metro area's Silicon Alley, has carefully positioned itself as a key online bookseller. According to Rahul Gupta, account manager for parent company WebNotions, "The company was somewhat struggling in 2001. Starting in August 2002, we averaged $1.5 million monthly in gross sales." Gupta projects total gross sales for the fiscal year ending December 31 to be $15 million, up from $1.3 million in 2001. Net profit for 2002 will just about equal its total sales last year—a phenomenal amount of growth in one year.
Part of the reason for seven-year-old A1Books's significant jump in sales this year is that it began ordering direct from publishers and it expanded into new areas beyond general trade books. "We had three employees and we were operating from 1,000 square feet. Now we have 25 employees and 20,000 square feet of office and warehouse space," A1 founder and chair Shinu Gupta told PW. Gupta, who would like to see the business grow to $25 million in 2003, is already scouting potential locations that will enable him to more than double the warehouse, to 50,000 square feet, by next June. The extra space will serve not just A1Books, but two related spinoff businesses—A1TechBooks.com, which launched in May and is geared to college students, and A1Overstock.com, an online remainder wholesaler, which debuted at CIROBE in late October. In addition, A1Books' partnering agreements with Half.com and Amazon.com, formed in June and August 2001, respectively, are starting to pay off. According to Shinu Gupta, A1Books is one of the largest sellers on both sites and has done more than $7 million with Amazon this year alone.
For Shinu Gupta, who emigrated to the U.S. from India to study computer science in the late '80s, "the technology is the key to where we are. Nothing is outsourced."
In fact, it was Gupta's interest in technology that led him to start A1Books. As a software developer for Compact Software, he found it hard to locate technical reference books. He launched libHiTech.com in January 1995, as A1Books was originally known, to make technical books available online. Now A1TechBooks fills that gap and provides students and professionals with discounted high-end technical books. Both it and A1Books share the same tagline: "Making Knowledge Affordable." "The goal here," explained Gupta, "is we want to be cheaper than Amazon. We are one of the lowest-priced bookstores online."
To continue to boost growth in all three A1 divisions, Shinu Gupta plans to focus on branding in the coming year. He is also looking to hire more staffers with strong publishing backgrounds, like A1Overstock director of sales and marketing Ben Archer, who was previously a buyer for Book Club of America. Going forward, Gupta will integrate DVDs and CDs into the product mix and increase A1Books' physical presence in the tristate area. "I don't want to make the mistakes the dot-coms did," said Gupta. "I think this is the right time. There's a greater awareness of the Internet and a lot more people on the Internet." More than 500,000 people have placed orders with A1Books to date.