The private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners has acquired the online bookselling marketplace Alibris for an undisclosed price. "This is a game-changing deal for us," said Martin Manley, Alibris president and CEO. Manley will continue to run Alibris as chairman, while Brian Elliott, Alibris COO, has been named president.
With the backing of Oak Hill, Alibris is planning for rapid growth through the addition of more booksellers, publishers and distribution partners. Although Manley declined to discuss specifics, significant investment in likely in the international market. Alibris does some business abroad, but has not yet established any overseas Web sites, something that will likely be addressed soon.
Founded in 1998, Alibris has grown rapidly by selling a mix of hard-to-find, used and, more recently, new titles. The company has also added movies and music to its inventories. Manley couldn't discuss actual sales, but he termed 2005 a "great year." In 2004, Alibris's revenue was estimated to be between $60 million and $70 million.
Bill Pade, a partner with Oak Hill, said his firm was attracted to Alibris because it owns a platform that is well positioned to exploit expansion of the so-called long-tail concept—businesses that have the ability to sell fewer copies of more items. Through its site, Alibris offers more than 60 million products for sale and has over two million customers.
The purchase of Alibris by a multibillion-dollar investment firm is not only a vote of confidence in the ability of Alibris to grow, but in the viability of the entire online book marketplace. "We've grown from an interesting idea to a business that does a significant amount of volume," Manley said. While Manley said he expects the majority of Alibris's growth to come organically, the online used market is highly fragmented and could be ripe for consolidation by a company with Oak Hill's resources. The only stand-alone online book market larger than Alibris is Abebooks.