Innovation and a focus on new channels of book distribution have been key to the success of BookPal, a bulk book distributor whose customers include corporations, school districts, religious organizations, and the health insurance industry, and which regularly receives orders that range from hundreds to thousands of copies of a single title.
Launched in 2005 by Tony DiCostanzo in Irvine, Calif., BookPal had a record year in 2009 and expects another strong year in 2010. “What sets us apart is our ability to have our publishers drop-ship orders for us, which eliminates shipping delays,” says DiCostanzo. “Because we can tap directly into publishers' inventories, we typically deliver bulk orders in five to 10 business days.” A minimum order from accounts is 25 copies, which earns a 30% discount; orders over 1,000 receive discounts of up to 55%. BookPal has worked with hundreds of publishers, including the top 10 U.S. trade houses, and lists three million titles for sale on its Web site (www.book-pal.com). All orders are sold on a nonreturnable basis. Random House's Marc Manzo called BookPal “a valuable distribution partner.”
BookPal doesn't try to compete with Amazon's pricing on current bestsellers. Instead, the company focuses on backlist titles that fit the needs of a particular organization. For example, BookPal recently took an order from a school system in Alaska for 1,500 copies of Into the Wild (1996) in paperback, which is being used as a textbook. “We offered the best discount, so we got the order,” DiCostanzo says. BookPal's most requested genres reflect its customer base. Business, health care, classroom novels, religion and spirituality, travel, and cookbooks are strong areas of interest in the corporate, medical, educational, and promotional markets that BookPal serves. DiCostanzo also recently aligned himself with a prison wholesaler on the East Coast that orders bulk library books.
BookPal has a staff of three in its Orange County office, with a few additional outside consultants on board that handle Web site technology, computer programming, and online marketing. The company, formerly called Centurian Health, began as a specialty wholesaler of health and self-care books that sold to the insurance industry and various branches of the military. DiCostanzo, who is 37 and a native of Alaska, received his B.S. in business at Pepperdine University and an M.B.A. at U.C.—Irvine. His background in the health-care industry helped him find his niche in selling related titles, but he soon branched out into hundreds of different genres.
Another aspect of BookPal's business is book customization. In a partnership with the Book Company in Delray Beach, Fla., BookPal offers custom book covers, cover imprints, and promo-page inserts as a way for its customers to personalize their bulk orders. DiCostanzo says he is exploring ways to get into the bulk distribution of e-books, but at present printed books continue to make better corporate gifts and employee incentives.
DiCostanzo is currently negotiating with the airline industry to create an in-flight book sales program to passengers. Whether these books would be offered at a discount is uncertain, DiCostanzo says, “because the discount will be given to the airline, which won't necessarily pass it on to the consumer.” Even though there are easily accessible book kiosks near boarding gates in airports, DiCostanzo believes that the program will work because of the number of passengers that arrive too late for their flights to stop and purchase books before boarding.
BookPal has successfully relied on online marketing since its inception. “The Web is how people are identifying us, and the money we've spent to be featured on search engines has been a good investment,” says DiCostanzo. BookPal's promotion includes sponsored links on Google around the search term “bulk book purchase.”
BookPal's success is proof that big industry changes can provide opportunity. “The challenges of the current book market, including the layoffs in publishers' special sales departments, benefit me,” says DiCostanzo. “People need easy transactions these days, and we can provide them with that because of our relationship with the publishers and excellent customer service.”