If you want a textbook example of how to run a company, visit Atomic Dog Publishing.

The Cincinnati-based publishing house began in March 2000 with one employee and modest funds. Today, Atomic Dog has a work force of 30 and is a $1.4 million company. Projections have its fiscal year ending in April 2004 at $2.5 million, marking its first time to break even; it's likely to garner a profit. More impressive is the fact that it's a dot-com success in a landscape littered with dot-com corpses.

But CEO Mark Greenberg, 50, doesn't see it that way, though the Internet is integral to his company's success.

"We're not a dot-com company," he says. "We're a publishing house that uses technology."

This is part of the concept behind the company's name. "Atomic" refers to the basic parts of a textbook, which the publisher strives to create using digital media. "Dog" is the company's way of letting its customers know it's a loyal, energetic and strong business.

As the marketing communications manager, it's Erin Stitt's job to explain to its consumer base "” university professors "” exactly what Atomic Dog does. That it produces college textbooks is easy enough to understand. What sets the publisher apart from its competition is that the books are designed to be read online. A paper version can be produced for traditionalists.

The advantage of taking text to the computer is that it's cheaper to produce, which means significantly lower prices for students and a still-healthy profit for Atomic Dog. The brainchild of Alex von Rosenberg, who left the company in April to pursue other interests, Atomic Dog is now run by Greenberg, who took the reins in June.

The youthful staff inhabits two floors of a more-than century-old building in Over-the-Rhine.

Chris Morgan, 32, director of engineering, was the first employee von Rosenberg hired. He had to share a desk with the first few Atomic Dog staffers. Though he was used to the more posh offices of previous employers, General Electric Co. and Xerox Corp., he didn't care.

"At another company, you might get a desk, but would your voice be heard?" he says.

The company, now backed by venture capital, has since invested in desks, but still gives off underdog vibes, in part because of its location. The area provides an exciting, anything-can-happen atmosphere you wouldn't find in a well-scrubbed business district.

But Lee Krubner, the CFO, doesn't mince words.

"It's cheap," he says of the location. But he, too, likes the pulse of Over-the-Rhine.

Krubner, 46, came to Cincinnati from Baltimore, leaving his stint as the CFO of Games Workshop North America, a tabletop battle-game manufacturer.

"I had to come," Krubner says. "The problem that Atomic Dog was solving was so compelling."

The problem was one Krubner became familiar with when his daughter went to college: Textbooks are really, really expensive.

"You basically have three publishing firms controlling the college textbook market," Krubner says. "Pierson, Thompson and McGraw-Hill. They have 62 percent of the market. ... In 1990, they owned one-third."

Krubner refers to the three companies as an oligopoly, but notes he wasn't the first to do so "” The Wall Street Journal suggested as much in a February 2002 article.

"Fifty-five percent ... of the 77 percent of students attending a public institution are living with families pulling in $75,000 or less," Krubner says. "So the majority of these students and families are middle-class to even poor. And so if you're paying $3,000 or $4,000 in tuition and you suddenly have a 20 percent tuition hike, paying for textbooks are going to be even more of a burden."

As a result, many students forgo buying books.

"One out of five students opt out, not buying all of their books and putting their college careers on the line," Krubner says. "What we have is a broken system."

So think of Atomic Dog as the industry's repairman. Approximately 1,000 universities and colleges in the United States, Canada and 75 other countries use their textbooks. Participating schools include Ohio State University, Ohio University, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

A student pays about $25 to use the online version of an Atomic Dog book, which is dramatically less than the average price of a textbook. All a student buys is a code used for accessing an online book.

Recruiting qualified academics to write the books hasn't been a problem, Krubner says, noting the writers receive a pretty competitive royalty.

As more students give up their desktops for laptops, Krubner and Greenberg figure their market will expand.

"We're hoping to grow like crazy," Greenberg says.

The major publishing houses might have 62 percent of the market, but if Atomic Dog had just 2.5 percent to 3 percent market share, it'd be a $50 million firm.

Indeed, Atomic Dog Publishing is marketing itself as the lean, but not mean, competition.

"We really do see ourselves as trying to be the Southwest Airlines of the publishing industry," Greenberg says. "Our competitors, while they're anteing up what they have to offer, they're doing it at dramatically increased prices. With us, you may not get three times the peanuts and double the cola, but we get you there on time, and it's a comfortable ride."