Is There Hope for Barnes & Noble?

America's largest brick-and-mortar bookseller goes up for sale

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Barnes & Noble is putting itself up for sale, igniting debate among stock-watchers and bookworms alike. There's much to discuss here, from the business strategies to Julie Bosman's suggestion in The New York Times that this "might be the latest sign of trouble for brick-and-mortar bookstores." Here's the first round of commentary:

  • Translating the Company Statement  "The bookseller says it wants to increase shareholder value," writes Business Insider's Gregory White and Jay Yarow. "That likely means selling off some of their legacy locations, real estate where they aren't selling enough books, and focusing on growth portions of the business, like the Nook and its online store."
  • The Immediate Impact for Readers and Investors "The sales process won't mean much for consumers right away," predict The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Dennis Berman, "[b]ut a new owner may have a different strategy, potentially trimming the number of outlets as profits slide." Both the Wall Street Journal team and the Business Insider team also notice the quick jump in Barnes & Noble shares following the company's announcement.
  • Longterm Decline of Paper and Ink?  "I don't really have concern one way or another about particular companies or in this case the book mega-store chain, Barnes & Noble," writes the generally politically-focused Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. "But the news that B&N is considering putting itself up for sale is, I suspect, a telling moment in history and fate of the physical book."
  • Newsflash: Barnes & Noble Is Finished, Along With Retail Book Industry  "The company will explore 'strategic options' which means that the value of Barnes & Noble's priced peaked some time ago along with its prospects," writes 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre in an strongly-worded post. "It needs to be private which would allow fools who believe in the retail book business to run the firm without damaging shareholders." He expands on the point:
Iconic brands often lose their value. The board did not own up to the fact that Barnes & Noble's best days are behind it. E-readers, tablet PCs, and e-books have permanently undermined the value of the company's 750 bookstores and 637 college outlets. And Barnes & Noble's net income is moving in the direction of zero. In an investment banker's world, the value of the company based on its future prospects may be zero. ... It has been written too often that it is hardly worth repeating. The retail book industry is dying and is another of a long list of businesses savaged by the internet and the age of digitization. It is an age which already has its winners in ..., Apple Inc. ... , and Google Inc. .... Books run on tiny chips on small screens, and at least fewer trees are cut down.
  • This May Be More About One Man, writes Sarah Weinman at Daily Finance. She explains the struggle after shareholder Ron Burkle filed a suit against the Barnes & Noble board "for triggering a 'poison pill' when the billionaire's big stock grab last fall nearly hit 20%." The Delaware Chancery Court is about to announce an opinion, and "Barnes & Noble's announcement suggests they believe the judge's verdict won't go their way. By putting itself up for sale, Barnes & Noble also effectively deflates whatever the Delaware Court decides." Burkle may well make a play to buy the company now, but, despite his "proven" ability to "litigate when the need arises"--read: when he doesn't get his way--the board seems predisposed against him, Weinman explains. Most commentators agree the board's sympathies seem to lie with Burkle's rival, shareholder Leonard Riggio.
  • Will Borders Make a Move?  In a separate piece, Weinman brings up an intriguing idea. Rival book retailer Borders just finished another round of layoffs. "As strategies go, a new round of layoffs can't help but signal desperation, or at least a profound lack of ideas," writes Weinman, "[w]hich is why we're entertaining the notion that [chief Borders shareholder Bennett] LeBow may pull a trick from his corporate raider playbook and put in a bid to buy Barnes & Noble." Crazy? Not entirely: "He used that very tactic in the mid-1980s when, as owner of computer company MAI, he tried to buy larger competitor Prime Computer in a hostile takeover bid ... as Hail Mary moves go, Borders gunning for Barnes & Noble would be the ballsiest play of all -- even if the end result might imperil both book retailers."
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