A Nook-Free Future For Barnes & Noble? Founder Leonard Riggio Could Make It So

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By Christopher Zara | February 27, 2013 2:28 AM EST

In a plot twist worthy of a Tom Clancy mystery novel, the founder of the country’s largest bookstore chain wants to get back to the business of selling books.

Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE:BKS) announced on Monday that Leonard Riggio, the company’s founder, chairman and largest shareholder, may propose to purchase all of the assets of Barnes & Noble’s retail business, including its chain of bricks-and-mortar bookstores and its website, barnesandnoble.com. The proposal would not include Nook Media LLC, through which the company manufactures its struggling Nook e-reader, nor would it include Barnes & Noble’s college-bookstore business.

In a Schedule 13D regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Riggio said the proposed buyout of Barnes & Noble would be primarily in cash and negotiated with the board and its advisors.

Although the Nook is viewed as as a costly digital albatross around Barnes & Noble’s neck -- while at the same time it's considered by many to be the company's best chance for survival in a changing marketplace -- the Nook has never managed to garner more than 25 to 30 percent of the e-book marketplace, compared with 60 percent for Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and its ubiquitous Kindle devices.

Although the Nook is a strong revenue booster for Barnes & Noble, research and development of the product is expensive as e-reader devices are constantly evolving. It's expected that losses in Nook Media will be greater than they were the year-earlier period when the company reports fiscal 2013 third-quarter earnings on Thursday. Earlier this month, the company warned that annual revenue for the Nook unit will fall far below the $3 billion it projected in January. To make matters worse, the company said in January that it plans to close between 450 and 500 stores over the next decade.

Late last year, Barnes & Noble announced that it is selling a 5 percent stake in Nook Media to the British publishing company Pearson PLC (NYSE:PSO), which is attempting to capitalize on the growing market for educational e-books.

Barnes & Noble said in a press release on Monday that it could not guarantee whether Riggio’s buyout proposal would result in a transaction. The company said it did not intend to comment further, nor would it offer a timetable for negotiations. Upon the announcement, however, Barnes & Noble shares jumped 9.3 percent to $14.76 on Monday morning.

The first Barnes & Noble bookstore was opened by William Barnes and G. Clifford Noble in 1917. Riggio purchased the rights to the name in 1971 and founded Barnes & Noble Inc. The Fortune 500 company currently operates 689 stores in 50 states.

Shares were up 1.3 percent Tuesday morning to $15.22.

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara

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