And when I say lose, I’m not kidding. As Yahoo reports, Barnes & Noble announced a $477 million loss on Nooks in June. That’s right, nearly half a billion dollars. Rather unsurprisingly, that was followed quickly by the resignation of the CEO. Now, there is some boardroom intrigue in that the founder of the company is attempting a comeback and wants the stores only:
It’s hardly a secret that Riggio wants to be the one in charge of the brick and mortar stores. In February the 72 year old founder notified the SEC that he intended to make an offer for all the assets of the retail business of Barnes and Noble.
While the wheeling and dealing involving Barnes & Noble is certainly of interest, it is the core disagreement that may be the most important. The former CEO went all in on an e-book reading device as the future of the company and it just didn’t work. Of course it can be argued that with the Kindle already attached to Amazon and the rise of tablets in general, Nooks may have been too late to the party. Even phones could be turned into e-book readers, albeit a bit small, by simply downloading an app. Still, fail it did and where does that leave the company now? The previous guy in charge now just wants the stores and obviously believes that they are the path to future prosperity. But maybe both “visions” are wrong.
It’s hard to fault Barnes & Noble attempting to play catch up with Amazon by issuing their own e-book reader. After all, e-books have exploded in popularity these last few years. They almost had to try something. On the other hand, the actual stores themselves are profitable (if you can believe it!) and there is something to the adage of, if it ain’t broke… And certainly with their main competitor, Borders, out of the way via bankruptcy, the field is fairly clear to dominate retail store sales in its category. But will it even be a category in the next few years? Is the retail experience enough to compete? Books, the real physical kind, will probably always be around. But, when that type of experience is wanted, many people may still prefer to just order it online and have it delivered. And even that may be obsolete soon as 3-D printers become more and more ubiquitous. It may just be that Barnes & Noble is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
There is something of an air of doom and a touch of melancholy that permeates a discussion like this. On the one hand, many people will miss large bookstores if they go away. On the other, they have stopped going in sufficient numbers that there is now only one giant left standing. Will the experience of browsing, talking with the staff, maybe having a cup of coffee etc. be enough to keep that one last chain alive? I’d like to think so, but then I haven’t bought a book at a store in over a year and I doubt I am alone. What do you think? Will Barnes & Noble defy predictions and thrive as the last big “brick and mortar” bookstore in the land?