Barnes & Noble is at a fork in the road.
The big-box bookseller posted weak earnings for its fiscal third quarter, which ended Jan. 26. Indeed, sales in its Nook e-reader and digital-book unit "tanked 26 percent during the crucial holiday quarter," said Tiffany Hsu in the Los Angeles Times. Barnes & Noble's retail operations didn't fare much better. Overall, the nation's largest bookstore company — and pretty much the only major chain in the business — "had a rough quarter, with total revenue down 8.8 percent to $2.2 billion."
Those financial results create a bleak outlook for the company's future. Earlier reports suggested the company might scale back Nook production, but some analysts are now whispering that the company might discontinue the tablet altogether.
"The proliferation of tablets made by Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and many other competitors has left the Nook line with less than 15 percent of the e-reader market," said Rick Newman at U.S. News & World Report. And that may not be enough for the Nook to thrive.
Last month, Barnes & Noble announced it would shutter 20 of its stores each year over the next decade. Waning print sales and stiff competition from online competitors — which the Nook was meant to buffer against — have threatened the company's footprint, and already placed its largest direct competitor — Borders — out of business.
But the beleaguered bookseller might have one trick left up its sleeve. Earlier this week, its chairman, 70-year-old Leonard Riggio, revealed he's planning a bid to buy back the chain's retail operations, including its 689 U.S. stores and barnesandnoble.com.
Riggio, who worked as a student bookstore clerk while studying at New York University in the 1960s, purchased the company's flagship store in Manhattan in 1971 for $1.2 million, and spent the next several decades transforming it into a $7.1 billion empire.
"Either he believes that this business is a special business that he wants to cherish and nurture, or he thinks he's going to do something other than sell books with it," said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, in an interview with NPR. "And my money would be on the latter if you are going to put money on it at all."