First, Borders; Then, Kodak; Now, Barnes & Noble?

By:  Bob Adelmann
01/09/2012
       
First, Borders; Then, Kodak; Now, Barnes & Noble?

When Barnes & Noble announced its awful earnings per share losses on Thursday, it didn’t help any that its losses were so much worse than the company had projected just a month earlier. In October, Barnes & Noble estimated losses for its fiscal year at between 30 and 70 cents per share.

Its latest numbers, revised downward to between $1.10 and $1.40, shook investors who pushed shares to $11, down from $17 in early November. The one critical number which investors look at primarily, called EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization — fell from $281 million last year to $163 million this year, a decline of more than 40 percent.

It’s easy to say that technological change and market preferences are pushing Barnes & Noble to the edge of bankruptcy, but its position is vastly different from that of its former competitor, Borders, which disappeared in September. What’s more accurate is to say that Barnes & Noble saw the change coming but waited before responding to it. Succeeding brilliantly in the 1990s by providing a vast array of discounted books, games, and accessories, it innovated by opening Starbucks cafes in its stores and providing its customers with comfortable chairs and couches in informal reading areas. In 1998, it anticipated the change from print to digital and purchased NuvoMedia, the maker of the Rocket eBook reader. But in 2003 it exited the digital business, concluding that there was no profit in it.

When Barnes & Noble announced its awful earnings per share losses on Thursday, it didn’t help any that its losses were so much worse than the company had projected just a month earlier. In October, Barnes & Noble estimated losses for its fiscal year at between 30 and 70 cents per share.

Its latest numbers, revised downward to between $1.10 and $1.40, shook investors who pushed shares to $11, down from $17 in early November. The one critical number which investors look at primarily, called EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization — fell from $281 million last year to $163 million this year, a decline of more than 40 percent.

It’s easy to say that technological change and market preferences are pushing Barnes & Noble to the edge of bankruptcy, but its position is vastly different from that of its former competitor, Borders, which disappeared in September. What’s more accurate is to say that Barnes & Noble saw the change coming but waited before responding to it. Succeeding brilliantly in the 1990s by providing a vast array of discounted books, games, and accessories, it innovated by opening Starbucks cafes in its stores and providing its customers with comfortable chairs and couches in informal reading areas. In 1998, it anticipated the change from print to digital and purchased NuvoMedia, the maker of the Rocket eBook reader. But in 2003 it exited the digital business, concluding that there was no profit in it.

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