Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2010 Issue

Bookstore For Sale: Barnes & Noble

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Barnes and Noble's stock was not doing well this year prior to their


By Michael Stillman

Barnes and Noble, America's largest bricks and mortar bookseller, made two potentially important announcements this past month. The word "potential" must be used with any moves the company makes at this point, as the viability of any large chain of bookstores in this digital age is not beyond question. Barnes and Noble has been waging an uphill battle for years against online retailer Amazon.com, and its competitor has regularly gotten the better of B&N for a long time.

Last month, the company announced, in effect, that it was putting itself up for sale. In a news release, the company announced its "Board of Directors intends to evaluate strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company, in order to increase stockholder value." The Board hired Wall Street firm Lazard to serve as their financial advisor. It stated that the decision was made because the Board believes its stock is "now significantly undervalued." A contrary point of view was expressed by James B. Stewart in the Wall Street Journal. He commented, "in my experience, most companies sell when they believe their shares are expensive." Stewart added the ultimate cut by stating that putting itself up for sale amounted to "rendering it the corporate equivalent of the remaindered books it sells at a discount."

Of course, the market is the ultimate arbiter of value. In other words, the stock is correctly priced until such time as the company can show its prospects deserve a higher value, or events show it deserves a lower one. Until then, the trend would indicate, if anything, that the stock price is in the midst of a long decline.

The Board issued the following statement in support of its new strategy: "As the world's largest bookseller, Barnes & Noble has an iconic brand and unique competitive advantages we believe will position the company to succeed over time in a rapidly changing market. The Board is confident in Barnes & Noble's strategy and fully supportive of the senior management team, which is delivering explosive growth in our fast-developing digital business. The Board has concluded that a review of strategic alternatives is the appropriate next step to take full advantage of our compelling digital opportunities and to create value for shareholders, customers, and employees."

Let's take a look at that statement, perhaps a bit more objectively than the enthusiastic Board can. Certainly the company has "unique competitive advantages." It has the largest number of bricks and mortar stores in the U.S. However, that advantage is also its albatross. Those stores bring all kinds of costs with them Amazon does not have to face. It is very hard to be price competitive with all of that overhead, as so many other chains learned when internet competition appeared. People still go to their local stores to browse and learn, but then buy the item for the lowest price they can find online. Barnes and Noble still needs to find a way to leverage that local presence into local dollars, and that remains an enormous challenge.

Compounding this issue is the rising popularity of electronic readers. The advantage of instant gratification that Barnes and Noble enjoys with physical books disappears with digital books. Electronic books' share of the market is increasing rapidly, and physical books may become nothing more than a niche market in the years ahead. This is definitely not to Barnes and Noble's advantage.

Next, the Board speaks of Barnes and Noble's "explosive growth" in the digital business. Of course, any sales when you start from zero can be described as "explosive," certainly on a percentage basis. None of this accounts for the fact that Amazon saw this market first and is way out ahead, both in terms of sales of electronic readers and digital books. Meanwhile, others such as Apple are also ahead of B&N when it comes to electronic readers, and Google and others plan to provide even more stiff competition for the selling of digital books. Old technology Barnes and Noble has a lot of catching up to do, and it remains to be seen whether its one asset/albatross, local presence and a well-known brand name, can somehow make up the difference.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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