Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest book chain, warned that when it reports fiscal 2013 third-quarter results on Thursday, losses in its Nook Media division — which includes sales of e-books and devices — will be greater than the year before and that the unit’s revenue for all of fiscal 2013 would be far below projections it gave of $3 billion.
The problem was not so much the extent of the losses, but what the losses might signal: that the digital approach that Barnes & Nobles has been heavily investing in as its future for the last several years has essentially run its course.
A person familiar with Barnes & Nobles’s strategy acknowledged that this quarter, which includes holiday sales, has caused executives to realize the company must move away from its program to engineer and build its own devices and focus more on licensing its content to other device makers.[...]
If Barnes & Noble does indeed pull back from building tablets, it would be a 180-degree shift for a company that as late as last year was promoting the Nook as its future. “Had we not launched devices and spent the money we invested in the Nook, investors and analysts would have said, ’Barnes & Noble is crazy, and they’re going to go away,’ ” William Lynch, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview last January.
Since 2009, when Barnes & Noble first decided to invest in building the device, its financial commitment to the division has been substantial. (The company does not disclose exact figures.) At the beginning of 2012, that bet seemed to be paying off and the digital future seemed hopeful.
In May, Microsoft decided to give a cash infusion to the product by pledging more than $600 million to Nook Media. In December, the British textbook publisher Pearson bought a 5 percent stake in the unit for nearly $90 million.
Going into the 2012 Christmas season, the Nook HD, Barnes & Noble’s entrant into the 7-inch and 9-inch tablet market, was winning rave reviews from technology critics who praised its high-quality screen. Editors at CNET called it “a fantastic tablet value” and David Pogue in The New York Times told readers choosing between the Nook HD and Kindle Fire that the Nook “is the one to get.”
But while tablet sales exploded over the Christmas season, Barnes & Noble was not a beneficiary. Buyers preferred Apple devices by a long mile but then went on to buy Samsung, Amazon and Google products before those of Barnes & Noble, according to market analysis by Forrester Research.[...]
There is no immediate danger to the book retailer, which has some 677 stores nationwide. The company has said it plans to close about 15 unprofitable stores a year and replace them at a much slower rate. It also still holds roughly one quarter of the digital sales of books and more of magazines.
Read the full report here.