Retail sales are up but profits are down as noted in Profit Warnings at Target, Kohl’s, J. C. Penney, American Eagle

However, shrinking profits are one thing, huge losses another.

On Thursday, Barnes & Noble increased its projected loss per share for the current fiscal year to between $1.10 and $1.40, from the 30 cents to 70 cents it reaffirmed one month ago.

I have commented before that brick-and-mortar book stores are in serious trouble. It’s time to move Barnes & Noble to the top of the list.

The Wall Street Journal reports Barnes & Noble Seeks Next Chapter

The nation’s largest bookstore chain warned Thursday it would lose twice as much money this fiscal year as it previously expected, and said it is weighing splitting off its growing Nook digital-book business from its aging bookstores.

Ironically, Barnes & Noble had been one of the first to recognize the potential of digital books. In 1998, it invested in NuvoMedia Inc., maker of the Rocket eBook reader, and the bookseller actively supported digital-book sales. But in 2003, it exited the still-nascent business, saying there wasn’t any profit in it.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Barnes & Noble re-entered the business, introducing its Nook e-reader. By then, Amazon had been selling its Kindle device for about two years, and was offering best sellers for $9.99, a fraction of what hardcover best sellers are priced at.

Apple introduced its iPad tablet in January 2010. Amazon responded with its competing Kindle Fire tablet this past September, and in November, Barnes & Noble introduced its Nook Tablet.

To promote the Nook, the retailer returned to national TV advertising in 2010, after a 14-year hiatus, buying spots on popular programs such as “American Idol.”

The heavy Nook investment has squeezed Barnes & Noble’s bottom line.
Barnes & Noble said in a statement on Thursday it was “in discussions with strategic partners including publishers, retailers and technology companies in international markets.” It said that could lead to expanding the Nook business overseas.

What’s the “Next Chapter”?

The Journal reports Barnes & Noble is also considering a plan to spin off its Nook business. If it does, can it make a profit selling books the old-fashioned way? If it doesn’t, does if have the resources to compete against Amazon and Apple?

Either way, the “Next Chapter” for Barnes & Noble just might be bankruptcy court. It took me a second to catch the play on words in the WSJ article because the first thought I had was “Chapter 7” and a word was missing.

Bear in mind, even if that happens, it can take years to play out. GM was terminally ill for a decade before it succumbed to the inevitable.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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