Barnes & Noble chair wants to buy retail business

NEW YORK (AP) — The last remaining national bookstore chain is being taken off the shelf and dusted off for sale.

Founder Barnes & Noble’s founder Leonard Riggio disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday that he wants to acquire the company’s stores and website, but not the business that makes the Nook e-reader or the company’s college bookstores. No price was disclosed.

It’s the latest attempt by a company founder to take back control of all or part of a company he founded. Best Buy’s co-founder Richard Schulze is mulling a bid for the electronics retailer, and Michael Dell has announced a $24.4 billion deal to take the namesake computer company he founded private.

The deals are a way executives can have more control over companies without the need to run everything by shareholders. In all of these cases, the founders have devoted decades to the businesses and the companies are long past their glory days and struggling to survive in a changing retail landscape.

“When you’ve got control outside public eye or public market, you can invest and translate your strategy at your own pace,” said Peter Wahlstrom, analyst at Morningstar. “It’s him believing he can run it better by himself without the distraction of the digital side. He believes the brand has value that’s not being recognized by investors.”

Barnes & Noble, based in New York, has been struggling to find its place as more readers have shifted to electronic books and competition has grown from discount stores and online competitors. The company, which has 689 bookstores in 50 states and 674 college bookstores, has been trying to avoid the fate of its former rival Borders Group, which did not adapt to the growing threat of the Internet and e-books and went out of business in 2011.

Technically, Riggio, who is chairman of the chain, didn’t found the original Barnes & Noble store in New York, which opened in 1917. But he bought the store and brand name in the 1970s. Under his leadership, Barnes & Noble became a one of the pioneers of the “big box” format in which national chains would set up large stores that offer a wide selection of merchandise under one roof.

The company also pioneered bookselling in general. In 1975 it began offering 40 percent off New York Times best sellers, which was then unheard of in the bookselling business.

Throughout the 1980s, the company expanded through acquisitions. It bought B Dalton Bookseller in 1987 and BookStop in 1989. Then it went public in 1993 and established its Web site in 1997.

But the company was hurt by Internet retailers like Amazon.com and discounters such as Wal-Mart and Costco expanding their book selections. Barnes & Noble has been proactive, investing heavily in its Nook e-book readers and a digital library. It struck a deal with Microsoft last April to create a Nook subsidiary. But the Nook faces competition from other devices like Apple’s iPad Mini, Amazon’s Kindle and Google’s Nexus tablet.

And the unit is far from profitable. Earlier this month, the company said it expects Nook media revenue of less than $3 billion. It also anticipates a loss for the unit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to exceed the $262 million loss recorded in its 2012 fiscal year.

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