June 25, 2014, 10:57 AM

Barnes & Noble looks to spin out its Nook e-reader business

It was another rocky financial year for bookseller Barnes & Noble with total revenue and Nook sales declining 6.6% and 35.2%, respectively. Barnes & Noble plans to spin off its retail stores and Nook businesses into stand-alone public companies later this year.

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The 2014 fiscal year was another tough one for Barnes & Noble Inc. with the books and Nook retailer seeing a drop in total sales and a smaller but still substantial loss.

Going forward, Barnes & Noble, No. 28 in the 2104 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide intends to spin off its retail and Nook divisions into a pair of separate companies. In its year-end earnings release Barnes & Noble said it has retained Guggenheim Securities LLC as its financial advisors and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP as legal counsel with the intent to divest itself of both business units, possibly as soon as the first quarter of fiscal 2015, which ends in July.

Barnes & Noble isn’t saying much about its reason for spinning off its retail stores and its Nook electronic reader and digital content divisions. But both businesses—and Barnes & Noble—as a whole continue to struggle.

For the 2014 fiscal year ended May 3, Barnes & Noble reported:

  • Total sales decreased 6.6% to $6.38 billion from $6.83 billion in fiscal 2013.
  • Retail sales decreased 5.9% to $4.29 billion from $4.56 billion. The company includes revenue from BN.com in its retail sales but does not break out web sales.
  • Comparable-store sales declined 5.8%.
  • Nook revenue declined year over year 35.2% to $505.9 million from $780.4 million.
  • Net loss was $47.3 million compared with a net loss of $157.8 million in the prior year.

For the fourth quarter:

  • Total sales increased 3.9% to $1.32 billion from $1.27 billion in Q4 fiscal 2013.
  • Retail sales increased 0.8% to $955.6 million from $947.7 billion.
  • Comparable-store sales declined 4.1%.
  • Nook revenue declined by 22.3% year over year to $87.1 million from $112.1 million.
  • Net loss was $36.7 million compared with a net loss of $114.8 million in the prior year.

“We believe we are now in a better position to begin in earnest those steps necessary to accomplish a separation of Nook Media and Barnes & Noble Retail,” says CEO Michael P. Huseby. “We have determined that these businesses will have the best chance of optimizing shareholder value if they are capitalized and operated separately.”

Barnes & Noble once had ambitious plans for creating a substantial business in the electronic book reader and digital book market when it introduced Nook in 2009. But in recent years Nook has struggled in the wake of heavy competition, primarily from Amazon.com and its Kindle e-book reader. In the 2014 fiscal year revenue for Nook devices and accessories declined year over year 44.8% to $260 million and 30.1% to $25 million in the fourth quarter. Nook loss in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization expenses) and a measure analysts use to measure a company’s ongoing financial health, were $56 million in the fourth quarter and $218 million for fiscal 2014. Barnes & Noble didn’t break out metrics for the prior year. Nook digital content sales decreased 18.7% to $62 million for the fourth quarter and 20.6% to $246 million for the full fiscal year.

“At Nook, we executed on our plan to sell through existing device inventory, implemented cost rationalization plans and began to pivot our strategy from device-focused initiatives to a content-centric approach,” Huseby says.

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