(CBS NEWS) Barnes & Noble is hoping for a storybook ending. The ailing bookseller said Wednesday that it’s exploring strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company.
One possible buyer: Barnes & Noble founder and Chairman Leonard Riggio, the company said in a news release, while noting that “multiple parties” had expressed interest in bidding for the company.
Barnes & Noble, which is publicly listed, is the nation’s largest retail book vendor, operating 629 stores across the U.S. It also operates Nook, a digital bookstore, as well as the website barnesandnoble.com.
The company’s board has set up a committee of independent directors to oversee the strategic review. Riggio, who owns 19 percent of the company and is its largest shareholder, has pledged to back any transaction the panel recommends.
Barnes & Noble shares, which before news of the possible sale were down 30 percent for the past year, vaulted 21 percent in Wednesday’s after-hours trading to $6.64. In announcing that it’s weighing a possible sale, the company noted that an unknown investor has been rapidly acquiring its stock.
Annual revenue, which topped $7 billion in 2012, has since fallen to $3.7 billion amid ferocious competition from Amazon and other e-commerce companies. In September, Barnes & Noble reported quarterly revenue of $795 million, down nearly 7 percent from a year ago, as store sales continued to sink. It lost $17 million for the period.
Once demonized for killing off local bookstores with its superstores, Barnes & Noble has been struggling in recent years with competition from Amazon and changing consumer preferences.
“If they can pull something out to save the company that would be great, but they have a real uphill climb,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners. “They’ve hung in there despite Amazon and all the rest of it. But the bookstore that solely sells books and periodicals is unfortunately a relic of the past.”
Despite the strong headwinds facing brick and mortar retailers, some analysts believe there’s still a place for bookstores in readers’ hearts.
“Consumers want unique experiences and escapes — we think they are finding that in independent bookstores,” said David Schick, managing partner at Consumer Edge Research. “Consumers want to feel a connection to their stores. We do believe Barnes & Noble can make some enhancements that could matter, but it will take time and investment.”
Riggio served as CEO from when Barnes & Noble was founded in 1986 through 2002 and then again from late 2016 through April 2017. The company has run through four CEOs in the past five years.
Whoever buys Barnes & Noble will have to find a way to bring something more to the table besides selling books, which are often available cheaper elsewhere, Johnson said.
“If it is Riggio, if he had some secret sauce to reinvent the bookstore for the 21st century, why hasn’t he done that in his time there?” Johnson asked.
The company also says it’s adopting a shareholder rights plan after noticing an unidentified party or parties rapidly accumulating its stock. The so-called poison-pill plans are often used by companies to defend themselves against hostile takeovers by diluting the value of a would-be acquirer’s investment.