While the re-election of Len Riggio to the Barnes & Noble board, along with David Wilson and David Golden, put an end to the proxy fight started by the retailer's largest outside shareholder, Ron Burkle, the long-term fate of the country's largest bookseller remains uncertain. The special committee overseeing the strategic review of the company continues to meet, and Burkle has called for the committee to support the highest offer for the company.
Riggio, who is not on the committee, said he hopes to get through the review process as quickly as possible. "At the same time," Riggio told PW, "we have an obligation to speak to everyone who has a serious interest in the company. I'd like to have a solution in the next few months and then we can move on." Although there has been lots of speculation that the strategic review will result in the sale of the company, Riggio said, "There is no guarantee of any particular outcome." Still, Riggio said, if any party wants to make an offer for B&N that "gives shareholders the premium they deserve," the sale of the company is possible. And he reiterated comments made when the strategic review process was first announced that he, along with company management, want to be a part of any entity interested in buying the company.
Noting that Burkle never offered an alternate vision for B&N's future, Riggio said the company will continue with plans to aggressively transform itself into a major force in the sales of digital content.
Although he acknowledged that bookselling faces lots of challenges in the digital age, he maintained that there is opportunity for "explosive growth. In all the years I've been involved in bookselling, I've never been more excited about the industry." The key, Riggio said, is to have the ability to sell the customers what they want. "You can't tell the customers how to take their information," he said. For B&N, this has resulted in faster than expected sales of e-books. In the year to date, Riggio said, total spending per customer on all formats has increased 20% over 2009, with the number of units jumping 60% as more buying moves to lower-priced e-books. The number of print books sold in the same period has declined 20%. Riggio said he expects print books to sell better over the holiday period as consumers buy more illustrated books as well as titles "they want to put on their shelves."
Despite the possible bump in print sales over the holidays, it is clear fewer print books will be sold in bookstores in the future, forcing booksellers to find ways to make up for lost sales as well as to bring in customers, Riggio said. B&N stores "will remain chock-full of books," he said, and will continue to have the appearance of a grand library. But the company has already added more nonbook items, such as education games and toys, and the retailer will continue to test new initiatives over the holidays. And while the merchandise mix of the stores will change, Riggio said he doesn't expect the number of stores to change. "We tend to close a few stores every year at the end of their lease, and we move some stores to better locations. But over the next two to three years, I don't see the composition of our stores changing much at all," Riggio said.
Despite the distraction caused by the proxy fight, he said, "There is a lot of excitement around here. I love coming to work each day."