As it continues to try to adjust to the changing college retail market, Barnes & Noble Education reported a decline in sales in the fiscal year ended April 27, 2019 compared to fiscal 2018, a much smaller loss, and lower adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization).
Total revenue in the year fell 7.7%, to $2.03 billion, and adjusted EBITDA fell from $56.9 million in fiscal 2018 to $25.4 million last year. The net loss was cut to $24.4 million from $252.6 million in fiscal 2018. Reflecting B&NE’s changing business model to one that relies much more heavily on digital delivery of content, the loss in both years contains substantial one-time charges. The fiscal year 2019 net loss includes a non-cash impairment loss of $57.8 million and restructuring and other charges of $7.2 million, compared to fiscal year 2018 net loss which included a non-cash impairment loss of $313.1 million and restructuring and other charges of $5.4 million, B&NE reported.
B&NE’s largest segment continues to be its retail business where it operated 772 physical college stores last year and 676 virtual stores. Sales in the segment fell 6.7% compared to the prior year, dropping to $1.89 billion. The company attributed the decline to a 5.1% decline in comparable store sales, driven primarily by enrollment declines, especially at community colleges, and the overall decline in textbook average selling prices.
To try improve results at its stores, B&NE began pilot tests of what it called “highly relevant and curated concept shops,” that “drove improvements in sales trends and higher levels of customer engagement.”
Sales in the company’s wholesale group fell 13.5% in the year, to $223.4 million, which B&NE said was due to primarily to lower demand.
B&NE sees its Digital Student Solutions unit as its growth engine and although sales rose 35.4% over fiscal 2018, the group’s $21.3 million in sales accounted for a very small percentage of overall sales. The DSS unit is comprised of Student Brands and bartleby, the company’s subscription-based digital study offering.
During the year, the number of textbook solutions available on bartleby grew to more than one million. By using its retail stores to promote bartleby, B&NE added more than 50,000 subscribers to the platform during Spring Rush, B&NE reported. The company also signed agreements with Oxford University Press, Wiley, Macmillan Learning, SAGE, and Norton, to make the publishers’ digital content available through inclusive access programs offered by B&NE, the company said.
“We continue to rapidly implement necessary and profound change across [B&NE] to ensure that we are serving the needs of the education market both today and in the future,” said Michael P. Huseby, B&NE CEO and chairman, in a statement. Huseby was particularly excited about the prospects for bartleby. “Perhaps our greatest upside potential is with our direct-to-student business, where we are successfully leveraging our expansive store footprint and demonstrating our ability to grow and scale delivery of bartleby."
For fiscal 2020, the company projected an increase in adjusted EBITDA from $25.4 million in fiscal 2019 to between $90 million to $100 million. The company did not offer a revenue prediction, but noted continued investment will increase capital expenditures by approximately $10 million, to a range of $50 million to $60 million.