Barnes & Noble Education continues to face tough times due to the pandemic, with the significantly reduced number of students on campus colleges leading to lower sales at its stores. The company reported sales for the third quarter ended December 31, 2020, of $411.6 million, down 18.1% compared to the previous year. The company saw a net loss of $48.3 million, up dramatically from a net loss of $1.7 million in the same period in 2019.
In retail, the company's largest division, sales in the third quarter dropped to $70.3 million, down 15.5% compared with the prior year. Comparable store sales fell 19.9% for the quarter, with comparable textbook sales declining 8.1% and merchandise down 45.8%. Sales in the wholesale division were $39.5 million for the quarter, down 41.1% compared with the previous year.
The digital division continued to see an increase in subscriptions to its bartleby service, resulting in sales of $7.2 million for the quarter an increase of 12.0%. On March 8, David Nenke started in his new role as president of the digital division, coming to the company from Amazon, where he worked in operations and finance.
Looking ahead, the company anticipates continued losses throughout the remainder of the 2021 fiscal year, which ends May 1, but anticipates positive EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) in fiscal 2022; through the first nine months of fiscal 2021, B&NE had negative EBITDA of $34.3 million. The company hopes to return to pre-Covid levels of EBITDA in fiscal 2023, provided students return to campuses in full and the loosening of restrictions in the wake of mass vaccinations.