Barnes & does not appear to have fared as well as in the year or in the fourth quarter. Net sales for 2003 rose 4.7%, to $424.8 million, while sales in the fourth quarter increased 4.3%, to $133.4 million. On a comparable-sales basis, sales for the year rose 3.4%, to $437.2 million, while fourth-quarter sales were up 8.2%, to $138.4 million. Comparable sales include sales of used books for both 2002 and 2003; in April, B& changed the way it accounted for used book sales, lowering total net sales. The e-tailer had projected sales in the fourth quarter to be in the $124-million to $139-million range. B& CEO Marie Toulantis said she was "extremely pleased" with the fourth-quarter results.

The company, which is expected to be merged into Barnes & Noble within the next few weeks, was unable to turn a profit in the fourth quarter, although it came close, losing $5.3 million, down from last year's fourth-quarter loss of $15 million. For the full year, B& had a net loss of $45 million, down from $73.6 million in 2002. The company was profitable on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis in the fourth quarter, the first time B& achieved that milestone. EBITDA was $300,000 in the most recent period, compared to a EBITDA loss of $6.7 million in last year's fourth quarter.

The company is projecting that sales in 2004 will grow anywhere from 2.6% (to $435 million) to 12% ($475 million) and the e-tailer expects to incur another loss for the year. For the first quarter, sales are expected to be in the $105-million to $115-million range; sales in the first quarter of 2003 were $106 million.