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Barnes & Noble May Spin Off E-Reader Business

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Bookseller Barnes & Noble has said it may sell off its Nook e-reader unit, which is struggling to compete with Amazon’s Kindle

In a Christmas sales statement issued on 5 January, bookseller Barnes & Noble suggested it would absorb deeper-than-expected losses over the course of its fiscal year and said it was considering spinning off its Nook e-reader business.

“The change in guidance is due primarily to a shortfall in the expected sales of Nook Simple Touch, as well as additional investments in growing the Nook business,” it read, “such as advertising to support new products and international expansion in the back half of the year.”

Colour Nook

Overall, Nook unit sales increased 70 percent year-over-year, with sales of the full-colour Nook Tablet apparently exceeding expectations.

Moreover, Barnes & Noble is considering a spin-off of that Nook business, although it cautioned in the statement that “there is no timetable for the review, and the Company does not intend to comment further regarding the review”. Discussions about expanding the Nook’s presence into international markets are apparently under way with unnamed publishers, retailers and technology companies.

Contrast that with a December statement from Amazon, in which the online retailer claimed sales of its Kindle devices had topped 1 million per week.

“We’ve already sold millions of units, and we’re building millions more to meet the high demand,” Dave Limp, vice president of Amazon Kindle, wrote in a 15 December statement. “Kindle Fire sales increased week-over-week for each of the past three weeks.”

If sales of Amazon’s gray-scale Kindle e-reader have softened in recent months, the company has so far declined to reveal that in any sort of public statement.

Top-selling product

Over Christmas, Amazon claimed, the Kindle Fire became the top-selling and most-gifted product in its store, while sales of Kindle books between Black Friday and Christmas Day rose 175 percent year-over-year.

Whether the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, it seems that customers are interested in cheaper, full-colour Android tablets designed primarily for e-reading and other media content.

Based on its public statements, though, it seems that Barnes & Noble is wrestling with the costs and effort necessary to present a viable alternative to Amazon in the space.

Does that mean the Nook franchise is doomed? Not necessarily. But the battle with Amazon – which, thanks to its broader array of businesses and large market capitalisation, can indulge even in those projects that burn enormous sums of money for many years – could soon force the bookseller to make some fairly radical moves.