- U.K. financial firm Elliott Advisors on Wednesday announced the closing of its acquisition of Barnes & Noble, the largest bookseller in the United States, for an undisclosed amount.
- The move follows Elliott’s acquisition last year of Waterstones, the largest bookseller in the United Kingdom, according to a company press release.
- Barnes & Noble, as of the closing a private company, and Waterstones will operate independently, but the firm will apply "a model that successfully turned around Waterstones over the past decade," the company said. James Daunt will be CEO of both businesses and is relocating from London to New York.
The turnaround model that Barnes & Noble's new owners are talking about is centered on treating the bookseller's stores not just as links in its chain, but also as independent, local stores, at least to some extent.
Daunt is a bookseller in his own right — Daunt Books is a well regarded independent London chain — who believes in physical stores despite the incursion of Amazon and digital media into the space.
"This is a very good day for bookselling," he said in a statement. "Barnes & Noble is the greatest of all bookstore names and will now benefit from the support of an owner committed to physical bookselling. With investment and concentration on the core principles of good bookselling, the prospects for this extraordinary company are bright. I look forward very much to working with the booksellers at Barnes & Noble."
The new team is committed to physical stores, signaling that closures are unlikely, at least immediately. "Our investment in Barnes & Noble, following our acquisition of Waterstones just over a year ago, demonstrates our commitment to bookselling and to real bookstores," Elliott Portfolio Manager and Head of European Private Equity Paul Best said in a statement. "Barnes & Noble has an extraordinary heritage, one that we want to protect and grow. We look forward to working with James Daunt and the Barnes & Noble management team in this exciting endeavor."
It's not a bad strategy, at least on paper. Barnes & Noble does enjoy strong brand equity. Many independent booksellers nationwide have been more successful than large book chains in the post-Amazon era, by maintaining strong ties to their communities and localizing their assortment and events to their customers — essentially Waterstones' turnaround approach. The company also has breathing room, thanks to a healthy balance sheet, with relatively little debt and mostly effective cost cuts.
But Barnes & Noble has had difficulty turning the page in the past. Annual sales haven't grown since 2012, in fact declining $700 million since 2015. Its consistent misses created an ongoing existential crisis as several CEOs and strategies came and went in recent years.