Barnes & Noble, Inc. is a Fortune 500 company, the largest retail bookseller in the United States, and the leading retailer of content, digital media and educational products in the country. The company operates 661 retail stores (as of May 3, 2014[update]) in all 50 U.S. states in addition to 700 college bookstores that serve more than 5 million students and faculty members across the country. Barnes & Noble also operates BN.com.
Barnes & Noble operates mainly through its Barnes & Noble Booksellers chain of bookstores and the company’s headquarters are at 122 Fifth Avenue in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District in Manhattan in New York City. Barnes & Noble College Booksellers is headquartered in Basking Ridge, NJ.
After a series of mergers and bankruptcies in the American bookstore industry since the 1990s, Barnes & Noble stands as America’s last remaining national bookstore chain. Previously, Barnes & Noble operated the chain of small B. Dalton Booksellers stores in malls until they announced the liquidation of the chain. The company is known for large retail outlets, many of which contain a café serving Starbucks Coffee. Most stores sell books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, graphic novels, gifts, games, music, and Nook eReaders and tablets. Video games and related items were sold in the company’s GameStop retail outlets until October 2004, when the division was spun off into an independent company.
Barnes & Noble originated in 1886 with a bookstore called Arthur Hinds & Company, located in the Cooper Union Building in New York City. In the fall of 1886, Gilbert Clifford Noble, a then-recent Harvard graduate from Westfield, Massachusetts, was hired to work there as a clerk. In 1894 Noble was made a partner, and the name of the shop was changed to Hinds & Noble. In 1901 Hinds & Noble moved to 31-35 W. 15th Street.
In 1917, Noble bought out Hinds and entered into a partnership with William Barnes, son of his old friend Charles; the name of the store was changed accordingly to Barnes & Noble. Charles Barnes had opened a book-printing business in Wheaton, Illinois in 1873; William Barnes divested himself of his ownership interest in his father’s firm just before his partnership with Noble and it would go on to become Follett Corporation. Although the flagship store once featured the motto “founded in 1873,” the C.M. Barnes-Wilcox Company never had any connection to Barnes & Noble other than the fact that both were partly owned (at different times) by William Barnes.
In 1930, Noble sold his share of the company to William Barnes’ son John Wilcox Barnes. Noble died on June 6, 1936, at the age of 72. In the long history of the bookstore, the namesake partnership was a brief interlude of thirteen years.
In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, the bookstore was moved to a flagship location on 18th Street and Fifth Avenue, which served as such until it closed in 2014. The Noble family retained ownership of an associated publishing business and Barnes & Noble opened a new publishing division in 1931. In 1940, the store was one of the first businesses to feature Muzak; it underwent a major renovation the following year. That decade the company opened stores in Brooklyn and Chicago. William Barnes died in 1945 at the age of 78 and his son John Wilcox Barnes assumed full control. The company underwent a significant expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, opening an additional retail store on Twenty-third Street in Manhattan and shops near the City University of New York, Harvard and other Northeast college campuses.
The business was purchased in 1971 by Leonard Riggio for $1.2 million. By then it had been badly mismanaged over the prior two years and consisted only of “a significantly reduced wholesale operation and a single retail location—the store at 105 Fifth Avenue.” In 1974, Barnes & Noble became the first bookstore to advertise on television and a year later, the company became the first bookseller in America to discount books, by selling The New York Times best-selling titles at 40% off the publishers’ list price. During the 1970s and 1980s, Barnes & Noble opened smaller discount stores, which were eventually phased out in favor of larger stores. They also began to publish their own books to be sold to mail-order customers. These titles were primarily affordable reissues of out-of-print titles and selling them through mail-order catalogs allowed Barnes & Noble to reach new customers nationwide.
In November 1974, in response to a question from a member of the studio audience, the British twin brothers Norris McWhirter and Ross McWhirter, who were editors of the British-produced Guinness Book of Records, claimed on the BBC One television programme Record Breakers that the Fifth Avenue store of Barnes and Noble had overtaken that of London’s Foyles bookshop to become the world’s biggest bookstore.
Barnes & Noble continued to expand throughout the 1980s and in 1987 purchased the primarily shopping mall-based B. Dalton chain from Dayton Hudson. The last B. Dalton stores were slated to close in January 2010. In 1989 Barnes and Noble had purchased the 22-store chain Bookstop. Solveig Robinson, author of The Book in Society: An Introduction to Print Culture, wrote that the purchase “gave [Barnes and Nobile] the necessary know-how and infrastructure to create what, in 1992, became the definitive bookselling superstore.” The acquisition of 797 bookstores turned the company into a nationwide retailer and as of the end of fiscal year 1999, the second-largest online bookseller in the United States. B&N’s critics claim that it has contributed to the decline of local and independent booksellers.
Before Barnes & Noble created its web site, it sold books directly to customers through mail-order catalogs. It first began selling books online in the late 1980s, in an early generation venue called Trintex, a joint venture between Sears and IBM, but the company’s website was not launched until May 1997. According to the site, it now carries over 2 million titles.
In 2002, Leonard Riggio’s brother Stephen Riggio was named CEO, a position he held until 2010. The Barnes & Noble Review, an online literary site, was launched in October 2007. It featured book reviews, columns, and interview from critics and authors such as Michael Dirda, John Freeman, A.C. Grayling, Ezra Klein, Paul LaFarge, Mark Sarvas, Dava Sobel, Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, and Greil Marcus. Music critic Robert Christgau has also written essays for the site.
In March 2010, William Lynch, formerly the president of the company’s website, was appointed CEO. He is credited with helping launch the company’s electronic book store and overseeing the introduction of its electronic book reader, the Nook. Many observers saw his appointment as underscoring the importance of digital books to Barnes & Noble’s future. Steve Riggio stayed on as vice chairman.
After the bankruptcy and closure of its chief competitor, Borders Group, in 2011, Barnes & Noble became the last remaining national bookstore chain in America. This followed a series of mergers and bankruptcies in the American bookstore industry since the 1990s, which also saw the demise of Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble’s own subsidiary B. Dalton and Crown Books, among others. Barnes & Noble’s largest physical bookstore rival is now Books-A-Million, which does not operate in the Western US. Barnes & Noble also faces competition from general retailers, especially from Amazon.com, and from regional and independent booksellers.
On July 8, 2013, the company announced the resignation of William Lynch as Barnes & Noble CEO and board member, effective immediately. No immediate replacement was named.
On January 8, 2014 it was announced that Michael P. Huseby would become the new CEO of Barnes and Noble. Huseby had joined Barnes & Noble as Chief Financial Officer in March, 2012, and led the Company’s financial organization until his appointment as President in July, 2013. Prior to joining Barnes & Noble, he worked in the media communications industry, most recently having served as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Cablevision Systems Corporation.
On June 25, 2014 it was announced that Barnes & Noble will spin off the Nook Media division into an independent publicly traded company.
Barnes & Noble publishes some of the books it sells, inexpensively reprinting non-copyrighted titles or acquiring the U.S. or English language rights from another publisher. In addition, Barnes & Noble commissions reprint anthologies and omnibus editions using in-house editors.
Barnes & Noble began to publish books during the 1980s, when they started reissuing out-of-print titles. One of these titles, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin, has sold over 250,000 copies. The reissued edition of The Columbia History of the World by John Garrity, for example has sold over 1 million copies.
Since then, the company has expanded its publishing operation. This expansion was aided by the company’s acquisition of SparkNotes, an educational website and publishing company. Further expansions of the company’s publishing business include the purchase of how-to publisher Sterling Publishing in 2003.
From around 1992 through early 2003, Barnes & Noble released a series of literary classics for adults and children under the imprint Barnes & Noble Classics. Originally available only in hardcover, most titles came in a black or cream-colored dustjacket edition. In 2003, Barnes & Noble revamped and expanded its line of literature classics, releasing books in hardcover, trade paperback and mass-market editions.
In addition, Barnes & Noble has a second paperback series called the Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading.
The first store to feature a café serving Starbucks beverages was in Springfield, New Jersey in 1993. Since then, most stores have been amended or constructed specifically to feature a cafe serving Starbucks beverages, Harney & Sons or Tazo Tea, FIJI Bottled Water, bakery goods from The Cheesecake Factory, candy from Godiva Chocolatiers, sandwiches and other specialty products. Although the cafés are owned and operated by Barnes & Noble, servers follow Starbucks’ standards in beverage preparation. The Barnes & Noble membership card is accepted to receive a discount on any café related goods.
In 2004, Barnes & Noble began offering Wi-Fi in the café area of selected stores, using SBC FreedomLink (now the AT&T Wi-Fi network). All stores currently offer Wi-Fi, an effort which was completed in 2006. As of July 27, 2009, Wi-Fi is offered for free to all customers.
Barnes & Noble hires community relations managers to engage in community outreach. These managers’ responsibilities include organizing in-store events, such as author appearances, children’s storytimes and book groups. Community relations managers also work closely with local schools and groups to promote literacy and the arts. For example, Barnes & Noble sponsors a children’s summer reading program that promotes literacy and puts over 2 million books into the hands of the children each year. Barnes & Noble also hosts bookfairs, which raise funds for schools and libraries and an annual holiday book drive to collect books for disadvantaged children. 1.16 million books were collected and distributed in 2007. To promote nationwide literacy among 1st to 6th graders and encourage more reading during the summer, Barnes & Noble has implemented a summer challenge: if children read 8 books and write about their reading, Barnes & Noble will give the readers a free book.
Barnes & Noble Nook is a suite of electronic book readers developed by the company, based on the Android platform. The first device was announced in the United States on October 20, 2009 and was released November 30, 2009, for $259. On June 21, 2010 Barnes & Noble reduced the Nook’s price to $199, as well as launched a new Wi-Fi-only model, for $149 and released a Nook colored touch screen for $249.
The Nook competes with the Amazon Kindle, Kobo eReader, Sony Reader, and color devices used sometimes as readers like Apple’s iBooks for the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and other e-readers. Various Nook models feature a 6-inch or 7-inch touchscreen. Version 1.3 of the Nook introduced Wi-Fi connectivity, a web browser, a dictionary, chess and sudoku games and a separate, smaller color touchscreen that serves as the primary input device. The Nook also features a Read in Store capability that allows visitors to stream and read any book for up to one hour while shopping in a Barnes & Noble Store. According to a June 2010 CNet article, the company plans to expand this feature to include periodicals in the near future. The color version of the Nook introduced a 7-inch color touchscreen and the ability to view at a portrait or landscape orientation.
On April 30, 2012, Microsoft invested $300 million for a 17.6% stake in Nook, which valued the business at about $1.7 billion.
In November 2012, the technology publications Techdirt and Mashable criticized the license agreement with which Barnes & Noble sells ebooks to consumers, pointing out that the rights to re-download a purchased ebook expire when the customer’s credit card expires and a valid credit card must be added to the account to restore this functionality.
In June 2014, the company announced a partnership with Samsung Electronics to make Nook tablets, as the bookseller moves forward with plans to revamp its digital business. Barnes & Noble has also announced that it will spin off its Nook Media division into a separate publicly traded company. The company’s objective is to take the steps necessary to complete the separation by the end of the first quarter of the 2015 calendar year.
Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Inc., headquartered in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is a subsidiary of the company which operates bookstores at more than 600 institutions of higher education. College Bookstores was previously owned by company chairman Leonard Riggio.
Barnes & Noble College Booksellers also operated the self-proclaimed “world’s largest bookstore” on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street in New York City from 1932 to 2014. This flagship store carried a large variety of textbooks, medical and legal books and medical supplies in addition to the various trade titles carried at the company’s main stores.