Barnes & Noble, the world's largest bookshop chain, put itself up for sale last night, in the latest sign of turmoil in the industry.
The company announced its decision to "evaluate strategic alternatives" after it plunged into the red and its shares collapsed to levels not seen since the mid-Nineties. Saddled with a large network of high-street stores, the company has struggled as customers have preferred to buy books online – and increasingly now in digital format.
Leonard Riggio, the founder, who is still chairman, said he supported the board decision to bring in Lazard, the investment bank, to consider the future, and would himself explore making a buy-out bid, if he can find financing. The Riggio family is the company's largest shareholder.
James McQuivey, analyst at the consulting firm Forrester, said the potential bid by Mr Riggio could signal that hard decisions needed to be made that would be more easily reached as a private company. "They might feel they want to buy the company back now and take it public later and reap the windfall," he said. "But there aren't a lot of investors who will be that certain about the probable outcome of that bet."
In-store sales were down 3 per cent in its most recent quarterly results. More readers have turned to digital books on devices like Amazon's Kindle and the Apple iPad, which are proving more popular than Barnes & Noble's own Nook electronic reader.
Shares soared 27 per cent in after-hours trading following the company's statement. The billionaire investor Ron Burkle has also shown interest in the company, boosting his stake in recent months and suing the bookseller for preventing him from buying a controlling interest.