Barnes & Noble, the world's largest bookseller, promoted the thirtysomething boss of its online business to run the whole company yesterday, in a symbol of the profound changes under way in book retailing.
William Lynch, who only joined the company 13 months ago, was made chief executive and vowed to continue expanding the retailer's e-books business, which he said was "key to our future".
Steve Riggio, the 55-year-old brother of Barnes & Noble's founder and chairman, Leonard, was stripped of the chief executive title amid declining sales at its bookshops and complaints from angry shareholders.
The company launched its own e-reader device, called the Nook, just before Christmas and it has been heavily promoting downloads from its online store, positioning itself in case of a massive consumer shift from buying books in physical form.
Barnes & Noble's shares rose after yesterday's announcement, and no one at the company was playing down the significance of the management switch.
"Given the dynamic nature of the book industry, William is uniquely qualified to lead the company's transition to multi-channel distribution and drive the continuing expansion of our e-commerce platform, e-books and other digital content and products," Leonard Riggio said. And Mr Lynch himself said: "The bookselling, publishing and media industries are quickly evolving, and we are well positioned to take advantage of the big opportunities.Our commitment is to provide consumers convenient access to the physical and digital products they want virtually anytime, anywhere."
The Riggios lured Mr Lynch to Barnes & Noble last year from HSNi, owner of the Home Shopping Network television shopping channel, where he ran the online store. Earlier, while working for Barry Diller's internet conglomerate IAC, in 2005, Mr Lynch launched Gifts.com, an online retailer that competes with aspects of Amazon.com.
At Barnes & Noble, Mr Lynch has been pursuing that rivalry with Amazon on an even greater scale. The Nook was designed as Barnes & Noble's answer to the success of Amazon's e-reader, the Kindle, which was locking its users into buying books from Amazon's own digital store.
Mr Lynch also promised that bn.com would expand to stock more than a million titles, including 500,000 out-of-copyright books supplied by Google, which has been digitising the world's libraries.
The urgency of carving out a place for Barnes & Noble in the world of e-books has increased since Apple's announcement of the launch of its iPad tablet device, which will be another rival e-reader, and an associated iBookstore, selling digital downloads.
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble's bricks and mortar business has been struggling. Like-for-like sales at the company were running at an annual rate of decline of 5.5 per cent, according to its most recent quarterly results.
Ron Burkle, the multi-millionaire investor who has been building a stake in the company, has been demanding management changes since Barnes & Noble acquired another retail chain last year.
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