Report: Barnes & Noble Selling Off Sterling Publishing


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Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) is selling Sterling Publishing, the nonfiction book publisher it acquired in 2003, according to the Wall Street Journal. While B&N rival Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is rapidly expanding its publishing side, Sterling is a traditional publisher that has faced a difficult transition into the digital world.

The WSJ has the news from “people familiar with the situation.” A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman told me, “We do not comment on rumors.”

Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest bookstore chain, acquired Sterling for $115 million in 2003. According to the company’s website, Sterling “has an active list of more than 5,000 owned and distributed titles, and annually publishes and distributes more than 1,100 new titles.” Sterling publishes primarily nonfiction books on topics like diet and health, parenting, gardening, puzzles, etc.

Sterling has a number of imprints–including Hearst Books, which publishes lifestyle books under the brand names of Hearst magazines. And Sterling publishes Barnes & Noble-branded titles like Barnes & Noble Classics and B&N Library of Essential Reading (repackaged public domain titles).

As Amazon builds up its publishing program–recently acquiring Marshall Cavendish’s children’s list–Barnes & Noble has had a less obvious strategy for Sterling. As the WSJ notes, Barnes & Noble does not break out Sterling sales figures in its earning reports. However, Sterling is firmly rooted in print books and nonfiction categories like DIY, cooking and crafts that don’t transition easily into digital formats. (That’s not to say that some publishers don’t have successful digital strategies for those categories, but Sterling hasn’t been a leader or particular innovator in the digital arena.) Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch has not mentioned Sterling during various investor calls in recent months, focusing instead on B&N as an e-reader and e-book seller, digital newsstand, educational toy seller and community center.

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