Barnes & Noble will close up to a third of its stores over the next decade

Nook Digital Shop

Barnes & Noble plans to close about twenty retail stores a year over the next ten years, the company’s retail CEO Marshall Klipper told the Wall Street Journal. Today, there are 689 Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, plus 674 college stores.

The WSJ notes that “the chain shut an average of about 15 stores a year in the past decade, but until 2009 it also was opening 30 or more a year,” with a peak of 726 stores in 2008. Klipper may have chosen to talk to the WSJ to show investors that the company has a plan. He said that fewer than 20 of the chain’s retail stores are unprofitable, and “we’re going to be around a long time” because consumers read both print and ebooks (this is a point that the company has been pressing for awhile, based on its own research).

Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating noticed that the chain’s store closure plan hasn’t changed and said, “It should be noted that in 2012, Barnes & Noble opened two new prototype stores and in 2013 plans to test several other prototypes, as well. Barnes & Noble has great real estate in prime locations and the company’s management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term.”

Barnes & Noble is threatened by the shift to online book shopping at Amazon. The company has rolled out a host of Nook e-readers and tablets that face stiff competition in a market dominated by Kindle e-readers and saturated with cheap tablets from Amazon, Google, Apple and others. Barnes & Noble just delivered a terrible holiday earnings report, showing Nook, BN.com and retail sales all down, with a particularly large decline in Nook device sales. The company plans to spin off the Nook and college stores into a separate unit called Nook Media, with Microsoft and Pearson both holding stakes.

When Borders, then the nation’s second-largest bookstore chain, went bankrupt and liquidated all its stores in 2011, it seemed as if it could be good news for Barnes & Noble, which would have a chance to grab former Borders customers. But it appears that former Borders customers largely switched their book buying over to Amazon.

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