Barnes & Noble's Earnings Less Than Page-Turning

Updated may be doing its darnedest to kick Barnes & Noble to the curb, but the bookseller is not out of the fight just yet. B&N announced its fiscal 2013 second-quarter earnings yesterday morning, and while it is a far cry from the highs of 2006, the report still had some bright spots. Somehow, this company still manages to keep hanging on. Is this a shrewd business strategy, or the slow, painful death of a giant?

B&N University
Barnes & Noble still puts faith in the ever-increasing price of university textbooks and merchandise. Its overall retail may be suffering, dropping 3% compared to 2011, but revenues for its college branch increased by 0.4% compared to the previous year. Comparable college store sales, on the other hand, were down by 0.5% this quarter, and EBITDA for the college branch sank 5% to $88 million. B&N's release associates the lower EBITDA results with a rise in textbook rentals, which require the company to defer a higher amount of revenue. Still, this branch's positive overall earnings are a rare bright spot on the bookseller's financial statement.

Nooks and crannies
It's no surprise that Nook is the magic word for Barnes & Noble. This quarter, revenues for the e-reader rose to $160 million, a 6% jump from the previous year. Additionally, Black Friday was a lucky one for B&N, with unit sales for the Nook doubling compared to the same weekend last year. Not a bad way to close a quarter, and with the release of two new products (the Nook HD and HD+), the e-reader's next quarter could look even better.

On top of the Nook's holiday success, Barnes & Noble's sales for digital content (including digital newsstand items, books, and apps) were also up compared to last year's second quarter. This branch of B&N is small, but appears financially mighty.

The bad news
Barnes & Noble's net profit margin has edged toward the negative since 2009. On a quarterly basis, April 2012's net profit margin was -4%, and by October it had risen meekly to 0.1%.

The book retailer could be on to something with its Nook and digital content, but the future likely won't be a bright one if it continues to have negative income. B&N may have had a great Black Friday, but in order to survive, it needs to concoct a model for staying relevant every other day of the year.

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