There's an old saying about a new year and a new beginning, and Barnes & Noble is taking it to an extreme. Over the past few weeks no fewer than 4 members of the senior management at Nook Media, B&N's ebook sub, have either left the company, been promoted, or announced that they have one foot out the door.
The first to go was Michael Huseby. Barnes & Noble announced on 8 January that Huseby was leaving his position as head of Nook Media to take the CEO position at Barnes & Noble. A career administrator, Huseby said in a statement that he plans to "enhance and unlock the value of these businesses for our shareholders" and is expected by many industry pundits to manage the orderly liquidation of what's left of the company.
The next to jump ship was Jamie Iannone, who left B&N after 4 years with the company to go manage Walmart's digital operations. And finally, on Friday news broke of a couple more departures. Bill Saperstein, the VP for digital products hardware engineering left the company some time back and (if I found the correct ) is already working at another company.
And it looks like we might have to kiss B&N's international plans goodbye, because some time in February the managing director of the Barnes & Noble unit based in Luxembourg. Jim Hilt is the VP and general manager for global ebooks at Nook Media, but he won't be for much longer.
Do you know what I find most interesting about the departures and promotion? It's that there's no mention of who will be stepping in to take over (unless I missed something).
Normally the announcement of a departure would include details on the replacement. For example, when Bill Lynch left Barnes & Noble in July the press release included details on B&N's new structure that put Riggio in charge as Chairperson and (because the job was left unfilled) acting CEO.
But in the case of these 4 departures and promotion there's no mention of the replacements. That's not the kind of detail that the WSJ (in the case of the Iannone story) or Publisher's Lunch (the latter pair of departures) would fail to report, and in fact PubLunch was told by B&N "we have no additional personnel announcements at this time".
I suspect that this is a telling detail; no one was promoted or hired to fill the now-empty positions. Instead the job was demoted to whoever was the next in line. Or even worse, they were simply left empty. In either case, that does not bode well for the Nook.
Barnes & Noble's ebook division has been in trouble since at least the 2012 holiday season, when B&N reported a shortfall in revenue. The Nook limped along in 2013, with B&N reporting decreasing Nook revenue every quarter. And to cap it off, B&N reported a couple weeks ago that the 2013 holiday season was even worse for the Nook than 2012; Nook revenue was down 35%.
Many pundits had been expecting Barnes & Noble to either sell or shut down the Nook division in 2013, and I think the recent departures could be a sign that a decision is going to happen. My best guess is that it is going to be announced or leaked some time before B&N announces their next quarterly report in late February 2014.
I would hope that B&N sells Nook Media rather than just shutting it down; the list of potential buyers is rather long and surely one of the companies would be interested in the Nook for the tech platform.
So who would buy Nook Media? I don't have a complete list of potential buyers, but I would expect that interested parties would include:
- Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, or one of the other internet giants
- Ebay, Rakuten, Walmart, Tesco, or one of Amazon's other major retail competitors
- Samsung, Qualcomm, Intel, Foxconn, or another chip/device manufacturer
And those are just the companies which would gain the most obvious synergy in acquiring the Nook; there are probably others that I missed as well.