Harper Lee, Dr. Seuss Bring Barnes & Noble Glimmer of Growth

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Michael Huseby
Barnes & Noble CEO Michael Huseby. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Barnes & Noble Inc. can thank a bumper crop of surprise sequels and unearthed manuscripts for bringing a bit of sales growth to the beleaguered bookstore chain.

The company is anticipating a boon this summer from Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” a follow-up to the 55-year-old “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the newly discovered Dr. Seuss title, “What Pet Should I Get?” E.L. James, the author of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, also just released an unexpected sequel on June 18, helping bolster bookstore sales.

The books should help bring growth of about 1 percent this year, Barnes & Noble said on Thursday. That may not sound like much, but it would be the biggest gain in at least seven years. Its core same-store sales, a benchmark that measures established locations, rose 0.5 percent in the last fiscal year, helped by special events that drove traffic to its shops. Before that, the chain posted declines in three out of five years, hurt by competition from Amazon.com Inc. and other e-commerce sites.

James’s sequel, called “Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian,” has brought a fresh round of buzz to bookstores. The novel was released just 2 1/2 weeks after the author announced its publication on Instagram. Barnes & Noble held an exclusive signing event at its Fifth Avenue store last week.

“That drew a huge crowd,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Huseby said on a conference call Thursday to discuss quarterly results.

Even with the blitz, Barnes & Noble is challenged on several fronts. Revenue from its struggling Nook e-reader business declined 40 percent last quarter, and the company posted a bigger loss than some analysts had projected. The stock fell 1.5 percent to $25.94 on Thursday after the results were released.

The New York-based company is planning additional events this summer around the new Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss titles, both of which are slated for publication in July.

“All of these books present great opportunities to engage with our customers,” Huseby said.

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