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Sarah Halzack

Barnes & Noble Can’t Blame Amazon for Everything

Sure, Jeff Bezos’s company is the grim reaper. But the bookseller squandered some opportunities.

The physical bookstore can endure. 

The physical bookstore can endure. 

Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg

Barnes & Noble Inc. had been buyout bait for so long it should not have been a surprise when the company announced on Friday that Elliott Management Corp. had agreed to buy the big-box book giant for $683 million, including debt. The bookseller had said in October that it was exploring strategic alternatives. Even before that, smart observers such as my colleague Tara Lachapelle had noted it would be a tempting takeout target.

Still, when the moment came, it seemed to be, if not exactly a shock, then certainly an important turning point. Without a doubt it was a humbling moment for a company that has been humbled again and again by retail’s massive transformation. Of course, Barnes & Noble was among the earliest companies to feel the punishing competitive pressure of Inc., with Jeff Bezos’s ruthless convenience machine putting books on shoppers’ doorsteps quickly and reliably. Bezos dealt Barnes & Noble another blow when his Kindle device ushered in the e-books era, threatening to exile the bookseller to oblivion the same way Apple’s iTunes doomed Tower Records and Sam Goody.