Equity firm agrees to buy Barnes & Noble

Jim Milliot
News - Bookselling Monday, 10 June 2019

James Daunt will be CEO at both B&N and Waterstones


Rumours that surfaced Thursday that the private equity firm Elliott Advisors was close to acquiring Barnes & Noble proved true, as the two companies announced Friday morning that they had entered into a definitive agreement under which Elliott would acquire America's largest bookstore chain for $6.50 per share. The all-cash transaction is valued at about $683 million.

This is Elliott's second purchase of a major bookstore chain in little over a year. In April 2018, it bought the UK chain Waterstones. When the B&N purchase is completed, expected to be in the third quarter of the 2019, James Daunt (right), CEO of Waterstones, will take over as B&N CEO as well. In the release announcing the deal, Elliott said that while each bookseller would operate independently, "they will share a common CEO and benefit from the sharing of best practice between the companies". B&N will remain based in New York.

Daunt, who took over as Waterstones CEO in 2011, has been given high marks for turning the chain around. When Elliott acquired Waterstones, it had revenue of about $557 million and operated 283 stores, considerably smaller than the 627 stores that B&N currently operates. Sales at B&N, however, have steadily declined in recent years. Elliott is betting that Daunt can apply a similar formula at B&N to the one he used to increase sales at Waterstones, which entailed making investments in stores and empowering local bookselling teams.

In a prepared statement, Daunt said: "I look forward greatly to working with the booksellers at Barnes & Noble. Physical bookstores the world over face fearsome challenges from online and digital. We meet these with investment and with all the more confidence for being able to draw on the unrivalled bookselling skills of these two great companies. As a place in which to choose a book, and for the sheer pleasure of visiting, we know that a good bookstore has no equal."

The acquisition by Elliott follows a sales process that B&N began last October, after it was disclosed that a deal with the UK bookstore chain WH Smith had collapsed. Following that disclosure, B&N received expressions of interest from other companies, and it established a committee to review the potential sale.

When the purchase closes later this year, it will end Len Riggio's 54-year run as B&N owner. In a statement, Riggio said: "We are pleased to have reached this agreement with Elliott, the owner of Waterstones, a bookseller I have admired over the years. In view of the success they have had in the bookselling marketplace, I believe they are uniquely suited to improve and grow our company for many years ahead. I am also confident that James Daunt has the leadership ability and experience necessary to lead this great organisation. I will do everything I can to help him make the transition smooth."

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