Barnes & Noble sees 'Fifty Shades' of green

Associated Press Modified: August 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm •  Published: August 21, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Barnes & Noble's fiscal first quarter was a tale of modern and traditional. Tech-savvy readers snapped up its e-books and other digital content during the period, while traditionalists headed to its bookstores for the popular "Fifty Shades of Grey" series and other items.

The double dose of good news, coupled with cost-control efforts and lower expenses, helped the New York company's loss narrow while its revenue rose.

Weak sales of its Nook e-readers and an unchanged full-year outlook may have given investors pause. They sent its shares down nearly 4 percent.

Barnes & Noble Inc., the largest traditional U.S. bookseller, faces tough competition from online retailers like and discount stores as consumers increasingly move away from traditional books in favor of electronic books. These factors have pushed the chain to invest heavily in its Nook e-reader and e-books, with digital content playing a key role in its success last quarter.

Barnes & Noble also had the added bonus of riding the buzz of "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James, the publishing phenomenon that has drawn legions of readers into bookstores. The erotic novels occupy the top three spots on The New York Times' list of best-selling print and e-book fiction.

Executives at Barnes & Noble speaking during a conference call on Tuesday said that the company's bookstores also benefited from sales of games, educational toys and other children's products. Management said the disappearance of competitor Borders' bookstores also provided a lift, and traffic improved in its stores for the first time in years.

For the period ended July 28, Barnes & Noble lost $45.2 million, or 78 cents per share. That was less than the $56.6 million, or 99 cents per share, that it lost a year earlier. Barnes & Noble hasn't made a profit in a non-holiday quarter in three years.

The New York-based chain reduced its selling and administrative expenses in the quarter as well as its interest expense.

Revenue climbed 2 percent to $1.45 billion from $1.42 billion.

Revenue for the retail division — which includes bookstores and its website businesses — rose 2 percent. Revenue from bookstores open at least a year, a key gauge of the chain's health, increased 4.6 percent. This performance was buoyed by the "Fifty Shades" sales as well as the Borders liquidation.