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Barnes & Noble Could Be Treading Water. Is It Time to Short?

Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS (CBS), is not a small fish. It is not in Barnes & Noble's best interest to shun Simon & Schuster.

By cutting out Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble is effectively removing itself from the market for a variety of bestselling titles and some of the most popular writers of our time. As of the week ending March 31, the company had 20 listings on The New York Times Bestsellers' list. It also counts some big-name authors amidst its ranks, such as Jodi Picoult, Mary Higgins Clark and Ian Falconer's popular "Olivia" children's books.

Moreover, Simon & Schuster may well be positioned to take Barnes & Noble head-on in the book-selling business. The company recently teamed up with Pearson's Penguin Group and Lagardere's Hachette Book Group, and (with the help of more than a dozen other publishers) launched a new online book site called "Bookish."

News about the site broke last month, so it is still fairly new, but upon its debut the company was offering 1.2 million titles. While Bookish does provide links to purchase books at Barnes & Noble, it is still competition. And, it is competition that provides in-depth reviews and suggestions for similar titles -- a feature that Barnes & Noble's Web site lacks.

Granted, Barnes & Noble is trying to gain footing with its Nook. The company just announced on Tuesday that in-app purchasing would soon be available on the Nook, thanks to a partnership with mobile payment processor Fortumo. The new capability means that app and game developers will be able to sell their content directly through the Nook store -- an update that has been a long time in the making.

Amazon's Kindle has long allowed users to make such purchases directly from its device, as has Apple's (AAPL) iPad. I'm not sure if Barnes & Noble's efforts in this direction are too little too late.

It also pushes the Nook into the realm of being more tablet than simply an e-reader. This may help the company gain ground, but I really doubt it will make much difference, especially at first.

With all this going on, I have a hard time believing that Barnes & Noble will be able to reach the $18.40 mean one-year price target, as seen on Yahoo! Finance, let alone the $38 forecast by Barron's. While Microsoft's (MSFT) investment in the company last year could point to something, Barnes & Noble is certainly not going to get "there" by shutting out one of the largest book publishers in the world.

I say, short Barnes & Noble. With moves like this, and the way the market is moving toward digital media, the book retailer won't have a leg to stand on before long.

--Written by Renee Butler in Seattle, WA

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Renee Butler is a freelance financial journalist based in Seattle. She has written hundreds of articles and blog posts on hedge funds, the financial markets, investing trends and company developments. Her articles have appeared on MSNBC, MarketWatch, the Motley Fool, The Street and Seeking Alpha, among others. Butler is a member of the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists, and holds advanced degrees in business, financial management, psychology and sociology.
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