NEW YORK (
was pegged as the most likely buyer of
Barnes & Noble
if the chain puts itself up for sale, according to a poll of readers of
Barnes & Noble announced earlier this week that it's considering strategic alternatives, which could include staking a "For Sale" sign on its front lawn. Since the announcement, speculation over potential bidders has run rampant, with the spotlight flashing on private-equity players like
. Fears have also grown in certain quarters that Barnes & Noble may not be able to find a buyer, raising a red flag for the entire book industry.
survey, more than 37% agreed that Amazon represents the most logical choice.
Amazon has been a thorn in Barnes & Noble's proverbial side since its inception in 1995, when it was solely a purveyor of books. B&N has consistently lost market share to its non-bricks-and-mortar rival, which has bested it on lower prices for hardcovers.
Now the battle has gone purely digital. While Amazon took the lead, launching its Kindle e-reader back in 2007, Barnes & Noble is playing catch up, rolling out an e-bookstore last summer and introducing its Nook e-reader in October 2009.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble continue to go head-to-head in battling to offer the cheapest e-reader device. Barnes & Noble ignited a price war in June, lowering the cost of the Nook to $199 from $259, and saying it would offer a basic version for just $149.
Only hours later, Amazon responded by slashing the price of the Kindle to $189 from $259.
Since then, Amazon has gone even further, saying it will offer a Wi-Fi Kindle for $139, making it the lowest priced e-reader among big brands.
By purchasing Barnes & Noble, Amazon would effectively wipe out its primary competition in the book space, which remains one of its fastest growing segments.
B&N Founder and top shareholder Leonard Riggio is also a potential buyer, according to 31.3% of voters. Riggio purchased Barnes & Noble in 1971 for just $750,000, turning it into the nation's book retailer of choice for the better part of two decades.
Riggio has already said he's considering bidding for the company along with a larger group of investors. "I fully support the Board's decision to evaluate strategic alternatives at this time," Riggio said in a statement this week. "Regardless of whether I participate in an investment group that buys the company, I, as well as the entire senior management team, am willing and eager to remain with the company and see it through the challenging years ahead."
was named as the next obvious choice by 16.9% of voters, as the company looks to put its software into tablets, phones and iPads.
, which attempted to sell itself back in 2008 but later withdrew due to limited interest, could also be an acquirer, according to just 8.8% of voters.
While Borders isn't the most financially stable of companies, financier-turned-CEO Bennet LeBow may be gearing the company up to do such a deal. LeBow provided Borders with a much-needed cash infusion in May.
LeBow has long said there isn't room for two blockbuster bookstores. He also has a history of trying to take over bigger companies. As CEO of MAI in the 1980s, he attempted to buy larger rival Prime Computer. He failed, and led both companies into bankruptcy.
Borders' largest shareholder, William Ackman, has also suggested in the past that the two companies should combine.
The least likely buyer according to respondents is billionaire investor Ron Burkle, with just 5.9% of the vote. Burkle unsuccessfully attempted earlier in the year to gain a controlling interest in Barnes & Noble without triggering its poison pill.
Burkle is currently suing the company for obstructing his efforts, accusing Riggio and the board of directors of a "self-dealing scheme." Burkle currently holds a 19% stake in Barnes & Noble, and was trying to gain a 37% stake.
-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.
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