Barnes & Noble's Musical Chairs Game Leaves Clues for Investors

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With all the changes in the C-suites at Barnes & Noble ( BKS), investors can kiss goodbye hopes of improvement in the next earnings report unless the book seller can pull a Yahoo! ( YHOO) or Zynga ( ZNGA) and attract a star-level executive.

Business-card makers stay active with CFO Michael Huseby taking over as president of Barnes & Noble and CEO of Nook media and Controller Allen Lindstrom is the new CFO. Mitchell Klipper, CEO of Barnes & Noble Retail, and Huseby report to Leonard Riggio the largest shareholder and company chairman.

One image that comes to mind thinking about Klipper's burden of reporting retail performance to Chairman Riggio is a "Star Wars" scene when a Galactic Empire general reports a failure to Darth Vader. Fortunately, Klipper isn't concerned Riggio can choke someone through mind control.

In all fairness, it's impressive how Barnes & Noble retail is reinventing itself and changing itsproduct offering. Toys and other seemingly non-related products that can now be found inside the retail stores are not a complete solution, but the company is rightly focusing on the demographic walking inside the doors.

Although the net number of stores is declining, at least the company is identifying locations with earnings potential. For shareholders, it's a much better place to be than simply closing stores and no hope of making a profit anywhere. It's not enough, though, and as content consumption demand moves from physical books to digital downloads, the margins for both retail and online will compress.

Investors considering buying shares should ask themselves first, would I rather slam my head with my keyboard or directly compete with Amazon ( AMZN) for book sales? Either way you're likely to need aspirin soon.

I wrote an article after Barnes & Noble reported earnings titled "Surviving Barnes & Noble in an Amazon World". Amazon doesn't care if it makes money, Amazon's objective is to increase market share. It's an awkward situation for smaller competitors and will remain depressed until Amazon focuses on margins instead of revenue.

While pulling the plug on the color Nook and dropping the price in the U.K. to clear the devices off the shelves (likely warehouse and retail), Amazon decided it was a nifty idea to discount the Kindle in the U.S., U.K., and the rest of Europe. When Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and BlackBerry ( BBRY) clearance-priced sales to push their overstocked tablets out the door, people rushed to buy them.

The Barnes & Noble tablet liquidation is on a much different trajectory. Based on Amazon's actions, Barnes & Noble miscalculated the discount needed, it doesn't have as many to liquidate, or Amazon enjoys pouring salt in the wound. Amazon is so competitive it won't let the Nook curl up in the corner and die in peace.

BKS Revenue Per Share TTM Chart BKS Revenue Per Share TTM data by YCharts

With all that said, shareholders have an unusually bright spot and motivation to maintain their position. The reasoning why a new CEO wasn't named at the time William Lynch resigned is compelling. It's no secret that Leonard Riggio is interested in taking Barnes and Noble private.

One plausible scenario is it will be easier to recruit quality talent after the uncertainty of a buyout is complete. Another is Riggio wants to take the helm again as a private company, and he is positioning himself now for that role after a takeover.

Either way, if Riggio and or others take Barnes & Noble private, existing shareholders can expect a significant premium from today's trading range. I think Riggio may wish he picked the keyboard to the head instead, but for shareholders, allowing more time to see how it plays out could result in a big payoff.

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.
Robert Weinstein currently blogs, mentors traders, and writes several weekly columns in Rocco Pendola's Option Investing newsletter from his home in northern Wisconsin. Robert tends to focus on the psychological importance of goals, risk mitigation, emotion, and relatively short term market exposure. With nearly 30 years of studying and investing experience, Robert has experienced the many ups and downs in the financial markets and uses the knowledge gained to maintain balance. Robert believes the best way to make money investing is to avoid losing it. The best way to avoid losing is to know what emotional traps lay in the path of investors and learning how to avoid them. Robert is a voracious reader of financial related books often completing more than one book a week while not trading or writing. Robert contributes to his blog at on a regular basis with an emphasis on studying behavior finance.