Saturday, December 11, 2010

LA Times: Why is Len Riggio Publishers Weekly's Man of the Year?

Carolyn Kellogg | Jacket Copy:
I have to admit, I find the choice a bit baffling. Maybe it's because I'm on the West Coast; maybe it's because I don't have the first inkling of how to run a massive corporation like Barnes & Noble. But Riggio seems to me to be holding on, rather that blazing a way forward.

Riggio is certainly a survivor. After Amazon's entry into bookselling challenged brick-and-mortar book retailers, Barnes & Noble has reamined the most viable chain retail bookstore. Its one-time rival Border's has been in steady decline -- the Wall Street Journal described its earnings report this week as "dismal." Nevertheless, one of Border's investors recently raised the possibility of purchasing Barnes & Noble.

Could Riggio survive a buyout move? Sure. He did that already this year when he defeated investor Ron Burkle and his Yuciapa Co., major stockholders, who made moves to take control of the company. Clearly, Riggio is an able boardroom manueverer and dedicated to holding onto the company he's been with for decades. But if he's focused on maintaining control over Barnes & Noble, how can be be looking toward the future of publishing as a whole? Is surviving a skirmish the same thing as leading the charge over the hill?

Yes, Barnes & Noble now has an e-reader, and its Nook has been getting strong reviews. But Barnes & Noble's e-reader came two years after Amazon's Kindle, and although it was intended to be out in time for Christmas last year, was plagued by delays and postponements that meant some customers didn't see it until January. Before that month was out, Apple announced its long-awaited tablet -- the iPad, complete with e-reader -- which swiftly pulled away much attention the Nook might have received.

By the time people could buy ebooks from Barnes & Noble's website, Amazon had a two-year head start, and had captured enormous mindshare. ...