As the chief executive of Barnes & Noble (BKS) from 2010 to 2013, William Lynch might have had one of the most difficult jobs in the retail business. He made it harder still by running a large chain of bookstores as though it were a tech startup. Burning through about a billion dollars, the company built its own e-reading devices, which were well-received, and then its own tablet computers, which weren’t. Barnes & Noble sold so few tablets over the holidays last year that it actually lost money during the one time retailers can count on profits. “We are not going to continue doing what we’re doing,” Lynch said in February.
By then it was too late. In June, Lynch made another grim announcement: The Nook business had an operating loss of $475 million for the fiscal year ended in April, more than it lost in the previous 12 months. Two weeks later he was out of a job. Lynch’s resignation on July 8 was effective immediately. Leonard Riggio, the company’s chairman and largest shareholder, who’d plotted with Lynch to create a digital future for Barnes & Noble, issued a 30-word statement thanking him. Most book blurbs are longer.
With that, the 43-year-old Lynch became the latest casualty in Barnes & Noble’s battle against two of the most creative, disciplined, and well-funded companies around: Amazon.com (AMZN) and Apple (AAPL).