Barnes & Noble surprised observers by anointing a tech wizard as its new CEO, promoting William Lynch, currently president of Barnes & Noble.com. Lynch spearheaded the company's launch last year of Nook, its very successful electronic reader, and replaces Steve Riggio, who has been CEO since 2002 and is the brother of chairman Leonard Riggio. (He continues as vice chairman.)
"Barnes & Noble has been run by the Riggios for a long time, and they are still obviously very much in charge," David A. Schick, managing director at Stifel Nicolaus, tells Marketing Daily, "but this is certainly a nod to some changes in the marketplace."
"William came to us as a skillful leader in e-commerce who, in a short period of time, has done a superb job in quickly establishing Barnes & Noble as a major player in e-commerce and digital content," says Leonard Riggio, chairman, in a release. "Given the dynamic nature of the book industry, William is uniquely qualified to lead the company's transition to multi-channel distribution and drive the continuing expansion of our e-commerce platform, eBooks and other digital content and products."
In a conference call, Riggio was clear that "neither Steve nor I are retiring, and we plan to be active in the business." Riggio also emphasized that Lynch's appointment did not signify that the company has plans to back away from its brick-and-mortar retail roots. "Retail plays such a huge role in the marketing of books," he says. "We don't think books will go to an entirely electronic format ... these stores are places for families to gather -- children bring their parents; it's a place to learn, to meet, to decide if you like a book. We have always been committed to retail," he says. "Now we want to be equally committed to other parts of this business."
The change comes at a time of tumult for the book industry, with no clear sense of which e-reader format will triumph, or how companies will profit from digitized print. Amazon's Kindle continues to dominate and Nook is B&N's best-selling product; Sony has a line of readers, and of course, Apple's iPad arrives next month, which may radically change distribution.
"It's way too early to pick a winner, and the iPad isn't even out yet," Schick says. "But one thing we know is that once something becomes digitized, the market moves very quickly. The devices change fast. The way things are delivered changes quickly -- so this appointment, with its nod to technology, is important."
Barnes & Noble also promoted Mitchell Klipper to CEO of its retail group, which encompasses the Barnes & Noble retail business and the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers business.