July 9, 2013

Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch resigns


We’re going to miss his “I’ve made a terrible mistake” desperate smile.

“We have a very clear vision for what we want to do with the company … we see a big opportunity in digital.”

That was Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch in September 2010, six months after having taken the reins at the nation’s largest hurried-shower-for-the-homeless and scone vendor, a scant twelve months after the launch of the Nook, speaking on the day the company dodged a shareholder coup by Ron Burkle. Even before that day, it had been Lynch leading development of the Nook device and retail platform. Now, three years later,the Nook has been spun off to insulate both it and the physical stores from each other, the Nook tablet is to be discontinued, a possible billion dollar deal with Microsoft may have stalled, the bookstore’s numbers were down even through the past Christmas season, and effective immediately Lynch is stepping down as CEO.

The defanged devourer of indies announced that last news in a press release after trading closed on Monday. Len Riggio wrote “We thank William Lynch for helping transform Barnes & Noble into a leading digital content provider” and technically he is correct, B&N does provide more “digital content” than some companies.

Lynch is to be replaced by CFO Michael Huseby, only with the company since March 2012, who in turn will be replaced as CFO by Max Roberts. Mitchell Kupper will remain CEO of the retail division. I assume there are thirty or so guys named Mark or Morris with two-syllable surnames waiting to take their places when they eventually jump ship.

Interestingly, Lynch was granted 500,000 shares in the company as recently as 2011, and that on top of his initial grant of a full million shares. That is of course in addition to his salary of a million or so dollars a year. Seeing a company through a tumultuous and ultimately failed transformation from ampersand-laden public restroom to online-bookstore-no-that-other-one-no-not-Amazon is, as it turns out, a pretty lucrative gig. Though one assumes that Lynch is contractually prevented from simply dumping that stock, meaning that if he’s going out under a golden parachute, he’s also carrying a few tons of obsolescent Nooks as ballast.

In the announcement Riggio also wrote that the company would be “reviewing its current strategic plan and will provide an update when appropriate.”

I suppose “going quietly into that good night” is not a sufficiently fleshed out plan to satisfy stockholders.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.