Barnes & Noble may spin off Nook

Barnes & Noble said today that it may spin off the business for its Nook e-reader, the most serious competition for Amazon's Kindle.

In a news release about holiday sales, CEO William Lynch said the company wants to “unlock" the value of the Nook franchise. “We have a large and growing installed base of millions of satisfied customers buying digital content from us, and we have a NOOK business that’s growing rapidly year-over-year and should be approximately $1.5 billion in comparable sales this fiscal year."

The news release underscored the industry's seismic shift from selling print books in stores to selling e-books online. Over the nine-week holiday period, digital content sales (digital books, digital newsstand and apps) increased 113 percent, while physical book sales in stores grew by 4 percent.

The spinoff would be a financial boost to B&N, but would remove a fast-growing line of business from the company. B&N would be left with digital sales from e-books and similar online content. Maybe Amazon should buy the business and create a Frankenstein-ish Nookindle.

A sobering note from the new release: Despite a "sales lift" of more than $200 million from the closing of the Borders chain, B&N expects losses per share to be in a range of $1.40 to $1.10 for fiscal 2012.

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