‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ helps Barnes & Noble earnings

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Barnes & Noble Inc., the U.S. bookstore chain working to navigate a shift to digital content, posted a smaller fiscal first-quarter loss than analysts estimated, helped by the liquidation of rival Borders Group Inc. and sales of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series.

Tech-savvy readers snapped up the New York company’s e-books and other digital content during the period, while cost-control efforts and lower expenses helped shore up its bottom line.

Barnes & Noble also benefited from riding the buzz of “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, the publishing phenomenon that has drawn legions of readers into bookstores. The erotic novels occupy the top three spots on The New York Times’ list of bestselling print and e-book fiction.

Executives at Barnes & Noble who spoke during a conference call Tuesday said the company’s bookstores also benefited from sales of games, educational toys and other children’s products. Management said the disappearance of competitor Borders’ bookstores also provided a lift, and traffic improved in its stores for the first time in years.

For the period that ended July 28, Barnes & Noble lost $45.2 million, or 78 cents a share, less than the $56.6 million, or 99 cents, the company lost a year earlier. Barnes & Noble hasn’t made a profit in a non-holiday quarter in three years.

The chain reduced its selling and administrative expenses in the quarter as well as its interest expense.

Revenue climbed 2% to $1.45 billion from $1.42 billion.

Shares of Barnes & Noble declined 48 cents, or 3.9%, to $11.87 after the release of earnings.