The Journal, citing Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group, said the company will have 450 to 500 stores in 10 years, down from 689 as of Jan. 23. It also currently has a separate chain of 674 college stores.
Barnes & Noble has shrunk its retail presence over the past several years as e-book readers and tablets have become more popular with consumers. The company had as many as 726 bookstores in 2008, excluding the now-defunct B. Dalton chain, but it has been closing an average of 15 a year over the past decade, the WSJ said. At the same time, the bookseller was also opening 30 or more retail sites a year, but that level has dropped sharply, with Barnes & Noble opening only two new stores this fiscal year.
To get to its new lower level, the company will be closing about 20 stores a year, the WSJ said.
However, a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman told CNET that the company "has not adjusted its store closing plan whatsoever." She added:
"The Wall Street Journal article implies that our rate of store closures has changed. We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the past 10 years. Of that number some of the stores are unprofitable while others are relocations to better properties. The numbers reported today by the Wall Street Journal are consistent with analysts' expectations. It should be noted that in 2012, Barnes & Noble opened two new prototype stores and in 2013 plans to test several other prototypes, as well. Barnes & Noble has great real estate in prime locations and the company's management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term."
We've asked for more details about how many stores Barnes & Noble plans to open over the next decade and will update when we get more details.
Many other bookstores also have decreased their store locations, and some, like Borders Group, have gone out of business entirely. Barnes & Noble, which bought some of Borders' assets, also has faced concerns about its future. While it has expanded into offering tablets and e-readers, sales of its Nooks have fallen short of expectations, including during the key holiday season.
Barnes & Noble last year said that it would explore spinning off the Nook operations so it could "unlock" the value of the business. It also has formed partnerships for its Nook business with Microsoft and Pearson.
Updated at 8:40 a.m. PT with comment from Barnes & Noble.