The stock is down about 12% in early trading after Barnes & Noble disclosed in an SEC filing that John Malone’s media company has agreements to sell 90% of its investment to “qualified institutional buyers.” Three years ago Malone offered about $1B to buy the book retailer. When talks stalled, he agreed to pay $200M for a 17% stake. With the sale, Liberty’s ownership in the company drops to about 2%. It also gives up its right to pick two members of the B&N board and to block asset sales. Liberty CEO Greg Maffei will leave when its stock sale closes on April 8. Another Liberty exec, Mark Carleton, was also going to leave but the book retailer’s directors re-elected him.
Liberty says that this isn’t a no-confidence vote: “By reducing our preferred position and eliminating some of our related rights, Barnes & Noble will gain greater flexibility to accomplish their strategic objectives,” Maffei says. B&N Chairman Leonard Riggio echoed that message and added “Liberty’s decision to retain a portion of its investment and have active involvement on our board underscores Liberty’s ongoing commitment to Barnes & Noble.”
But the move is one more indication that Malone wants to simplify Liberty as he prepares to offer two tracking stocks: one with its investments in assets including Sirius XM and another, to be called Liberty Broadband Group, that includes the company’s 28% stake in Charter Communications. In February, Liberty abandoned an effort to buy the minority stake in Sirius XM that it doesn’t already own.