So much for the hope that price cuts and favorable reviews would enable Barnes & Noble‘s NOOK tablets and e-readers to keep up with comparable products from Apple, Amazon, and Google. The No. 1 book retail chain says that NOOKs underperformed over the nine-week holiday season while revenues at the overall retail business fell 10.9% to $1.2B. “NOOK device sales got off to a good start over the Black Friday period, but then fell short of expectations for the balance of holiday,” CEO William Lynch says. “We are examining the root cause of the December shortfall in sales, and will adjust our strategies accordingly going forward.” The one saving grace of the numbers is that investors expected them to be worse. B&N shares are up 1.9% in early trading Thursday, after falling 3.9% yesterday. The company says that core sales — not including NOOK products — fell 3.1% over the nine-week holiday period at stores open at least a year. That was better than B&N expected, and means the results for the basic business should be down by low- to mid-single digits for the fiscal year that ends in April. The holiday season decline rises to 8.2% when you factor in the fact that B&N has fewer stores, and had lower online sales. As for the NOOK, revenues at the business unit — which includes digital content and accessories — fell 12.6% to $311M. The highly regarded devices suffered from “lower unit volume and average selling prices,” although sales of digital content rose 13.1%, B&N says. All told, the NOOK operation likely will end the current fiscal year with $3B in revenues and cash flow losses “at a comparable level to fiscal year 2012.”

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