Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei, whose company owns about 17% of Barnes & Noble, doesn’t seem impressed by this week’s disclosure by the book store chain’s founder Leonard Riggio that he may try to buy its retail operation. “It’s very preliminary,” Maffei told analysts today. “We’ll see where Len goes with it.” Maffei speculated that Riggio may have been legally bound by SEC rules to express an interest in buying just to keep the option open. “It was very logical that he would want to be interested,” Maffei says. He adds that he’ll “wait to see what happens” before saying whether Liberty might support or oppose a takeover. Riggio’s disclosure sure looked serious. He said on Monday that his purchase price “would be negotiated with the Board” and its advisers and “is currently contemplated” to include cash and assumption of debt. The company turned the negotiations over to a special board committee and hired outside financial and legal advisers. Maffei doesn’t sound like he wants to sell (which would also be a smart way to help negotiate up the price). Barnes & Noble’s bricks-and-mortar stores have “probably performed better than most outside observers would have thought, and better than we have thought” since 2011 when Liberty first invested. “We’re of the view that there will be retail bookstores around for a long time,” he says. “We really thought of ourselves as seeing value there early.”
Shares are up more than 15% in pre-market trading after Leonard Riggio disclosed in an SEC filing this morning that he plans to make an offer for the retailer’s main business. Barnes & Noble‘s founder, chairman and largest stockholder, with nearly 30% of the voting shares, says he’s interested in the stores and barnesandnoble.com, but not the NOOK Media operation where B&N owns about 78.2% of equity along with Microsoft which has 16.8% and Pearson with 5%. Riggio’s proposal would “facilitate the Company’s evaluation of its previously announced review of strategic options for the separation of its investment in NOOK Media,” he says. The purchase price “would be negotiated with the Board” and its advisers and “is currently contemplated” to include cash and assumption of debt. Riggio would include his equity and take on the debt needed to make the deal.