Barnes & Noble has been acquired by the hedge fund Elliott Advisors for $638 million.
The sale was announced Friday morning following months of speculation over the future of Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States and a critical retail outlet for publishers and authors.
Elliott’s acquisition of Barnes & Noble follows its purchase of the British bookstore chain Waterstones in June 2018. James Daunt, the chief executive of Waterstones, will also act as Barnes & Noble’s C.E.O. and will be based in New York.
The sale, which was an all-cash transaction, valued Barnes & Noble stock at $6.50 a share, a premium of nearly 42 percent over the retailer’s stock price on Wednesday, before reports of an impending deal caused the price to surge on Thursday.
The sale was approved unanimously by Barnes & Noble’s board. Leonard Riggio, the company’s founder and chairman, who voted for the transaction, said in a news release: “In view of the success they have had in the bookselling marketplace, I believe they are uniquely suited to improve and grow our company for many years ahead.”
Mr. Daunt is well regarded in the publishing industry for rescuing Waterstones from near bankruptcy. In the announcement, he said he was confident that Barnes & Noble could flourish despite the challenges facing the industry.
“Physical bookstores the world over face fearsome challenges from online and digital,” he said. “We meet these with investment and with all the more confidence for being able to draw on the unrivaled bookselling skills of these two great companies. As a place in which to choose a book, and for the sheer pleasure of visiting, we know that a good bookstore has no equal.”
The Wall Street Journal had reported that Elliott Management was the favored buyer of Barnes & Noble.
Barnes & Noble has struggled to make a profit and increase its foot traffic and sales in recent years. The company has closed more than 150 stores in the last decade or so, leaving it with 627 stores.
Waterstones has pursued a strategy that many analysts say is the only way to compete in a marketplace dominated by online sales, by allowing individual Waterstones booksellers to tailor each store to a community’s needs and interests. Mr. Daunt, who took over in 2011, has said that Waterstones operates more like a constellation of independent stores, rather than a homogeneous chain.
Elliott will own both chains, and while Barnes & Noble and Waterstones will operate independently, they will share a C.E.O. and “benefit from the sharing of best practices between the companies,” the news release said.
Mike Shatzkin, the chief executive of Idea Logical Company, a book-industry consulting firm, said a sale was probably the best outcome for Barnes & Noble’s future.
“Somebody else had to save Barnes & Noble; the present ownership succeeded in a completely different environment and was not ready to jump into the 21st century,” he said. Of Elliott, he added, “The fact that they own Waterstones certainly puts them in the right direction. Their ability to influence the publishing industry is going to be stronger being in both markets.”