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NEW YORK CITY-Profits were up 23% at Barnes & Noble during the second quarter as lower costs offset declining sales due to the absence of a blockbuster title. The nation’s largest bookseller said earnings rose to $16.6 million, or 24 cents a share, for the quarter ended July 29, an increase of $3.1 million over the same period last year when earnings were $13.5 million, or 18 cents a share.

The lack of a strong title like last year’s “Harry Potter” caused sales to dip slightly from $1.17 billion a year earlier to $1.16 billion, the company said. Sales at its smaller B. Dalton stores were off 31%, dropping to $21.9 million. At stores open at least a year, sales at the company’s flagship chain were down 2.6% while same store sales dropped 9.1% at B. Dalton during the quarter. Sales at Barnes & Noble.com also declined 14 % to $82.7 million, the company said.

“We look back at the first half of this year as one of the softest periods in recent memory for the book industry in terms of hardcover new releases,” Steve Riggio, chief executive officer of Barnes & Noble, during a conference with investors and analysts. “There were simply very few new hardcover books that generated media buzz or sustained sales by word-of-mouth recommendations.”Riggio said sales would have been positive if last year’s Harry Potter sales were not counted.

The company, which operates 687 Barnes & Noble stores and 112 B. Dalton stores, said it also opened four stores under its namesake banner and closed two stores in each of its bookselling chains.

For the third quarter, the company predicted that it will post a loss of between 4 cents to 8 cents per share, including stock-based costs of 4 cents. Same-store sales at Barnes & Noble stores are expected to remain unchanged or increase in the low single digits. The company said it expects similar results for the full year at stores open at least a year.

During the quarter, the company acquired approximately 677,000 shares for $26 million under its share repurchase program and approximately 2.8 million shares for $119 million for the year-to-date period. Barnes & Noble also reaffirmed its prior earnings guidance of between $2.20 and $2.30 per share, including 15 cents per share for stock compensation expenses.

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