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NEW YORK CITY-Barnes & Noble Inc.’s third quarter had a happy ending. Total sales rose 5.7%, boosted by a 4.5%-hike in store sales, which included a 2.6%-rise at stores open one year or more, and a healthy 14.5%-bump at Barnes & Noble.com, all in comparison with the same quarter a year ago.

Such a positive read was not entirely expected, “especially in light of the soft retail environment,” acknowledged Steve Riggio, CEO, during a third-quarter conference call. Following the PR that surrounded J.K Rowlings’ release of the final Harry Potter book in this year’s previous quarter, he said, “we were prepared for a quiet period.

“You can’t bank on extensive media coverage,” he explained. But, books and authors got a lot of it during third quarter. Riggio said, “the Oprah effect was stronger than typical,” and he also credited CBS’ 60 Minutes, and Comedy Central’s Jon Stuart of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report for good 3Q publicity.

Colbert’s “I Am America (and So Can You!)” is among the quarter’s best sellers. On her show, Oprah Winfrey supplemented her usual list of book recommendations with plugs for Stephanie Meyer’s “Eclipse,” which Riggio said was the fastest-selling teen book introduction in history; Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious,” and Cathie Black’s “Basic Black.”

Meanwhile, 60 Minutes did segments on Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman and author of “Age of Turbulence;” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas following the release of his “My Grandfather’s Son,” and Valerie Plame Wilson, with release of the outed CIA operative’s “Fair Game.” The strength of the media coverage combined with a redesign of Barnes & Noble.com to include rich media, which Riggio also attributed to the quarterly sales gains.

“On a negative note” heading into fourth quarter, he added, “the writers’ strike is not good news for the book business. Some authors have already cancelled appearances on talk shows.” Yet, he said there’s a stream of good titles coming out for the holiday period, “and the Presidential elections’ effect on book sales was positive the last time around.”

A Wall Street analyst who suggested that toys are expected to under perform this holiday asked Riggio if he saw any shift to the book channel. Riggio responded that, while he’d like to see parents shift from toys to books, “I don’t see any direct relationship. I don’t think it would correlate. Maybe we’ll know in January.”

Total company sales during third quarter were $1.2 billion. Of that, website sales accounted for $108.2 million. In addition to the Greenspan and Colbert titles, other best sellers were John Grisham’s “Playing for Pizza,” Ken Follett’s “World Without End,” and Nicholas Sparks’ “The Choice.”

The locally based bookseller opened 14 Barnes & Noble units and closed one during third quarter to end with 709 units. It also closed two B. Dalton units, reducing that brand’s number of stores to 92.

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