Readers who loyally buy print books from hundreds of Barnes & Noble stores may soon have to settle for the Nook. According to a top executive, as much as a third of their stores will be closed over the next 10 years.

Mitchell Klipper, CEO of the company's retail group, tells The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, "In 10 years we'll have 450 to 500 stores." That would whittle down Barnes & Noble's brick-and-mortar chain from its current network of 689 stores (and 674 college stores). In order to realize those cuts, the retail giant will have to shut down around 20 stores per year and halt its physical expansion entirely. Klipper says real-world stores won't all be phased out, but the "handful" that can't balance their books will be: 

You have to adjust your overhead, and get smart with smart systems. Is it what it used to be when you were opening 80 stores a year and dropping stores everywhere? Probably not. It's different. But every business evolves.

Why is Klipper being so forthright about Barnes & Noble's plans? PaidContent's Laura Hazard Owen thinks he may be trying "to show investors that the company has a plan." Reports from the holiday shopping season weren't good for Barnes & Noble—the company's retail revenue fell over 10 percent, and Nook sales took an even deeper hit. The company has been trying to remain competitive in the e-book market, putting a lot of promotion behind the Nook. CEO William Lynch even went so far as to say that, thanks to the Nook, he doesn't "read physical books that much anymore." But, along with Amazon's Kindle, dedicated e-readers seem to be losing the tablet wars to the iPad, which offers mindless entertainment on top of sophisticated book-readin'. 

When Borders folded in the summer of 2011, many applauded Barnes & Noble for boldly adapting to the digital future. However, a year and a half later, it looks like the e-books market won't continue growing forever (plenty of people still prefer print and won't be switching to screens anytime soon). And many in the bookselling business are worried about the ripple effects of Barnes & Noble exiting from the brick & mortar sphere. Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of indie press Melville House, offers this doom and gloom assessment

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all this is the fact that, as with the demise of Borders, the demise of B&N has nothing to do with what its customers actually wanted, what’s best for mother literature or free speech, or anything other than made-up trends covering for killer capitalism. There’s still plenty of evidence that people like bookstores, for example, and even sales of hardcovers—let alone print books in general—are holding on. And so the lust for higher margins—whether from Godiva chocolates or ebooks—turned into fool’s gold for B&N.