What happened

Shares of bookseller Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) closed down 8.1% on Thursday, after falling as much as 10.1% earlier in the day.

One of America's last remaining brick-and-mortar bookstore chains, Barnes & Noble reported a steeper-than-expected decline in quarterly sales today: $795 million for the quarter. It had a big quarterly loss to boot: $0.23 per share, versus Wall Street's expected loss of $0.09.

Aisle full of books

Barnes & Noble has many books, few customers. Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Fiscal Q1 2019 sales declined 7% year over year, and same-store sales were off 6%. Barnes & Noble's per-share loss was roughly 50% larger than the $0.15 loss it suffered one year ago.

Now what

Management tried to put a bright face on the bleak news, noting that "comparable-store sales improved each month of the quarter." Still, the "improvement" was a matter of degrees, with sales declining 7.8% in May, 6.1% in June, and 4.5% in July. By August, Barnes & Noble's same-store sales had almost stabilized at a decline of only 0.8% in August.

That's a good-looking trend -- especially the last bit. Nevertheless, it apparently wasn't good enough to give Barnes & Noble management confidence to promise any profit this year. The most management would say by way of guidance was that it expects "EBITDA to be in a range of $175 million to $200 million" in fiscal 2019. The fact that management couldn't bring itself to state a figure for GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) earnings, when Wall Street is expecting it to earn $0.59 per share this year, may be making investors nervous.

My guess? That's what really lies behind the sell-off today, even more than the earnings miss.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.