Borders, once BN's greatest competitor, is bankrupt. They've all but given up on the bookselling business entirely. Barnes & Noble finds itself as the last real national book chain in America. No direct competitors! (Except for the entire internet, in a sense.) They can only be done in by their damn selves.
Now, some might say that that's not such a great sign; the reason BN has no competition left is because book stores are a dying business. Everyone wants to buy "e-books" at "Amazon" for their "Kindle," right? Well, BN has its own Kindle knockoff, and its own online bookselling operation. And more importantly, they have brand that's synonymous with "books." What the hell is "Amazon" synonymous with? It's the Wal-Mart of the internet. Whoever owns Barnes & Noble will be in a good position to become the single most powerful player in the entire American book selling/ publishing industry. And, like all other forms of media, books aren't dying; they're just going through a rough transition period, as the decline of print destroys old business models, and new ones arise in their place.
All that for a measly billion dollars? That's not even 10% of Liberty Media's market cap, and they're a second-rate media conglomerate. It's a relatively small gamble. And, if it plays its cards right, the owner of BN could play a dominant role in shaping how all of us consume books over the coming decade.
Buy the brand. Throw in the books for free. Make your money on the Starbucks coffee. Sell it all on QVC. It could work.